May 23, 2022; Thousand Oaks, CA, USA; Los Angeles Rams offensive coordinator Liam Coen during organized team activities at California Lutheran University. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Buccaneers hire Kentucky’s Liam Coen as offensive coordinator

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers announced the hiring of the University of Kentucky’s Liam Coen as their new offensive coordinator Saturday.

Coen, 38, spent 2023 as the Wildcats offensive coordinator after previously serving in that role with the Los Angeles Rams in 2022 and Kentucky in 2021.

Prior to that, he worked under Sean McVay in Los Angeles as an assistant wide receivers coach (2018-19) and assistant quarterbacks coach (2020).

His experience working in McVay’s system was something the Buccaneers cited to ESPN as being an important factor in their search to replace departing Dave Canales, who was hired as head coach of the Carolina Panthers on Jan. 25.

Canales brought a version of McVay’s offense to Tampa in 2023, which was refined under Shane Waldron in Seattle. Waldron’s Seahawks offense came about after Waldron spent four seasons coaching with McVay.

Coen brings another form of continuity to the Bucs. His starting quarterback during part of the 2022 NFL season in Los Angeles was Baker Mayfield, a pending free agent who is coming off a resurgent season with the Buccaneers in 2023.

Those 2022 Rams struggled to move the ball, finishing 27th in the league in scoring (18.1 points per game) and last in total offense (280.5 yards per game).

Kentucky went 7-6 in 2023, averaging 29.1 points and 339.5 yards per game. The Wildcats lost 38-35 to Clemson in the Gator Bowl on Dec. 29.

Coen was a record-setting quarterback at UMass, where his roommate and favorite target was former Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz, before starting his coaching career in the college ranks at Brown, Rhode Island, Maine and his alma mater.

–Field Level Media

Jul 31, 2022; Irvine, CA, USA; Los Angeles Rams offensive coordinator Liam Coen during training camp at UC Irvine. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Report: Bucs target Kentucky’s Liam Coen for OC job

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are targeting Kentucky’s Liam Coen as their new offensive coordinator, NFL Network reported Friday.

Coen, 38, has alternated between the Wildcats (2021, 2023) and the Los Angeles Rams (2018-20, 2022) over the past six seasons.

He was the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach during both stints at Kentucky. With the Rams, he was coach Sean McVay’s assistant wide receivers coach (2018-19), assistant QBs coach (2020) and offensive coordinator (2022).

Coen would replace Dave Canales, who departed Tampa to become head coach of the Carolina Panthers.

Coen’s starting quarterback during part of the 2022 NFL season in Los Angeles was Baker Mayfield, a pending free agent who is coming off a resurgent season with the Buccaneers in 2023.

His 2022 Rams struggled to move the ball, finishing 27th in the league in scoring and last in total offense.

Kentucky went 7-6 in 2023, averaging 29.1 points and 339.5 yards per game. The Wildcats lost 38-35 to Clemson in the Gator Bowl on Dec. 29.

Coen was a record-setting quarterback at UMass, where his roommate and favorite target was former Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz, before starting his coaching career in the college ranks at Brown, Rhode Island, Maine and his alma mater.

–Field Level Media

Dec 29, 2023; Jacksonville, FL, USA;  Clemson Tigers running back Phil Mafah (7) runs the ball into the end zone for a touchdown against the Kentucky Wildcats in the second quarter during the Gator Bowl at EverBank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

Phil Mafah (4 TDs), Clemson topple Kentucky late in Gator Bowl

Phil Mafah rushed for a Gator Bowl-record four touchdowns, including the decisive score with 17 seconds left, to help Clemson post a come-from-behind 38-35 victory over Kentucky on Friday at Jacksonville, Fla.

Mafah scored three touchdowns in the final quarter as the Tigers tallied 28 points to overcome an 11-point deficit. Kentucky committed four turnovers in the final quarter with Clemson’s Shelton Lewis making the game-sealing interception with nine seconds left.

Barrett Carter had two key fourth-quarter takeaways for Clemson (9-4), which won its fifth straight game. Cade Klubnik was 30-of-41 passing for 264 yards and one interception. Mafah rushed for 71 yards for the Tigers.

