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Gator Bowl Notebook: Kentucky Locks In

Andy Staples picks the Taxslayer bowl | Clemson vs. Kentucky | 27.12.23

After Wednesday’s practice, Kentucky defensive coordinator Brad White and cornerback Andrew Phillips spoke with the media following an open practice in Jacksonville. The Cats are ready for a Clemson offense that will test them horizontally and with the running game.

It’s almost departure time in North Florida.

“I think they’ve really had fun so far, but we’re at the point where now it’s time to play football 24/7,” Kentucky defensive coordinator Brad said White, to the media Wednesday. “Just lock yourself away, get your body in order, get your mind in order.”

After Wednesday’s practice, White and cornerback Andrew Phillips spoke with the media following an open practice in Jacksonville. The Cats are primed for a Clemson offense that can hurt defenses with pace and a short passing game.

Phil Mafah and Will Shipley have Kentucky’s attention

Clemson has a tremendous double back. Phil Mafah (894 rushing yards, 5.3 yards per carry, 9 touchdowns) and Will Shipley (798 rushing yards, 5.1 yards per carry, 5 touchdowns) are what keeps this offense going. The Tigers enter bowl season having rushed for at least 175 yards in four straight wins in November over Notre Dame, Georgia, Tech, North Carolina and South Carolina.

To slow down Clemson on Friday, Kentucky must find a way to limit Mafah and Shipley.

“A truly talented duo. Both are really good after contact. Lots of broken tackles when you watch. Both are very active in the passing game, so you always have to know where they are,” Brad White said of Clemson’s backs. “Then they put them both together and they both crash.”

Due to a high volume of spread formations, Kentucky will play a lot of true nickel with five defensive backs on the field. Clemson will need corners and safeties to come down and make physical tackles. The Wildcats must be ready for the challenge.

“They have a very good back. We have guys who weren’t afraid to tackle. Go shoot our shots,” redshirt junior cornerback Andru Phillips told reporters. “Just come with the same mentality we’ve had all season.”

Kentucky must be ready for pace

Clemson won’t step on the gas all afternoon Friday at the Gator Bowl, but the Tigers will require Kentucky to operate against an offense that doesn’t huddle and gets to the line of scrimmage quickly. Added to this is a horizontal passing game which will force the Wildcats to make tackles in space.

The Tigers will stretch Kentucky east-west before launching vertical shots down the field.

“It’s a little more horizontal than vertical. They’ll take vertical shots once they sink you, but just because it’s a screen pass doesn’t mean it’s not effective,” Brad White said of the Clemson’s controlled passing game. This slows down the rush. They do a good job. This gives the ball to the playmakers quickly.”

Under the leadership of a new offensive coordinator Garrett Rileyformer five-star quarterback recruit Club Cade (63% completion rate, 6.2 yards per attempt) and the rest of Clemson’s passing game struggled to get off the ground. The Tigers rank 49th in pass completion rate, 79th in EPA/passing game and 115th in yards per attempt. There were some struggles getting the throwing game going for the Tigers, but this is an offense that will attempt to use tempo as a weapon.

Kentucky has to be ready to line up, take the calls, communicate and go play football.

“The pace is always a little stressful. It doesn’t matter who fights who,” Andru Phillips said. “You have to do a lot of different things, but when you prepare the right way, you come in here and you do all the extra things to make sure you’re ahead of the game.”

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