JACKSONVILLE – Kentucky coach Mark Stoops knew going into Saturday’s TaxSlayer Bowl against Georgia Tech that his defense would have a tough time against the Yellow Jackets’ triple option. He was proved right.
Georgia Tech (9-4) rushed for 266 yards in downing the Wildcats 33-18. UK, meanwhile, managed just 145 rushing yards, almost 100 yards less than its 241.2 per-game average.
Dedrick Mills rushed for 169 yards and a touchdown on 31 carries. Quarterback Justin Thomas rushed for a TD, and Tech also scored on a fumble return. In addition, Harrison Butker kicked four field goals.
“They played better,” Stoops said. “They executed in critical moments. They deserved to win the game.”
Stoops said both his team and Georgia Tech were “methodical” programs, meaning both like to run the ball. Stoops said his team was not tough enough up front, which allowed the Yellow Jackets to get chunks of yardage and control the clock. Tech enjoyed a time-of-possession advantage of almost five minutes.
UK also had problems with Tech’s defensive front, as quarterback Stephen Johnson was pressured early and often.
Despite the outcome, Stoops had praise for his team.
“We will be a better team,” Stoops said. “I am proud of this team and their efforts. I thank our seniors. Very, very few in numbers, but they’re very good quality young men and quality players. We’re going to miss them.”
Stoops said he thought of the game – UK’s first bowl appearance since 2010 – as a learning experience. He pointed out that 36 players on the two-deep will return next season and the program will continue to build.
“We return a whole bunch of football players,” he said. “They deserve a little bit of time off right now, then we’ll get back to work when we get back when the second semester begins. I’m proud of this team, their efforts, everything that we’ve asked them to do.”
(You can follow David Levin on Twitter @DM719907)
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