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Cat Fight!! Previewing the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl with Clemson Tigers vs Kentucky Wildcats

TaxSlayer Gator Bowl logo
'TaxSlayer Gator Bowl Logo' Photo Credit via TaxSlayer Gator Bowl

On Friday, the 29th, the 8-4 Clemson Tigers will line up against the 7-5 Kentucky Wildcats in an SEC vs ACC battle. Both teams have taken interesting paths to get to the bowl game showdown with the Tigers winning their final four games of the season and the Wildcats going 2-2 over their final four. Although respectable at 8-4 heading into the game, the Tigers will be viewing this as a way for the team to end on a positive note in a season where hopes were high. For the Wildcats, this marks the second straight seven-win season after a 10-3 record in 2021, they did finish the season on a high note with a surprise win against their in-state rival the Louisville Cardinals. This also marks the first appearance in the Gator Bowl since 2020 for the Wildcats and since 2008 for the Tigers. Let's dig into some matchups that will be fun to watch and impact the game, as we preview the Gator Bowl.


Broadcast Info:

Date: December 29th, 2023

Time: 12:00 PM EST

Where: EverBank Stadium, Jacksonville, FL

TV: ESPN

Calling: Wes Durham, Tim Hasselbeck, Taylor Tannebaum

Radio: ESPN Radio (Check Local Listings)


Betting Line

Clemson -4.0

Over/Under: 44.5


Gator Bowl Preview: Key Matchups


Quarterback

Devin Leary vs Cade Klubnik. The games are impacted the most by quarterback play that either has them making plays or in some cases not giving the game away with costly mistakes. This game is no different. For the Wildcats, Leary is facing a familiar foe in Clemson after spending four seasons with NC State and winning one of the three previous matchups. Leary is also having an upswing in his career after a down year in '22. He's thrown for 2,440 yards 23 touchdowns and 10 interceptions on 56 percent passing. For the Tigers, Klubnik is in his first full season as the starter and has had a decent season completing 63 percent of his passes for 2,580 yards 19 touchdowns, and eight interceptions. Both quarterbacks have good arm strength and can make a variety of throws. It will be a good matchup to watch and see who can focus and have the better game.


Advantage - Kentucky. Leary has the experience and that gives him the advantage in the quarterback battle.




Running Back

Ray Davis vs Phil Mafah. The running backs on both teams have been central to both team's offenses. In Davis, the Wildcats have a runner who is having his best season yet following his second straight 1,000-yard season and career highs in touchdowns and yards per attempt. He's a stout runner with good speed that is also physical. He's a natural pass catcher with the hands to assist in blocking as well. For the Tigers, although Mafah has led the team in rushing this year with 894 yards, the veteran standout Will Shipley created a two-headed monster for opposing defenses. With Shipley and Mafah, the Tigers have complimentary backs. Mafah is a runner who in a career season has shown a natural in runs off the tackle and to the outside. He's got good speed and can separate from defenders in pursuit. With Shipley, the Tigers have a do-it-all player who looks to run through the heart of the defense.


Advantage - The fans. Both teams have 'fun to watch' players who can score when they have the ball in their hands. At the end of the day, the duo for Clemson proves too much.




Defense

D'Eryk Jackson vs Barrett Carter. With recent opt-outs, the Tigers' defense has taken some big hits. But there is still talent to make this an interesting battle. With the Wildcats allowing just under 25 points a game compared to just under 20 for the Tigers. For the Wildcats, Jackson is a hard-hitting linebacker in the middle of defense. He shows good closing speed with an ability to finish his tackles and play through the whistle. He had a career year as he led the team in tackles also adding two interceptions, returning one for a touchdown. He's got a good ability to read/react and covers sideline to sideline. While the Tigers will be without Jeremiah Trotter, his running mate at linebacker, Barrett Carter will be playing and he shows a solid coverage ability. He's athletic and can cover a lot of ground quickly.


Advantage - Clemson Tigers. Although Jackson has shown to be a solid player for the Wildcats, Carter and the supporting cast of the Tigers give them the edge.





Prediction and Final Score

Clemson Tigers win by two scores. In an off-year for Clemson, the Tigers end on a high note by beating an SEC foe in the Gator Bowl.

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