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Despite late push, Kentucky falls to Georgia Tech 33-18 in the TaxSlayer Bowl

UK Athletics

UK Athletics

The fanbase did their part, showing up in truckloads to cheer on the Wildcats. The team, however, was unable to get the job done.

After an incredibly slow start for the Wildcats on offense, the Yellow Jackets got up early and held on till the end, defeating Kentucky 33-18.

On the game’s opening drive, Georgia Tech’s Patrick Gamble strip-sacked Stephen Johnson in the backfield, where the fumble was returned back for a touchdown to take a 7-0 lead early.

Kentucky responded back with little fight, punting after just six plays, where GT came back and hit a field goal to go up 10-0.

The Wildcats drove the ball into the GT redzone, but managed to get just three points out of it. After forcing a punt, UK had the opportunity to tie it up or cut the lead to four, but turned the ball over on downs inside the five yard line.

Georgia Tech went on to finish off a 95-yard drive in just four and a half minutes to go up 17-3, and then managed to drill a controversial field goal at the end of the half to go up 20-3.

Despite being down 23-3 in the third quarter, the Wildcats managed to claw their way back into the game. A beautiful touchdown throw from Stephen Johnson to Dorian Baker in the corner of the end zone cut the lead to two scores, and Johnson followed it up with a long touchdown run of his own to give the Wildcats a fighting chance.

UK Athletics

UK Athletics

Kentucky lined up for the onside kick, but shanked it right in the hands of GT’s Brad Stewart to all but seal the deal for the Yellow Jackets. For good measure, Tech tossed a dagger to a wide open Jacket on the right sideline on third-and-short into Wildcat territory, leading to a score a few plays later to go up by 15 points.

After taking over with two minutes remaining, Kentucky turned the ball over on downs to put the finishing touch on the disappointing outing for the Wildcats.

Let’s get to the keys of the game.

Scoop-and-score

I touched on it before, but this play really killed momentum right from the start. On Kentucky’s opening drive, things were going fairly well until Stephen Johnson fumbled the ball to go down 7-0 early. One play doesn’t decide a game, but the air was sure let out of the sails as a result. Johnson had a good game overall, but his fumbles have been an issue all year long, and really bit the team in the butt from the get-go this afternoon.

One of the big storylines heading into today’s game was how tough it was to come back against Georgia Tech, and starting out of the gates with this “ugh” moment forced them to play catchup right away.

Recipe for disaster.

GT’s triple-option attack

It was exactly as bad as we expected it to be.

After the Cats got down early, the Yellow Jackets controlled the ball, not giving Kentucky time to mount the comeback. Coming back three scores in a quarter against an offense like GT’s was just way too much to overcome, for anybody really. When the Jackets got the ball back after UK cut the lead to two scores, they went on a drive lasting seven and a half minutes and hit a field goal to go up by 16, giving UK just six minutes to score two touchdowns and convert on both 2-pt conversion attempts.

It just wasn’t realistic, though UK gave themselves a fighting chance to make it happen.

Georgia Tech finished with 266 yards on the day, just over their average of 260 per game. Their rushing attack was led by Dedrick Mills (not to be confused with Lafayette product Jedrick Wills), who ran for 167 yards and a touchdown on the day. On the flip side, it was Kentucky who failed to get their backs going, gaining just 149 yards on the ground compared to their average of 241 yards a game. Stephen Johnson was the team’s leading rusher with 49 yards and a touchdown. Benny Snell and recent NFL-anouncee Boom Williams combined for just 69 yards on the ground.

Fourth down

One of the most talked about plays of the game occurred in the second quarter, when Mark Stoops went for it on fourth-and-one down 10-3 with just over five minutes to go in the first half. The offensive line collapsed and allowed the GT defense to swarm Jojo Kemp and take him down behind the line of scrimmage, giving the Cats no points on the play. Georgia Tech responded back with a touchdown to go up 17-3, and it seemed all momentum was lost at that point.

