College Football

Kentucky, new to recent bowl games, to take on veteran Georgia Tech In TaxSlayer Bowl in Florida


This story was compiled and written by University of Connecticut journalism students Jeffrey Lemmon and Steven Tucker, with information and statistics provided by the University of Kentucky and Georgia Tech University sports information departments and athletics websites.

A six-year bowl drought will end for the Kentucky Wildcats when they take on the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, a regular bowl participant, for the first time since 1960 in the TaxSlayer Bowl at EverBank Stadium in Jacksonville, Fla.

Kentucky (7-5, 4-4 SEC East) enters the TaxSlayer Bowl (December 31, 11:00 AM on ESPN) fresh off of a 41-38 upset win in the Governor’s Cup against No, 11 Louisville, who they hadn’t beaten since the last season they went to a bowl game in 2010. The Wildcats, who feature six players with at least one interception each, forced the Cardinals Heisman-hopeful quarterback Lamar Jackson into throwing three interceptions. This will be Kentucky’s 16th bowl appearance and first under Head Coach Mark Stoops.

“As you could imagine, it’s an exciting time for myself and our team,” said Stoops. “We’re still on a high after the big victory [versus Louisville]. Our feet have not really hit the ground.”

Kentucky has overcome adversity to earn their bowl bid, losing their starting quarterback Drew Barker in the third game of the season. Junior Stephen Johnson, who has completed 126 of his 231 passing attempts this season for 1862 total yards, replaced Barker and is averaging of 169.3 passing yards per game. Johnson has thrown 12 touchdown passes and six interceptions.

Six of Johnson’s receivers have over 100 yards on the season. The Kentucky receiving core is led by two Florida-born junior wide receivers, Garrett Johnson (36 receptions, 586 yards, 5 and TD’s) and Jeff Badet (28 receptions for 639 yards and 4 TD’s).

The Wildcats’ offensive attack, however, comes primarily from their ground game, which is ranked 17th nationally with an average of 241.3 yards per game. Kentucky features a pair of 1,000 yard rushers, junior running back Stanley “Boom” Williams (1,135 yards) and freshman running back Benny Snell, Jr. (1,057 yards), for the first time in school history.

The Wildcats defense features sophomore linebacker Jordan Jones, who has 100 tackles on the season, including 14 tackles for loss, four of which are sacks.

“Our team realizes that we can be a good football team, and we’ve shown flashes,” said Stoops. “We’re working harder to become a more consistent team, but I think our team has a lot of confidence and energy as we focus.”

The Wildcats opponent, Georgia Tech (8-4, 4-4 ACC Coastal), will be making their nineteenth bowl appearance in the last twenty seasons after missing out on the postseason

last year. Like Kentucky, the Yellow Jackets are also coming off of a win over an in-state rival. They traveled to Athens and defeated Georgia, who represented the SEC in last year’s TaxSlayer Bowl, 28-27 after trailing by 13 points early in the fourth quarter.

“This team doesn’t get a whole lot of respect, nor does the program,” said head coach Paul Johnson. “So [we] just keep playing. We don’t listen to anybody, we just play.”

Johnson is 2-5 in bowl games while at Georgia Tech, winning the Sun Bowl in 2012 and the Orange Bowl in 2014. After finishing with a 3-9 record in 2015, Johnson, with the help of senior quarterback Justin Thomas, led the Yellow Jackets to their eighth appearance in this bowl and their first since 2007. They are 3-4 in their seven prior appearances, when the game was known as the Gator Bowl.

“Playing in such a terrific bowl with a long, storied history is a great reward for our student-athletes after winning five of the last six games to close the regular season,” said Johnson. “We have a lot of respect for Coach Stoops and Kentucky and look forward to a great trip to Jacksonville.”

Johnson and Stoops last coached against each other in the 2012 ACC Championship game, when Stoops was the Florida State defensive coordinator. Johnson will rely on Thomas, who is 351 passing yards away from 5,000 on his career, to breakdown the Kentucky defense.

The 2014 Orange Bowl MVP has rushed for 21 touchdowns and thrown for another 40 across his distinguished career. Thomas and running backs Marcus Marshall and Dedrick Mills all have 95-plus carries this season under Johnson’s triple option offense.

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  1. Craig Thom

    December 16, 2016 at 1:24 am

    Nice job. I’ve just got a couple of comments:

    The formal name of the school is the Georgia Institute of Technology, not Georgia Tech University. It is one of five FBS schools without “University” in its name. Can you name the other four?

    Marcus Marshall has announced that he is transferring and will not be playing in the bowl game. Mills was suspended for three games, so we’ll see how long he lasts.

  2. Terese Karmel

    December 16, 2016 at 7:23 pm

    thanks for your comments — will adjust the story