Tampa Bay Sports Day

BOWLS: Kentucky Falls to Georgia Tech in TaxSlayer Gator Bowl

Stephen Johnson passed for 175 yards and a touchdown and rushed for a team-high 49 yards and another score, but the Kentucky  came up short on Saturday, falling to Georgia Tech 33-18 in the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl at EverBank Field.

Georgia Tech was able to contain Kentucky’s rushing duo of Boom Williams and Benny Snell. Williams carried 11 times for 35 yards, while Snell was held to 34 yards on seven carries.

Kentucky (7-6) was able to match Georgia Tech’s potent offense, as the Yellow Jackets had 371 yards, while the Wildcats had 324.

Tech’s offense came largely on the ground, as the Yellow Jackets rushed for 266 yards, compared to Kentucky’s 149. The Yellow Jackets passed for just 105 yards, while Kentucky threw for 175. Georgia Tech had 21 first downs, compared to 20 for Kentucky.

Jordan Jones and Denzil Ware led Kentucky in tackles with nine apiece. Courtney Love had eight stops, while Josh Allen, Mike Edwards and Marcus McWilson each had seven.

Kentucky got the ball first and the Wildcats moved the ball into Georgia Tech territory. But on a third-and-two from the Tech 49, Kentucky quarterback Stephen Johnson was stripped, and Tech’s P.J. Davis scooped up the fumble and returned it 38 yards for a touchdown, giving the Yellow Jackets and early 7-0 lead.

After a Kentucky punt, Georgia Tech drove 75 yards in 12 plays, but the Kentucky defense held. Tech got a 23-yard field goal by Harrison Butker, giving the Yellow Jackets a 10-0 lead. That would be the score at the end of the first quarter.

On Kentucky’s next drive, the Wildcats drove into the red zone, but the drive stalled, and Kentucky was forced into a 37-yard field goal by Austin MacGinnis which was good, cutting the Georgia Tech lead to 10-3.

The Wildcat defense then forced Georgia Tech into a three-and-out and a punt, giving Kentucky the ball at their own 28 yard line. From there, the Wildcats marched into Georgia Tech territory and when senior running back Jojo Kemp ran right for 25 yards, the Wildcats were in business at the Georgia Tech 14. But on a fourth-and-one from the Georgia Tech five yard line, Kemp was caught in the backfield and stopped short of the marker, giving the ball back to the Yellow Jackets.

Georgia Tech (9-4) took advantage, driving 94 yards in 11 plays and 4:29, ending with a 21-yard touchdown rush by Justin Thomas, giving the Yellow Jackets a 17-3 lead just before the half.

Kentucky seemed to have the last possession of the half, but on fourth-and-two, Grant McKinniss had his punt blocked, giving Tech one more possession and 24 seconds with which to work. As the half expired, Butker hit a 52-yard field goal to extend the Tech lead to 20-3 at the break.

On the first possession of the second half, Kentucky forced Georgia Tech into a three-and-out, then Nico Firios blocked Ryan Rodwell’s punt, setting the Wildcats up at the Georgia Tech 43. But Kentucky couldn’t take advantage of the good field position, and was forced into a punt of its own.

Neither team could get anything going until late in the third quarter, when Tech got good field position, beginning its drive inside Kentucky territory at the 45 yard line. But after driving inside the Kentucky 25, Tech was forced into another field goal from Butker, who connected from 44 yards to increase the Yellow Jackets’ advantage to 23-3 with 2:15 left in the third period.

As the third quarter ended, Kentucky was mounting perhaps its best drive of the day. And early in the fourth quarter, Johnson hit Dorian Baker in the corner of the end zone for a 21-yard touchdown, cutting Tech’s lead to 23-10 with 13:40 left in the game. Kentucky went 75 yards in 12 plays in 3:33 to score its first touchdown of the game.

Tech responded with a 12-play, 68-yard drive, covering 7:18 and ending with a 26-yard Butker field goal, extending the lead to 26-10.

But Kentucky was not finished. The Wildcats drove 75 yards in nine plays, culminating in a 21-yard scoring scamper by Johnson. Kentucky converted on a two-point conversion when Johnson hit C.J. Conrad, cutting the lead to 26-18 with 3:57 left in the game.

The Wildcats needed a stop on Georgia Tech’s next drive, but the Yellow Jackets drove for a touchdown by Dedrick Mills to seal the game.

Kentucky finishes the season at 7-6, marking the program’s first winning season since 2009. Saturday’s TaxSlayer Bowl was Kentucky’s first bowl appearance since the 2010 BBVA Compass Bowl.