Kentucky’s Music City Memories

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NASHVILLE, TN - DECEMBER 31: Rafael Little #22 of the Kentucky Wildcats runs with the ball during the Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl against the Florida State Seminoles at the LP Field December 31, 2007 in Nashville, Tennessee. Kentucky won 35-28. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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Kentucky’s Music City Memories

December 29th marks the 20th edition of the Music City Bowl. When Kentucky and Northwestern kick off, it will be the fifth time the Wildcats have played in Nashville. That is more than any other team in college football; Minnesota is next with three appearances. With a 2-2 record in the bowl, let’s look back at Kentucky’s Music City Memories.

A Disappointing First Trip

Kentucky’s first game in Nashville came in 1999 in the bowl’s second year. Their opponent was the Syracuse Orangemen of the Big East. Hal Mumme’s Cats jumped out to an early 10-0 lead and the throng of True Blue Fans thought they were going home happy.

However, All-American tight end, James Whalen, suffered a dislocated elbow midway through the first quarter. The Cats never recovered and sputtered on offense the remainder of the game. The much vaunted “Air Raid” offense under Mumme only scored three points and gained 155 yards in the second half.

Sophomore running back James Mungro ran for 162 yards and two touchdowns as the Orangemen went on to a 20-13 win. Kentucky finished the season 6-6.

Finally A Bowl Breakthrough

It would be seven years before Kentucky played in another bowl game. Again it was the Music City, and this time the opponent was Clemson. Before the first sellout in game history, the two teams met for the second time in a bowl game. The first was the 1993 Peach Bowl won by the Tigers 14-13. That game in Atlanta goes down as one of the most heartbreaking in school history. Marty Moore fumbled after intercepting a pass late in the game. The Tigers then scored to win the game.

Under coach Tommy Bowden, Clemson was a 10-point favorite. But for much of the game, the Cats played like the favorites. Rich Brooks‘ club was led by Andre Woodson who threw for 299 yards and three touchdowns to win MVP. It was a fake punt in the second quarter that turned the game. Deep in their own territory, Tim Masthay hit Marcus McClinton with a 10-yard pass for a first down. On the next play, Woodson hit DeMareo Ford for a 70-yard touchdown to put the Cats up 14-6.

Kentucky stretched the lead to 28-6 early in the quarter on a Woodson TD pass to Jacob Tamme. The Cats withstood a furious fourth-quarter rally by Clemson to win 28-20.

The win gave Kentucky its first bowl win and eight-victory season since 1984. Members of the Big Blue Nation who want to remember this game can view the highlights here.

Facing A Legend

As we continue on with Kentucky’s Music City Memories, the next year the Cats returned to Nashville to face another Bowden. However this time it was Bobby and the Florida State Seminoles.

Unlike the previous year, this game was much closer. Tied at 14 at the half, Kentucky broke the game open in the third quarter. Woodson threw a two-yard TD pass to Rafael Little. A four-yard run by Tony Dixon put the Cats up 28-14. The teams traded touchdowns after that, and a Drew Weatherford seven-yard touchdown pass to Greg Carr made it 35-28.

It appeared the game was over when Micah Johnson intercepted a pass with less than a minute to go. However, in attempting to return it, he fumbled it back to the Seminoles. For many Kentucky fans in the record crowd, it brought bad flashbacks to the 1993 Peach Bowl.

This time fate smiled on the Cats as a Hail Mary was knocked down to seal the win. For Kentucky, it was their first back to back bowl wins since 1952. On the other side, it was the first loss ever in a December bowl game for the senior Bowden. You can see all the highlights from one of Kentucky’s biggest wins at the link below.

The End Of An Era

After playing in the Liberty Bowl following the 2008 year, the Cats returned to Nashville once again. Again the opponent was Clemson who was coached by an up and comer named Dabo Swinney.

This time the Tigers dominated most of the game behind All-American running back C.J. Spiller. With 172 all-purpose yards and a touchdown, Spiller was named the game’s MVP. Clemson held the Wildcats to only 277 total yards and won 21-13.

One week after the game, Brooks announced his retirement from Kentucky. He finished his career with a 3-1 bowl record as Wildcats coach. It is interesting to note Brooks’ bowl record is the same as legendary Bear Bryant’s at Kentucky.

Thanks for checking out Kentucky’s Music City Memories here at Last Word On College Football. A reminder that a preview of the 2017 game will be coming next week.

Main Photo Credit:

NASHVILLE, TN – DECEMBER 31: Rafael Little #22 of the Kentucky Wildcats runs with the ball during the Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl against the Florida State Seminoles at the LP Field December 31, 2007 in Nashville, Tennessee. Kentucky won 35-28. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

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