It was so miserable that even athletics director Terry Don Phillips didn’t want to be bothered with questions.
What transpired against Kentucky in the Music City Bowl was indicative of what occurred over the course of the previous four games, of which the Tigers lost three.
The Clemson offense was mistake prone, couldn’t convert redzone opportunities into touchdowns, and struggled passing downfield. If that wasn’t bad enough, the defense yielded too many big plays and special teams was atrocious as it all led to a 28-20 Kentucky victory Friday afternoon at L.P. Field.
The Tigers limped down the stretch to finish with an 8-5 record after being 7-1 and ranked No. 10 in the nation. Kentucky also finishes 8-5, which is the most wins for that program in 22 years.
“That’s pretty pitiful,” center Dustin Fry said. “I’m bitter on how we finished the season.
“I really can’t put my finger on what it was. It’s like we were playing an eight-game season and Georgia Tech was our damn ACC Championship Game. We just quit after that.”
One of the players not wanting to talk after the game was Clemson placekicker Jad Dean, who missed his only two field goal attempts. He not only missed them, but he missed them so badly that head coach Tommy Bowden inserted sophomore John Early to the Tigers’ first extra point.
Fittingly enough, that kick was missed, too.
“He said he slipped,” Bowden said of Dean’s reason for one of the misses. “Their guy didn’t slip.”
Another player that had nothing to say was running back James Davis, who spouted off following the South Carolina game about not being used properly.
This time, neither Davis nor fellow star running back C.J. Spiller got many touches.
The two combined to carry it only 13 times. However, when they did run it, they were successful. They had 77 yards between them, which equates to a very good 5.92 yards per carry.
“It was very tough to get in a rhythm because you keep rotating series and then with the five carries, it’s tough to get in a rhythm,” Spiller said. “You need at least 10 or 12 (each) just get the running game going.”
Spiller, who has been so dangerous all season in the passing game as well, didn’t have a single reception. At one point in the first half, he displayed his unhappiness with the direction of the offense.
Spiller was specifically displeased with some of the decisions quarterback Will Proctor made.
It was another rough day for the fifth-year senior. Though his final numbers look decent, more than half of his passing yardage and two touchdowns came in the final quarter when the game was already out of hand with Kentucky leading 28-6.
Through three quarters when the game was still on the line, he was just 10-of-21 for 133 yards. He had one also had an interception on a very poorly thrown ball into the endzone and a touchdown pass.
Tigers offensive coordinator Rob Spence said the philosophy was to go away from the run because of Kentucky putting eight and nine players in the box. He thought there would be opportunities for the passing game to burn the Wildcats.
“We decided we were going to try and throw the ball to try and make some big plays,” Spence said. “I think they were there to make. I think we had opportunities and we didn’t execute as well as we should have, obviously.”
Like has been the case through nearly all of the season, Proctor wasn’t able to win the game with his right arm, which wound up limiting Spence’s play calling.
“I think he wasn’t efficient as he should,” Spence said. “I think he demonstrated the ability to make some throws downfield today. I think as the year went on, he hit that dry spell. I think that’s just part of being a quarterback. …
“I think he played well in spots the last couple of games.”
And that last sentence perfectly describes the entire team. The defense was about as inconsistent as the offense.
For every solid play it made defensively, there were as equally as many big plays given up.
Clemson forced two turnovers, yet it gave up scoring plays of 70, 32 and 24 yards.
Kentucky quarterback Andre Woodson, voted the game’s Most Valuable Player, was 20-of-28 for 299 yards and three touchdowns.
“We really couldn’t come up with anything,” Tigers defensive end Gaines Adams said of the final five games. “The guys were coming to practice everyday working hard and giving it all they had. We were just coming up short. We couldn’t find what was wrong. Obviously it showed today that we couldn’t find what was wrong.”
And that may end up being what is so frustrating to players and coaches. They just don’t have any answers.
“We had an average season,” Adams said. “We started off well and stunk it up at the end. We thought that if we started off strong at the beginning that we would be able to finish strong, because that was our motto.
“Obviously that didn’t happen.”