Barion Brown accounted for three scores, including a kickoff return, for Kentucky (7-6), which lost for the sixth time in eight games.

Ray Davis rushed 1 yard for a touchdown to give Kentucky a 35-30 lead with 2:39 remaining. Davis rushed for 63 yards and stretched his single-season school record to 21 total touchdowns.

But the lead didn’t hold up as the Tigers drove 68 yards on 12 plays for Mafah’s go-ahead score prior to a two-point conversion throw.

Devin Leary completed 16 of 27 passes for 306 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions for Kentucky. Brown also rushed for a score and caught one, while Dane Key also had a scoring reception.

Kentucky led 21-10 after Brown returned the opening kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown. It was Brown’s third kickoff return score of the season.

But the Wildcats committed three turnovers in the first eight-plus minutes of the fourth quarter to help the Tigers rally.

Clemson moved within five on the first play of the quarter when Mafah scored on a 1-yard run. A two-point conversion pass was incomplete.

Jonathan Weitz booted a 28-yard field goal as the Tigers cut their deficit to 21-19 with seven minutes remaining. The Field goal was set up by Carter’s interception that gave Clemson the ball at the Kentucky 37-yard line.

On Kentucky’s next offensive play, Brown fumbled and Carter returned it to the Wildcats’ 29. On the following play, Mafah raced 29 yards to put Clemson ahead and Klubnik tossed a two-point conversion pass to Tyler Brown to give the Tigers a 27-21 lead with 6:45 left in the game.

Three plays later, Kentucky was back ahead at 28-27. Leary threw deep to a wide-open Brown, who finished a 60-yard pass play.

Clemson opened the scoring on Weitz’s 39-yard field goal, but the Wildcats took a 7-3 lead when Brown raced 22 yards for a score with five minutes left in the opening quarter.

The Tigers regained the lead when Mafah scored from the 1 with 10:17 left in the first half.

Kentucky took a 14-10 lead on Leary’s 5-yard scoring pass to Key with 7:44 remaining in the half.

–Field Level Media

Kentucky Wildcats running back Ray Davis (1) reacts after scoring in the third quarter at Louisville on Nov. 25, 2023.

Clemson streaks into Gator Bowl clash with Kentucky

Clemson is accustomed to playing on big stages, but falling short of double-digit victories for the first time since 2010 has ramifications.

The Tigers weren’t in the College Football Playoff mix nor were they a candidate for one of the major bowls, yet they do get the opportunity to finish the season with a fifth consecutive victory when they battle Kentucky in the Gator Bowl on Friday in Jacksonville, Fla.

Clemson (8-4) was sitting at .500 before a 31-23 home win over Notre Dame became the first of four straight November triumphs to save a seemingly lost season.

“To be 4-4, everybody had a decision to make,” Tigers coach Dabo Swinney said. “Our team chose to believe that it was still half-full and kept a great attitude and just kept finding a way. …

“They’ve done a great job. They’ve won four in a row, they went from 4-4 to the Gator Bowl and this is a great opportunity to finish our season on a really positive note.”

The bowl game will be the 50th in program history — Clemson is 26-23 — and the 10th time that the Tigers have played in the Gator Bowl. Clemson is 4-5 in the Gator Bowl.

Kentucky (7-5) has taken the opposite path to northeast Florida. The Wildcats started 5-0 and then dropped five of six games before posting a solid victory over then-No. 10 Louisville.

That Nov. 25 win over their in-state rivals lifted the Wildcats into the Gator Bowl for the third time. They split the first two trips. Overall, Kentucky is 12-10 in bowl games.

“There’s been some ups and downs through this season,” Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said. “I like this football team. They’ve stayed with it all year. Things haven’t always been pretty … but I like the way they fought and hung tough.”

Wildcats star running back Ray Davis declared for the NFL draft and later indicated on social media that he will play in the Gator Bowl.

Davis has set a school record with 20 total touchdowns (13 rushing, seven receiving) and his 1,066 rushing yards rank 13th on the school’s single-season list.

“I’ve been really pleased with him making that decision to come (play) when he doesn’t really have to,” Kentucky offensive coordinator Liam Coen said. “It gives us another playmaker to get the ball in his hands and go win this football game.”

