Rapid Reaction: Georgia Tech's triple-option too much for Kentucky in bowl loss
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — After an 0-2 start, it had been a charmed season for the Kentucky Wildcats as the team fought back to a break-even SEC campaign, a seven-win season and a berth in the TaxSlayer Bowl. But it was a tough ending Saturday afternoon as Georgia Tech took advantage of a fast start to knock off Kentucky, 33-18.
What It Means: A win would have been a nice cap on the season and certainly wouldn’t have hurt Kentucky’s on-going recruiting efforts. But to some extent, having not reached a bowl since 2010 or won one since 2008, UK was playing with house money. While there is some loss of momentum with the dire performance in the TaxSlayer Bowl, Kentucky’s season is still widely viewed as a success, and as the team stands to graduate or lose virtually no contributors, the future remains bright for Mark Stoops’ Wildcats.
What I Liked: UK linebacker Jordan Jones had a typically solid game with 9 tackles, including 1.5 tackles for loss. Jones did a good job maintaining discipline against Tech’s exacting triple-option offense. Unfortunately, the Kentucky offense and special teams did little to help Jones and his defensive teammates.
What I Didn’t Like: Kentucky’s offense struggled in fine-tuning the little plays that make the difference between success and defeat. Too many times a pass was not quite accurate enough, a back came up a yard shy of a first down or the offense wasted a first down at the Tech 14-yard line as UK did in the middle of the second quarter. For a team that shaped up nicely behind the running of Boom Williams and Benny Snell, the Kentucky offense spent much of Saturday looking like a rudderless ship.
At halftime, UK had just two plays longer than 10 yards — and without those big plays, UK simply didn’t look like themselves.
Key Play: Kentucky had bounced back from a 10-0 deficit with a field goal and took a drive to the Tech 5-yard line with about 5:30 to go in the second quarter. On 4th-and-1, Kentucky elected to go for it, and ran a quick-hitter play to running back Jojo Kemp. Tech met him in the backfield and took him down well shy of the first-down marker.
Kentucky cut Georgia Tech’s lead to one possession, 26-18, with a little under four minutes left in the contest. Facing 3rd-and-4 with the possibility of giving the Wildcats the ball back, Yellow Jackets QB Justin Thomas found Ricky Jeune for a 42-yard gain to the UK 10-yard line that set up a game-sealing TD.
Who’s the Man: Probably Tech coach Paul Johnson, who persists in the face of up-tempo spread and passing game mania with his old-fashioned triple-option attack. It doesn’t always look like much, but Johnson keeps Tech relevant in the face of impressive odds. He certainly owned the TaxSlayer Bowl, as Tech rushed the ball for 266 yards.
What’s Next: Kentucky RB Boom Williams will have to decide whether to enter the NFL Draft or return for his senior season. Early speculation has been that Williams will leave, although that is far from certain. No other Wildcats are expected to leave school early. Otherwise, it’s back on the recruiting trail, where Stoops has filled in Kentucky’s class with impressive prospects over the last few weeks.