Jojo was cooking on that drive, so I understand Gran’s thinking to strike while the iron is hot. That being said, you’ve got to give Benny Snell the rock in that situation. That play in particular, but the entire game as a whole. He has been money on almost every opportunity to move the chains this season, and in a crucial time where we needed points, why not go with him? Seven flipping carries for Snell is not enough, especially for a game of this caliber.

After the game, Eddie Gran said he wished he had another crack at the call on fourth, saying he was “trying to run hurry-up” to catch the defense before they were set. “I’d like to have that one back,” he said.

Mark Stoops, however, stood behind the play-call. “You can always second guess it. I don’t regret that decision one bit. Does it hurt us? Yes, it probably did. I would have liked to have converted it.”

On the flip side, Georgia Tech had a massive fourth-and-one on their own fifteen, one they ended up converting. GT coach Paul Johnson said after the game he was going to call timeout and think things over, but because Kentucky had no one lined up on the guard, he decided to go for it. With little effort, they moved the sticks, and eventually went on a 95-yard touchdown drive.

Tech converted on their opportunities, Kentucky did not.

Things got a bit chippy…

Oh, did things get a little frisky out there today, and it happened right out of the gate. Georgia Tech’s offensive line decided it was necessary to cut block on nearly every snap, going after the knees of Kentucky’s defensive line, and even managed to take out a few guys for the game. Legal, yes. Ethical, hell no.

They did get caught a few times, getting called for chop blocks on several occasions, but the entire mindset to play dirty like that is mind-boggling to me. I lost a whole lot of respect for the entire Georgia Tech program, specifically when the (insert bad words here) Yellow Jacket media team on press row felt it was necessary to defend their actions throughout the game. If you were on the Live Blog, you saw how we felt about that lovely GT media crew.

Former Wildcat Jeremy Jarmon was fired up at halftime when things got a bit out of hand, saying “Power-Five schools just don’t block like this anymore. When I played, we only saw that garbage in our non-conference schedule, lower end teams trying to play rough to keep it close. It’s just dirty.”

And boy, did Mark Stoops agree, going straight at Paul Johnson’s neck.

And it didn’t stop there. After the “whatever the hell that was” situation at the end of the first half, Stoops reportedly kicked in the referees’ locker room and tossed a Gatorade cooler before talking to his team. There were quite a few “angry Stoops” moments throughout.

Other notes:

The offensive line really struggled today, especially from the right tackle position. No other way to put it. Georgia Tech has been atrocious in pass-rush this season, but managed to put pressure on Stephen Johnson on nearly every drop-back. Unacceptable outing from them.

The defense actually played fairly well, all things considered. They only gave up touchdowns on the awful 95-yard drive and in garbage time at the end, and came up with some big stops on third down. Georgia Tech reached their average yardage on the ground for the season, but not by much. If the offense managed to get anything going early on, the unit would’ve been able to get more rest on the sideline, making them look better in the long run. They had their flaws, but they had a solid outing overall.

Austin MacGinnis was injured. I was ready to call out the special teams until Stoops noted MacGinnis was dealing with a leg injury all week long, and fought through today’s game with pain. UK had no touchbacks today, and nearly every ball returned by the Jackets was impressive. On the flip side, Tech’s kicker Harrison Butker bombed them into the end zone on every kickoff, and went 4/4 on the day. Kid is good.

Boom is going pro. So there’s that.


Overall, the Wildcats were just a few plays away from winning this football game. Take away the opening fumble and lack of points on fourth-and-goal at the five, Kentucky has every opportunity at the end to finish the year with eight wins. Woulda, shoulda, coulda, though.

It’s been an incredible week for both the fanbase and team, if only the end result was what we’d hoped.

Go Cats, all day, every day.


Stephen Johnson wins TaxSlayer Bowl MVP for Kentucky

@UKFootball

@UKFootball

The game was pretty out of hand from the start, but Kentucky got a glimmer of hope in the fourth quarter courtesy of Stephen Johnson, who finished with 175 yards and one touchdown passing and 49 yards and one touchdown rushing. That touchdown run came from 21 yards out and pulled Kentucky within eight with four minutes left, helping Johnson earn Kentucky’s MVP honors from the TaxSlayer Bowl committee:

With Stephen, Benny, and 3/4 of the team coming back, the future is bright.