Wildcats quarterback Devin Leary will be playing against Clemson for the fourth time in his career. During his time at North Carolina State, he went 1-2 against the Tigers with losses in 2019 and 2022.

But in 2021, he passed for 238 yards and four touchdowns as the Wolfpack upset No. 9 Clemson 27-21 in double overtime.

“It’s kind of ironic to see them again,” Leary said. “They’re a great team. We know it’s going to be a good challenge.”

Leary will see some unfamiliar players as six key Clemson defenders have opted out of the game. First-team All-Atlantic Coast Conference linebacker Jeremiah Trotter Jr. (team-high 88 tackles), first-team All-ACC cornerback Nate Wiggins and third-team All-ACC defensive tackle Ruke Orhorhoro are preparing for the NFL draft while safety Andrew Mukuba, cornerback Toriano Pride and defensive end David Ojiegbe entered the transfer portal.

The carnage could have been worse, but second-team All-ACC linebacker Barrett Carter and safety R.J. Mickens announced they were returning for the 2024 season.

“You have a tough decision to make, but you have to really weigh out the pros and cons,” Carter said. “So I felt like I had some unfinished business here.”

The Clemson offense lost a starter in wideout Beaux Collins, who entered the portal and transferred to Notre Dame.

This will be the 14th meeting between the schools. Kentucky leads the series 8-5 but Clemson won the most recent meeting, 21-13, in the 2009 Music City Bowl.

–Field Level Media

Nov 4, 2023; Athens, Georgia, USA; Georgia Bulldogs linebacker Jamon Dumas-Johnson (10) on the field during the game against the Missouri Tigers during the first half at Sanford Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Georgia LB Jamon Dumas-Johnson heading to Kentucky

Georgia linebacker Jamon Dumas-Johnson announced Wednesday he is transferring to Kentucky.

He was a 2022 Butkus Award finalist and a two-time national champion in three seasons with the Bulldogs.

“The chip is there on BOTH shoulders,” he posted on Instagram with a photo wearing a Wildcats uniform.

He registered 9.5 sacks, 17 tackles for loss and one interception in 38 games at Georgia from 2021-23.

Dumas-Johnson missed the last three games this season with an arm injury.

Georgia backup quarterback Brock Vandagriff previously announced he also was transferring to Kentucky.

The Bulldogs visit the Wildcats next season on Sept. 14.

–Field Level Media

Nov 25, 2023; Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes running back Chip Trayanum (19) carries the ball during the NCAA football game against the Michigan Wolverines at Michigan Stadium. Ohio State lost 30-24.

Ohio State RB Chip Trayanum transfers to Kentucky

Running back DeaMonte “Chip” Trayanum announced Tuesday he is transferring from Ohio State to Kentucky.

He has one season of eligibility left after two seasons at Arizona State (2020-21) and two with the Buckeyes.

Trayanum was second on Ohio State (11-1) with 373 rushing yards and three touchdowns in 12 games in 2023.

He scored the game-winning 1-yard touchdown in the final seconds to beat Notre Dame, 17-14, on Sept. 23.

Trayanum heads to Kentucky with 1,157 career rushing yards and 13 touchdowns, plus 15 catches for 91 yards.

–Field Level Media

Nov 18, 2023; Columbia, South Carolina, USA; Kentucky Wildcats head coach Mark Stoops directs his team against the South Carolina Gamecocks in the first quarter at Williams-Brice Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports Kentucky

Mark Stoops staying at Kentucky amid Texas A&M rumors

Kentucky’s Mark Stoops said he is staying put despite multiple reports linking him to the head-coaching vacancy at Texas A&M.

Stoops, who is in his 11th season at Kentucky, took to social media early Sunday morning to make his intentions clear. His words came several hours after the Wildcats’ 38-31 victory over No. 10 Louisville.

“I know there’s been much speculation about me and my job situation the last couple of days,” Stoops posted. “It’s true I was contacted about a potential opportunity this weekend, but after celebrating a big win against our rivals with players I love like family, I knew in my heart I couldn’t leave the University of Kentucky right now. I have a great job at a place I love, and I get to work with the best administration and greatest fan base in college football right where I’m at. I’m excited to say I’m a Wildcat!”

Shortly after outlets reported Stoops could head toward Texas A&M, an uprising began among fans on social media and team-related websites.

