Clemson Football wins a battle with Kentucky in the Gator Bowl 38-35

The Gator Bowl started slow but finished with a thrilling victory for the Clemson Tigers over the Kentucky Wildcats in the final moments.

Clemson safety Jalyn Phillips (1) reacts after Barrett Carter sacked Kentucky quarterback Devin Leary.
Clemson safety Jalyn Phillips (1) reacts after Barrett Carter sacked Kentucky quarterback Devin Leary. / Ken Ruinard / staff / USA TODAY NETWORK
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Clemson Football took all game to grab control of the Gator Bowl, but they ended up with a 38-35 victory over the Kentucky Wildcats.

Kentucky won the toss and deferred to the second half. Clemson’s offense started the game from their 37-yard line after a good Will Shipley kick return.

The Tigers drove near the red zone but their drive stalled. Jonathan Weitz kicked the field goal and Clemson took a 3-0 lead.

Kentucky had a couple of good plays but Clemson eventually forced a punt. Clemson got one first down but was then forced to punt.

Ray Davis broke a big run to get the Wildcats near the red zone, and then Barion Brown took a jet sweep 22 yards for the touchdown. Kentucky led 7-3.

Clemson again could not sustain a drive and had to punt to Kentucky. This time, the defense forced a three-and-out and Clemson took back possession following a Kentucky punt.

As the second quarter began, Clemson’s offensive woes continued, and Aidan Swanson punted the ball away again.

Following another UK three-and-out, Phil Mafah broke a big run, and Klubnik followed it with two big completions to Troy Stellato and Jake Briningstool. Mafah punched it in from the 1-1/2 yard line and Clemson took a 10-7 lead.

Kentucky answered on the next drive as Devin Leary took advantage of the inexperienced Clemson secondary. Kentucky retook the lead 14-10.

Clemson once again followed up a first down with a failed third down and punted the ball. The defense forced a Wildcat fourth down, and the Tigers took a timeout to preserve time for a shot at a score before the end of the first half.

The Tigers tried to move the ball but Klubnik was sacked and the Tigers punted with fifteen seconds left in the half.

Kentucky took a knee to kill the clock and IK took a 14-10 lead into halftime.

Apparently, the Tigers weren’t ready to play when they returned from the locker room because the Wildcats took the opening kickoff of the second half for a 102-yard touchdown to take the 21-10 lead.

A decent start to the Tigers' first drive of the second half was torpedoed by an intentional grounding penalty by Klubnik. The Tigers once again punted the ball away.

The next Kentucky drive took up a good amount of time but the Wildcats never got out of their own territory. The Tigers took over on their 30-yard line.

The Tigers went for it on fourth down on the next drive and converted. Shipley then got the Tigers to 3rd and goal at the 1-yard line as the third quarter expired.

On the first play of the fourth quarter, Mafah punched the ball into the end zone. Clemson went for two but was unsuccessful. Kentucky led 21-16.

On the next drive, Clemson tormented Leary, with Xavier Thomas forcing a fumble that was recovered by Justin Mascoll.

On the first play of Clemson’s drive, Klubnik was hit as he threw the ball and it was intercepted. Kentucky took over on their own 20-yard line.

The Tigers then proceeded to bat a Leary pass in the air that was intercepted by Barrett Carter.

The Tigers couldn’t find the end zone but Weitz was able to bring Clemson within two at 21-19.

Almost right away, Khalil Barnes forced a fumble and Carter jumped on it. The Tigers took over on the Kentucky 29-yard line.

Mafah took the ball to the house on the next play for the touchdown. Clemson went for two and converted with a Tyler Brown conversion for the 27-21 lead.

Another busted coverage allowed the Wildcats to score on a 60-yard pass. UK took the lead 28-27.

Will Shipley took the kickoff and returned it to the Kentucky 37-yard line. Weitz kicked the ball, it bounced off the crossbar, and went through for a 52-yard field goal. Clemson led 30-28.

Kentucky responded with a huge passing play taking advantage of another busted coverage by Clemson’s inexperienced secondary. Davis scored two plays later to take a 35-30 lead.

Clemson took over on their 32-yard line. They converted a fourth down with 40 seconds and managed to get into the red zone.

Mafah found paydirt for his fourth rushing touchdown of the day. Klubnik completed a pass to Josh Sapp for the 2-point conversion. Clemson led 38-35.

Kentucky took over on their 25-yard line and immediately threw an interception to Shelton Lewis, who had been picked on all game by Leary. Lewis wisely slid to end the play and allow the Tigers to run out the clock.

Clemson concludes their season at 9-4, while the Wildcats fall to 7-6.