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

UK Athletics

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.


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.

Article written by Jack Pilgrim

Follow me on Twitter: @JackPilgrimKSR

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

  1. UKBlueGreen
    6:06 pm December 31, 2016 Permalink

    We wanted a Bowl game, we got it.
    AND a Kentucky player was MVP.
    Not a bad end to the season.

  2. DelrayCat
    6:23 pm December 31, 2016 Permalink

    Honestly, I’m glad Boom is going pro and JoJo is graduating. Bennie needs to touch the ball 20+ times a game. I really think we underachieved in many games due to the staff’s commitment to splitting carries between all three backs plus Johnson running it some.

    • WildcatCam
      7:07 pm December 31, 2016 Permalink

      It helped us and hurt us both in games this season.

  3. kjd
    11:13 pm December 31, 2016 Permalink

    IMO, Boom will not make it in the NFL. Biggest reason: he’s too fragile. He will not be able to stay healthy.

  4. unbridled
    12:14 am January 1, 2017 Permalink

    Mark Stoops is not a good coach, not a good recruiter (despite how many “4 star recruits” he brings in), and uk is not a football school…nor will it ever be.

    • unbridled
      12:16 am January 1, 2017 Permalink

      Who seriously cares? We need number 9 and it could very well be attainable this year. Let’s go round ball cats…truly the only sport that matters!

    • Kat 308
      6:37 am January 1, 2017 Permalink


    • whatwasthat
      9:01 am January 1, 2017 Permalink

      Lol, basketball is a minor sport compared to football. Let you in on a secret unbridled, unless AD is walking through the door the the hoops team is not getting number nine.

    • unbridled
      9:56 am January 1, 2017 Permalink

      Yeah you are right. Nothing says elite football program like an embarrassing loss in the “taxslayer” bowl to a garbage team that runs the option. No offense but you people have skewed expectations, or you readily except mediocrity. No thanks. I’ll stick with the program that is nationally relevant every year.

    • unbridled
      10:10 am January 1, 2017 Permalink


    • UK Big Board Update
      3:20 pm January 1, 2017 Permalink


  5. Lip Man 1
    1:38 pm January 1, 2017 Permalink


    Your comment was VERY well said. I liked the fact that UK won seven games…I’d have like it even more if they actually beat seven good football teams.