Texas A&M, which fired head coach Jimbo Fisher on Nov. 12, played its final two games under interim head coach Elijah Robinson. The Aggies (7-5, 4-4 Southeastern Conference) posted a 38-10 win over Abilene Christian on Nov. 18 and dropped a 42-30 decision to LSU on Saturday.

Kentucky (7-5, 3-5) is headed to a bowl game for the eighth consecutive season under the 56-year-old Stoops, who is the winningest coach in the school’s history. He owns a 73-64 record with the Wildcats.

–Field Level Media

Louisville's Ashton Gillotte has 10 sacks this season, spearheading the No. 10 Cardinals' defense.

Prize games imminent, No. 10 Louisville first greets rival Kentucky

An 11-win season is within Louisville’s grasp for the first time since 2012 with a spot in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game already clinched.

While bigger accomplishments are in sight, the No. 10 Cardinals are keeping their focus tightly on their Saturday opponent as they look to halt a four-game losing skid against fierce rival Kentucky when the teams meet in Louisville, Ky.

The visiting Wildcats (6-5) have dropped five of six games since a strong start but the Cardinals (10-1) only need to look at the recent results of the Governor’s Cup series to become greatly concerned.

The Wildcats have won by an average of 30.5 points during their four-game series winning streak and that includes steamrolling the Cardinals in the last two games held at Louisville. Kentucky rolled to a 56-10 win in 2018 and a 52-21 victory in 2021.

First-year Cardinals coach Jeff Brohm — a former quarterback at the school — is aware the fan base has been highly distressed over the recent one-sided setbacks.

“The full focus needs to be on this game, because in my opinion, this is the most important game of the rest of the season,” Brohm said. “So we can talk about it all we want, this is the most important game, and our guys need to understand that preparing and trying to win this game needs to be the complete focus.

“If we want to make our fans happy, and give them a good Thanksgiving, we’ve got to go win the game. We’ve got to really crank this thing up this week.”

Louisville has won its last four games, including a 38-31 road win over Miami last weekend. The Cardinals will face No. 5 Florida State in the ACC title game on Dec. 2.

Kentucky’s fortunes went downhill rapidly after the fast start. Three of the Wildcats’ five losses have been by 17 or more points.

Last week, the Wildcats lost 17-14 at South Carolina. Kentucky turned the ball over three times without a takeaway.

“This is not the time to point fingers and throw any one person or any area (under the bus),” Wildcats coach Mark Stoops said. “We had an opportunity to win that game.”

Stoops now has his focus on the Cardinals as beating a powerful Louisville squad to keep the streak going would rate as the highlight of the season.

“Well, it’ll be a big win for us. It’s the last game of the year,” Stoops said. “It’s been a tough stretch, without a doubt, but this is another game. It certainly doesn’t salvage some of the things that we’ve done or anything like that, we don’t look at it that way, we look at it like it’s another opportunity.

“We play a lot of big games here. This one, I’ve said it from the moment I walked in here that it was important. I know the importance of it to our fan base and to the community and I’ve acknowledged that for 11 years.”

Kentucky running back Ray Davis is just 10 yards away from producing the 15th 1,000-yard rushing campaign in school history.

Louisville has its own solid runner in Jahwar Jordan, who has 1,009 yards on the ground.

Safety Devin Neal (four interceptions) and defensive end Ashton Gillotte (10 sacks) lead a Cardinals’ defense that has pitched two shutouts and held another club to three points.

Meanwhile, Brohm doesn’t want to hear chatter about the ACC championship game until the clash with Kentucky is over.

“It’s a one-game season,” Brohm said. “It’s a rivalry game against a really good, talented opponent that’s well coached and that’s won a lot of games against our program over the last four years.”

Kentucky leads the series 19-15.

–Field Level Media

Nov 18, 2023; Columbia, South Carolina, USA; Kentucky Wildcats running back Ramon Jefferson (26) rushes against the South Carolina Gamecocks in the second quarter at Williams-Brice Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports Kentucky

Spencer Rattler leads South Carolina past Kentucky

Spencer Rattler tossed a pair of touchdown passes to Xavier Legette to lift host South Carolina to a 17-14 victory over Kentucky on Saturday in Columbia, S.C.

