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Georgia Tech 33, Kentucky 18: The Wildcats drop the Gator Bowl

After a rough start to the game, Kentucky bounced back in the fourth quarter, but it was not enough

NCAA Football: TaxSlayer Bowl-Kentucky vs Georgia Tech Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports

Kentucky used a strong fourth quarter to close the Gator Bowl down to a one possession game late in the fourth quarter, but could not finish the comeback as they fell to Georgia Tech 33-18.

The Wildcats’ first bowl appearance since the 2010-11 Birmingham Bowl was a feisty affair with both head coaches seen on the television coverage jawing at each other as Mark Stoops seemingly took issue with Georgia Tech’s blocking schemes after a few early injuries to Kentucky’s defense.

Neither team’s offense was spectacular, but Georgia Tech’s controlled the tempo of the game and limited Kentucky’s number of possessions. The Wildcats only had five possessions per half and only came up with three points in the first half.

After rushing for 225 yards or more in six of their last seven games, Kentucky only managed 149 yards on 36 carries today and the failure to extend drives with the rushing game ultimately doomed their effort.

For Kentucky, the game started as poorly as it could have. On the game’s third play, quarterback Stephen Johnson fumbled and Georgia Tech’s PJ Davis scooped up the ball and returned it for a 38 yard touchdown.

A failed redzone fourth and one conversion in the second quarter while down 10-3 appeared to take all confidence out Kentucky and it took until almost the fourth quarter for them to wake back up. Georgia Tech responded with an 11 play, 94 yard touchdown drive, including a bizarre fourth down conversion after Johnson elected to go for a fourth and one from his own 15, to take a commanding 17-3 lead shortly before halftime.

After being limited to 150 yards through nearly three quarters, Kentucky’s next two drives covered 75 yards apiece and both ended with touchdowns to cut the deficit to eight. For the first score, Dorian Baker hauled in fantastic diving touchdown grab to cut the deficit to 23-10 but Tech’s next drive helped to shorten the game as it took more than seven minutes in 12 plays.

Ultimately, this game should be viewed as what it is for Kentucky: a cap on what was an unexpected success of a season. The result should not sour the season went from Mark Stoops being nearly-fired in September to still mathmatically alive for the SEC East late into the campaign. With Johnson emerging throughout the season and both Boom Williams and (edited to add: Williams declared for the NFL draft after the game) Benny Snell Jr. coming back in 2017, Kentucky should have a substantial running threat and be dangerous in most of their games next year.

Player of the Game

The standout performer of the game was Georgia Tech’s B back Dedrick Mills as the freshman picked up a career high in both carries (31) and yards (169).