Proof Snell did carry the ball, via UK Athletics.

Answers to Three Questions Burning the BBN

Proof Snell did carry the ball, via UK Athletics.

Proof Snell did carry the ball, via UK Athletics.

What Happened to Benny Snell?

After dominating defenses all year, Benny Snell only had 7 carries for 43 yards, and those touches didn’t come until late in the first half.  Eddie Gran explains:

“We were just trying to get Boom started.  We couldn’t get started.  We couldn’t get started.  It didn’t matter what we were doing there at the beginning.  I tried to get Boom when they were playing zero-coverage to pop one, which he has all year.  That’s why he’s averaging 7.1 yards per carry.  We were trying to get him to the second level to make a big play.

Then Benny came in there and he had a couple good runs.  After that it was just so inconsistent, and then we started playing catch-up.  Then we got away from what we usually do.”

What Happened on the Onside Kick?

Many wondered what in the hell happened to Austin MacGinnis on the onside kick.  Turns out, it wasn’t MacGinnis, it was Miles Butler.  Mark Stoops explains:

“We miss-hit it. I wish Austin could have kicked. Austin, to his credit, fought through some things this week with his leg. It was not the same injury, something that he had carried over from the Louisville game. Nothing major. Nothing we need to pry into.

Miles just miss-hit the ball. So we felt like we had three timeouts left. I was conversing with Coach Eliot, whether we’d kick it deep with the timeouts and stop or go for the onside. We wanted to see what the look was. We tried to hit the dead spot. If you get a funky ball, you can get the ball. If not, you’re going to pin them on the 30 if you kick it deep.

Anyway, with the way Austin’s leg was, they may have gotten to the 30 anyway. Tried to get to the dead spot, but he just miss-hit it a little bit.”

Why Did Baity Blitz?

Kentucky needed a stop on third and medium to get the ball back in the offense’s hands with about two minutes to play.  After two successful run stuffs, Derrick Baity sprinted into the backfield on third down.  Justin Thomas found a wide open receiver, erasing all hope for UK.  Here’s what happened according to Mark Stoops.

“Late in the game, our guys were getting antsy. We had to get aggressive on the perimeter. They were milking us through the middle, they were getting soft. We were putting our guys on the quarterback and the dive. We had to handle the perimeter. We told them to be aggressive once they saw the option get away, not to blitz it.

We have a call that we do that, but that’s in desperation on the goal line. Just made an aggressive mistake. It was just a mistake.”


Optimism Moving Forward

Photo by Chet White | UK Athletics

Chet White | UK Athletics

It’s hard to find optimism when the season ends with a 15-point loss.  Especially when it’s against a team that runs a high school offense.  Still, it can’t overshadow Kentucky’s 2016 turnaround.

Mark Stoops said it best after the game.  “I can’t let one game get myself or this team down or take anything away from the good things that they did.”

The best thing they did was beat No. 11 Louisville on the road, ensuring Kentucky’s first winning record since 2009.  That victory was one of many — Mississippi State, Vanderbilt and South Carolina — that proved Kentucky can fight through adversity to win close games.

“We had adversity,” Stoops said.  “It’s just how you respond to it, whether it’s injuries, different things, bad starts, bad breaks, bad play, bad coaching.  You have to overcome it.  The better you are, you know, you’ll overcome things. Our football team has come a long, long way.  I’m very proud of them.

“They’ve improved. Again, they set the tone for the future.  We have I want to say 36 of our top 44 back. That’s good for us and our future. We’re excited about it.”

“We’re so young and a lot of us got chemistry together,” Derrick Baity said.  “We got to the bowl game together, so now we’re going to win a bowl game together.”  

 

Always remember, happiness can be found in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.