Rattler completed 19 of 27 passes for 207 yards, with Legette reeling in six catches for 94 yards.

The Gamecocks (5-6, 3-5 Southeastern Conference) have won three in a row to move to the fringe of becoming bowl eligible. South Carolina would accomplish that feat should it defeat Palmetto State rival Clemson on Nov. 25.

Devin Leary completed 17 of 34 passes for 171 yards and one touchdown, and Ray Davis rushed for 61 yards and a score for the Wildcats (6-5, 3-5), who have lost five of their last six games.

The combination of Rattler and Legette allowed South Carolina to open the scoring midway into the first quarter and allow the Gamecocks to regain the lead with 7:44 remaining in the fourth. The pair hooked up over the middle to give South Carolina a 17-14 lead, with the touchdown reception serving as Legette’s seventh of the season and fourth in the last three games.

Leary was hit as he threw, resulting in an easy interception for Tonka Hemingway with just over two minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. Kentucky got the ball back, however Hemingway deflected Leary’s pass to turn the ball over on downs.

Rattler connected with Legette on a 13-yard touchdown pass with 7:27 remaining in the first quarter. Legette’s touchdown capped an 11-play, 69-yard drive that spanned 5 minutes, 11 seconds.

Mitch Jeter’s 23-yard field goal upped South Carolina’s advantage to 10-0 late in the first quarter, however Leary found Barion Brown for a 7-yard score with 10:52 left in the second.

Kentucky claimed its first lead as Davis rushed past the first and second levels of the defense before using a spin move to create space to complete his 31-yard touchdown. Davis’ 12th rushing touchdown of the season gave the Wildcats a 14-10 lead with 8:42 remaining in the third quarter.

–Field Level Media

Oct 21, 2023; Columbia, Missouri, USA; South Carolina Gamecocks quarterback Spencer Rattler (7) throws a pass during the first half against the Missouri Tigers at Faurot Field at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Clemson looming, South Carolina’s postseason push chugs on vs. Kentucky

South Carolina’s quest to become bowl eligible will advance when the team hosts Kentucky in a Southeastern Conference clash on Saturday night in Columbia, S.C.

The Gamecocks (4-6, 2-5) answered four straight losses with a 38-28 win over Jacksonville State on Nov. 4 and a 47-6 victory vs. Vanderbilt last Saturday. Should South Carolina beat the Wildcats (6-4, 3-4), it would set up a regular-season finale with Palmetto State rival Clemson on Nov. 25 for the chance to punch its ticket to the postseason.

Spencer Rattler threw for 351 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for a score in the lopsided triumph over the Commodores. Xavier Legette recorded nine catches for 120 yards and Mario Anderson rushed for 102 yards and a touchdown.

“Yeah, um, you don’t want to make too big of a deal off one game,” Gamecocks coach Shane Beamer said. “I thought defensively, we didn’t make enough plays in the second half, but we showed some flashes (in a 30-17 loss to Texas A&M on Oct. 28) of pressuring the quarterback and being aggressive and getting off the field on third down.”

South Carolina forced two turnovers and limited Vanderbilt to 234 total yards. A nice performance to be certain; however, Beamer was quick to keep it in perspective.

“I’m not gonna anoint us the ’85 Chicago Bears defense because of one really good day,” Beamer said. “But if we can continue to build on what we did (Saturday) and keep getting better — not just defensively, but our entire team — offense, defense and special teams — we’ll have the November that we want.”

Kentucky followed a winless October by splitting the first two games in November. The Wildcats became bowl eligible with a 24-3 victory over Mississippi State on Nov. 4 before falling for the fourth time in five games with a 49-21 setback against Alabama.

Kentucky was outgained 444-253 in total offense and allowed Alabama to convert 7 of 11 third-down opportunities.

“We have to regroup in a hurry and get ready to go on the road and try to get win No. 7 for us here this week at South Carolina, a team that obviously has played much better the past two weeks,” Wildcats coach Mark Stoops said. “They’ve also played some very good football teams and are more than capable of playing well in all phases.”

Rattler completed 14 of 19 passes for 177 yards with one touchdown and one interception in South Carolina’s 24-14 victory over Kentucky last season.

–Field Level Media