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Clemson star goes out in style; UK boss Rich hints he’s done

Clemson star goes out in style; UK boss Rich hints he’s done

Posted: Monday, December 28, 2009 6:05 pm
By: By TERESA M. WALKER, AP Sports Writer

NASHVILLE (AP) — C.J. Spiller capped his stellar college career by going out a winner. Kentucky coach Rich Brooks apparently is just ready to go.
The Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year had set or tied 31 Clemson records and finished sixth in the Heisman Trophy voting. But the speedy, do-it-all Spiller hadn’t finished a season as a winner until Sunday night, when he had 172 all-purpose yards and scored the clinching touchdown as Clemson beat Kentucky 21-13 in the Music City Bowl.
Spiller said he was glad he stayed for his senior season even though some of his relatives wanted him to turn pro.
“I can always tell my daughter and my grandkids that I won my last game as a senior. I won it,” he said. “To do it with a coach that everyone says is too young to get it done, it speaks for itself. We are very happy that we are taking that big trophy back to Clemson.”
He became the first person in his family to graduate from college a week ago, and his mother drove nine hours and sat in the cold Sunday night to watch him finish his career. Spiller said he was happy to be in a winning locker room celebrating what he called a championship.
The Tigers (9-5) hadn’t won a bowl since the 2005 Champs Sports Bowl, and they came up just short in the ACC championship game earlier this month.
“It’s a great win,” coach Dabo Swinney said about getting a bowl victory in his first full season. “This is a great way to finish a very good year. I couldn’t be more proud of these guys, especially the way we won the game. We felt we could rush the ball more than those guys.”
There had been speculation that Brooks, 68, might call it quits if he won this game. Last January, Kentucky announced that offensive coordinator Joker Phillips will take over as head coach when Brooks steps down. After the game, Brooks said he told the Wildcats he’s probably not returning next season and is “80 percent” sure he won’t be back.
Brooks said he will talk with his family and think over the next few days. His timetable for a final decision? Within the next week.
“I think it may be time for a change and time for Joker to take over,” Brooks said.
Kentucky (7-6) already had made program history by reaching a fourth straight bowl game.
This was the first time since 1909-12 that the Wildcats had won at least seven games in four straight seasons. This season also featured the Wildcats’ first win over Auburn since 1966 and first at Georgia since 1977. But Brooks called it a disappointing season as the Wildcats snapped an 18-game non-conference winning streak.
Clemson just proved too explosive with Spiller and his future replacements. Jamie Harper ran for a touchdown, and Kyle Parker threw for a touchdown. With three weeks to prepare, the Tigers had little problem stifling Kentucky’s variation of the wildcat offense with Randall Cobb.
Kentucky held the ball longer and ran 21 more offensive plays. But Clemson had more yards rushing (180-167) and finished off the final 5:27 after Ricky Sapp stopped Kentucky quarterback Morgan Newton a yard short on fourth-and-8.
“That was huge for us,” Spiller said. “We knew they didn’t have any timeouts left. We could run the ball. The offensive line wanted to run it, and we could milk the clock all the way down.”
Spiller helped the Tigers run out the clock and start the celebration. He finished with 68 yards on 15 carries and 57 yards on three catches to earn game MVP honors.
The Wildcats did a decent job of slowing down one of the country’s most dynamic players. He became the first ACC player to rush for at least 1,000 yards and have at least 500 yards receiving in the same history at the end of the third quarter when he took a shovel pass three yards.
“He got it done,” Swinney said of Spiller needing 55 yards receiving to notch that accomplishment.
He didn’t return a kick longer than 30 yards. Kentucky kicker Lones Seiber perfectly placed one kickoff into the right edge of the end zone near the pylon for a touchback, and Spiller caught another near the same spot for another touchback.
Kentucky got its only touchdown on the opening drive. Seiber capped the Wildcats’ first drive of the second half with his second field goal, a 44-yarder.
That was the last time they would score in missing a chance to send Brooks out a winner.
“For me, it just kind of made the loss more tougher to swallow,” Kentucky defensive tackle Corey Peters said. “It’s one thing for the senior class to go out on this note.
But finding out this is possibly the last game for him, you want to get the win for him when it’s possibly his last game.”
NOTES: This was the final game with Gaylord Hotels as the title sponsor. Franklin American Mortgage Company takes over that role in 2010.

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