Benny Snell is Ready to Take Over the Offense from Boom Williams

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Entering today’s game, Benny Snell was the least experienced running back in the rotation behind Jojo Kemp and Boom Williams.  Now he’s their leader.

“It’s time to take the offense over.  It’s time to make some plays in the future,” Snell said after today’s TaxSlayer Bowl.  “I want our offense to be better, WAY better than we were this year and put more points on the board.”

Snell learned a lot from Boom.  From the film room to the practice field, he’s thankful for all the help and excited for his future.

“I’m very happy for him.  He gave me a lot of knowledge and I just grew from him, from watching him and watching film with him,” Snell said.

Things will not look the same when they return to the practice field this spring, but there’s no looking back.  Benny Snell is only looking forward.

“It’s going to be different, but they had their time.  I learned as much as I could from them,” he said.  “I had a blast with those guys.  As time goes on, things change.  I’m ready to take over.”  


BREAKING: Boom Williams declares for the NFL Draft

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Breaking news from the postgame locker room: Boom Williams just told reporters he will declare for the NFL Draft. Boom just informed Mark Stoops and the team of the news after today’s loss to Georgia Tech.

“Me and Stoops met earlier this week and then I talked with my family. My family and I talked last night and came to the final decision last night. I told Coach Stoops a few minutes ago after the game, so everything went that way. Like I said, it wasn’t an easy decision at all. I was really stuck in a hard place on whether I wanted to come back or whether I wanted to leave, but at the end of the day, like I said, my family and I made the decision on what’s best for me.”

“Me and my family prayed hard about it and we talked about it last night and just came to the decision that we felt like this was the perfect time for me to try to pursue my dreams of going to the NFL. Once the decision was made last night, I just wanted to come out here today and play with a clear head and play for my teammates. And even though we came up short, it’s something we’ll all be able to remember forever.”

Boom said although he’s leaving early, he’ll always bleed blue.

“Like I’ve said, I’ve always loved the fan base. BBN has the best fans in the nation. I’ll certainly miss the fans. Like I said, it’s just a part of life. At the end of the day, I love Kentucky and I’ll always bleed blue.”

Listen to Boom discuss his decision below:


Stoops fine with Paul Johnson, but “nobody else on that sideline is going to say a word to me”

Stoops fine with Paul Johnson, but “nobody else on that sideline is going to say a word to me”

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Few people were as frustrated as Mark Stoops during the first half of today’s game, especially after two defensive linemen went down with injuries, a result of Georgia Tech’s offensive line cut blocking (which, yes, is legal). While Alvonte Bell was being helped to the sidelines, Stoops engaged in a shouting match with Georgia Tech’s Paul Johnson:

After the game, Stoops was asked about his interaction with Johnson, and implied that his problem wasn’t with Georgia Tech’s head coach, but rather with his staff.

“No, not at all,” Stoops said when asked if he was upset with Georgia Tech’s blocking. “I was upset with somebody saying something to me. I have great respect for Coach Johnson, but nobody else on that sideline is going to say a word to me.”

Later in the press conference, Stoops was asked to elaborate. He did not.

“No,” Stoops said, adding after a long pause, “I will say this: I care about my players and I’m going to go check on them. I didn’t accuse anybody of doing anything illegal. I have great respect for Coach Johnson and I will talk to him; he and I have a great relationship. Again, nobody else over there is going to say a word to me.”

Um, I’d like to know more, please.


KSR LIVE CAM: Mark Stoops after Kentucky’s loss to Georgia Tech

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We may not have gotten the result we wanted, but Nick Roush is standing by in the media room to bring you Mark Stoops’ postgame remarks. Enjoy the live stream below:


USATSI

Kentucky’s late rally not enough; Cats lose to Georgia Tech 33-18

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Well, at least we went to a bowl, right? That’s about the only silver lining I can find for Kentucky’s 33-18 loss to Georgia Tech this afternoon. Kentucky shot itself in the foot from the start when Stephen Johnson fumbled the ball two minutes into the game, leading to an easy touchdown for the Yellow Jackets. From there, Georgia Tech’s weird offense, Kentucky’s poor play and questionable officiating took over, and despite a late rally, the Cats couldn’t get back in it. They’ll finish the season 7-6.

