NCF Nation: Ventrell Jenkins
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
By now, we all know that the 2008 bowl season culminated with Florida knocking off Oklahoma to win its second BCS national championship in the last three years. The SEC finished 6-2 in bowl games. There were memorable moments along the way and a few forgettable ones, too. Here's a look at the SEC bowl version of the Best and Worst:
|Todd Kirkland/Icon SMI|
|Tim Tebow had the SEC's best performance bowl of the year in the BCS championship game.|
Best catch: The catch itself was spectacular, but it also came at a time when Ole Miss needed to make a statement. With the Rebels trailing 14-7 in the first half, senior receiver Mike Wallace split two Texas Tech defenders and somehow managed to bring in Jevan Snead's 41-yard pass with one of those defenders hanging onto him. Wallace juggled the ball in his right hand, then in his left hand and squeezed it as he rolled into the end zone for a touchdown.
Best defensive plan: Florida defensive coordinator Charlie Strong had an answer for everything Oklahoma tried to do in holding the Sooners to 40 points below their season average of 54. Granted, the Gators didn't stop the Sooners in their tracks, but they made all the key plays defensively. Most importantly, they were in position to make those plays -- and that's coaching. What more does Strong have to do to get a shot at a head coaching job?
Worst protection: Alabama quarterback John Parker Wilson has never spent so much time running for his life or simply trying to throw from his back. He was sacked eight times by Utah in the Utes' 31-17 victory over the Crimson Tide in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. The Utes used a wide array of stunts and blitzes and feasted on the absence of Alabama left tackle Andre Smith. The eight sacks were half the total the Tide had allowed (16) in 13 previous games.
Best comeback: Kentucky looked dead and buried in the first half of the AutoZone Liberty Bowl. The Wildcats trailed 16-3 at halftime, and it was one of those games where it appeared they could play for 20 quarters and still not score an offensive touchdown. But David Jones opened the second half with a 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, and the Wildcats outscored the Pirates 22-3 in the second half to win their third straight bowl game.
Worst offense: How's this for irony? Vanderbilt wins its first bowl game in 53 years with a 16-14 victory over Boston College in the Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl, but is the only one of the eight SEC teams in bowl games that doesn't score an offensive touchdown. That's right, the Commodores broke their bowl drought without finding the end zone offensively and finishing with just 200 yards of total offense. Talk about a clinic in opportunistic football.
Best defensive play: Florida sophomore defensive tackle Torrey Davis had made all of five tackles coming into the FedEx BCS National Championship Game and had found his share of trouble off the field. But his second-quarter tackle of Oklahoma's Chris Brown for a 2-yard loss on a fourth-and-goal play from the 1 was textbook. And not only that, but it kept the game tied 7-7 at the half and shifted the momentum into the Gators' favor.
Worst team performance: This was an easy call. South Carolina's 31-10 loss to Iowa in the Outback Bowl was the kind of performance that makes you scratch your head and say, 'Why even bother showing up?' Some would argue the Gamecocks didn't. They were down 31-0 before most of their alarm clocks had gone off, and the only semblance of a pulse came when Steve Spurrier had to break up an argument on the sideline.
Best run: The great part is that it didn't even come from an offensive player. Kentucky defensive tackle Ventrell Jenkins scooped up an East Carolina fumble in the fourth quarter and barreled 56 yards for the go-ahead touchdown. It's debatable what was better -- his mean stiff-arm of East Carolina quarterback Patrick Pinkney or the balance the 285-pound Jenkins showed to stay on his feet and score?
Best hit: It's the kind of hit that puts every offensive player on alert. Florida safety Major Wright timed it perfectly on a deep pass down the sideline, torpedoed over from his center field position and absolutely unloaded on Oklahoma receiver Manuel Johnson on the third play of the game. The hit occurred right in front of the Gators' sideline. The Florida players went crazy, and Johnson somehow wobbled to his feet and slowly jogged off. The tone had emphatically been set by Wright and the Florida defense.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
Kentucky coach Rich Brooks didn't mince words back in August.
|AP Photo/Mark Humphrey|
|The Wildcats' defense tightened up in the second half, keeping the Pirates out of the end zone.|
He said defense would have to carry the Wildcats this season, a defense Brooks called the most talented and deepest since he took over in Lexington in 2003.
For the first part of this season, Kentucky defenders made their coach look like a prophet and played at a level defensively that had been reserved for offense when Andre Woodson was slinging it around the last few seasons.
But injuries and a tougher schedule caught up with that defense during the second part of the season, and the team limped into the AutoZone Liberty Bowl having lost six of its last eight games.
The Wildcats walked away from that game Friday night, though, with their third straight bowl victory -- a first for Kentucky football -- thanks to a defense that might have saved its best for last.
Kentucky rallied from a 16-3 halftime deficit to win 25-19 over East Carolina. Not only did the Wildcats' defense clamp down on the Pirates in the second half and keep them out of the end zone, but the winning points came via a defensive touchdown.
In one of the more bizarre sequences of the season, Kentucky defensive end Ventrell Jenkins picked up a fumble and scooted 56 yards for a touchdown. Myron Pryor forced the fumble when he stripped East Carolina running back Norman Whitley, and the 285-pound Jenkins quickly transformed into a running back.
His stiff-arm of East Carolina quarterback Patrick Pinkney, who was trying to save the touchdown, was wicked, and Jenkins lumbered in for the winning touchdown with 3:02 to play.
Only a few plays earlier, Kentucky linebacker Micah Johnson had returned an East Carolina fumble for an apparent touchdown after Jeremy Jarmon sacked Pinkney. But the play was reversed when an instant replay review showed that Pinkney's knee was on the ground just before the ball popped loose.
The Wildcats (7-6) won despite scoring just one offensive touchdown. They opened the second half with a 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by David Jones.
But nobody in blue was worried about style points.
It's a tribute to Brooks and his staff that they were able to keep things together this season when the injuries started to mount, especially with the Wildcats so limited on offense.
A lot of people chuckled when Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart brought Brooks out of retirement earlier this decade to coach the Wildcats, who were about to feel the brunt of NCAA sanctions.
Nobody's laughing now.
The 67-year-old Brooks has done what he came to do, bring some stability and some respectability back to Kentucky football.