Kentucky Team News

TaxSlayer Bowl primer: Team that runs the ball the best will win

Paul Johnson Mark Stoops

Kentucky meets Georgia Tech in Saturday’s TaxSlayer Bowl. Playing in the postseason is old hat for coach Paul Johnson (above left) and Georgia Tech, but UK is making its first bowl appearance since 2010 and is seeking its first eight-win season since 2007 for coach Mark Stoops (above right).

Georgia Tech is making its 19th bowl appearance in 20 seasons; Tech’s streak of 18 consecutive postseason appearances ended last season.

Both UK (7-5) and Georgia Tech (8-4) rely heavily on their rushing attacks. The Yellow Jackets are 10th nationally in rushing offense, while the Wildcats are 16th. Thus, if you’ve been bemoaning the length of the bowls – it seems as if everyone is at least 3.5 hours – well, the TaxSlayer could be the lone bowl that actually lasts three hours.

One aspect to consider: Georgia Tech has lost its leading rusher, Marcus Marshall, to a transfer. Marshall, who also led the Yellow Jackets in rushing last season, transferred to FCS power James Madison in December.

This is one of four ACC-SEC bowl matchups. The ACC is 2-0 heading into Saturday’s games (LSU-Louisville also is Saturday). Tech is 2-0 vs. the SEC this season, having beaten Vanderbilt and Georgia.

RELATED: WATCH: TaxSlayer Bowl preview

Here’s a closer look at the game.

TaxSlayer Bowl

WHERE: EverBank Field, Jacksonville.
TIME/TV: 11 a.m., ESPN/Mark Jones (play-by-play) and Rod Gilmore (analyst)
PLAYERS ON SPOT: Kentucky QB Stephen Johnson and Georgia Tech RB Dedrick Mills need big games. Johnson is coming off his best game of the season, as he accounted for 421 yards of offense and three TDs in UK’s upset of Louisville. Johnson is far from a polished passer, but he made the Cardinals pay when they focused too much on stopping UK’s strong rushing attack. That needs to happen again against Tech. Mills has had a good freshman campaign, but with Marshall’s departure, he now becomes a starter and needs to produce big numbers. He has been suspended for three games, but still has the second-most carries on the team, behind only QB Justin Thomas.
TOP INDIVIDUAL MATCHUP: Kentucky C Jon Toth vs. Georgia Tech DT Patrick Gamble. Toth is UK’s best lineman, while Gamble is the rare tackle who leads a defense in sacks and tackles for loss. They won’t be matched up head-to-head all that often, but the winner when they do battle will have a big say as to which team controls the line of scrimmage. Toth will be making his 48th consecutive start, the nation’s longest current streak. Gamble is on the light side (he’s a 277-pounder), and likely would be an end at most other schools, especially those who run a 3-4. He is quick off the ball, and he must be disruptive against UK’s running game.
THE KEY STAT: Kentucky surrenders 225.0 rushing yards per game, which is 107th nationally. That’s not good, especially with Georgia Tech’s option offense up next. The Yellow Jackets are all about the run, as 79.3 percent of Tech’s plays from scrimmage have been rushes. Georgia Tech is next-to-last nationally in plays from scrimmage, yet is 26th nationally in rushing attempts. The Yellow Jackets aren’t as prolific on the ground as usual, yet still average 257.4 rushing yards per game.
OFFICIATING CREW: from the Big 12.
THE LINE: Georgia Tech by 3.5.
THE PROJECTED SCORE: Georgia Tech 30-28.

(You can follow Mike Huguenin on Twitter @MikeHuguenin)

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