Regardless, we’ll have plenty of coverage this afternoon, including a live stream of Stoops’ press conference. Stay tuned…

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Halftime update: Angry Stoops still really angry

Halftime update: Angry Stoops still really angry

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Mark Stoops is not a happy man. Between Georgia Tech’s cut blocking, his team’s performance, and some seriously questionable officiating, Stoops has been furious on the sideline this afternoon. Here’s Stoops going after the officials over what should have been a targeting call:

And going into halftime after losing a challenge that resulted in Georgia Tech getting a last second field goal to go up 20-3:

Stoops’ rant didn’t end there. According to reporters on the scene, on his way through the tunnel at halftime, Stoops kicked the officials’ locker room door, punched an equipment box, and knocked over a Gatorade cooler before his staff pulled him into the locker room.

Yikes.


HALF: Georgia Tech 20 Kentucky 3

HALF: Georgia Tech 20 Kentucky 3

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Angry Stoops is not happy with Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson

Angry Stoops is not happy with Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson

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Things aren’t going Kentucky’s way so far in the TaxSlayer Bowl. A costly Stephen Johnson fumble led to six for Georgia Tech, who’s now up 10-0; however, the biggest drama came during an injury timeout after Alvonte Bell went down. Bell was the second Kentucky defensive lineman to go down in the game following Courtney Miggins, which prompted Mark Stoops to yell at Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson, accusing his team of taking cheap shots at UK’s D-Line:

Hopefully Angry Stoops fired up his team.


TaxSlayer Bowl: Numbers You Need to Know

The back cover to UK's TaxSlayer Bowl Media Guide.

The back cover to UK’s TaxSlayer Bowl Media Guide.

Georgia Tech Season Stats

CategoryPer Game AverageConference RankNational Rank
Scoring Offense 27.8869
Rushing Offense 257.421
10
Passing Offense 131.214123
Total Offense388.61182
Scoring Defense251047
Rushing Defense174.171064
Passing Defense233.9973
Total Defense 408.1963

Other noteworthy numbers:

  • Georgia Tech has only 16 sacks, No. 114 in FBS
  • Despite employing a rush-heavy offense, their TOP isn’t overwhelming at about 30 minutes per game.
  • Tech is tied-104th in the nation with 11 fumbles lost; Kentucky has lost 15 fumbles.
  • They convert 42% of their third downs, yet they allow opponents to convert 50% of their third downs, putting them at No. 126 in all of FBS.
  • Georgia Tech scored on 64% of their trips to the red zone, ranked No. 65 nationally.

Kentucky Season Stats

CategoryPer Game AverageConference RankNational Rank
Scoring Offense31854
Rushing Offense 241.25316
Passing Offense18713102
Total Offense428.3957
Scoring Defense31.21187
Rushing Defense22511108
Passing Defense214.5648
Total Defense 439.5988

Other noteworthy numbers:

  • A win would give the Cats their first Florida bowl victory in three tries.
  • Stephen Johnson is 7-2 as UK’s starting quarterback.
  • UK only needs 230 rushing yards to set the school’s single-season rush record.
  • Kentucky has converted 10 of 12 4th downs, third in the country.
  • UK scored on 87% of their trips to the red zone, 37th in the country; 62% of those scores were touchdowns.
  • In average Time of Possession, UK had the ball 30:02, Georgia Tech had it 30:07.

 


PHOTOS: The BBN takes over Jacksonville

PHOTOS: The BBN takes over Jacksonville

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Judging by the pictures and videos coming out of Jacksonville, nearly the entire Commonwealth went to the Sunshine State to watch Kentucky play Georgia Tech. Enjoy these pictures of your Big Blue brethren reppin’ the Cats all over the place:

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LIVE: The TaxSlayer Bowl Cat Walk

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Not in Jacksonville? Enjoy this live look inside today’s Cat Walk: