Georgia Tech is set to take on Kentucky in the TaxSlayer Bowl, so here are some storylines and predictions for the Yellow Jackets ahead of the game.
Georgia Tech will battle Kentucky in the TaxSlayer Bowl on Saturday, Dec. 31 at EverBank Field in Jacksonville, FL.
The Yellow Jackets (8-4, 4-4 ACC) led the ACC in rushing and are coming off of a comeback win against rival Georgia in Athens. In order to win this game against the SEC’s Wildcats, quarterback Justin Thomas will need to make a couple of big plays through the air. He will be looking to finish a nice career at GT with a bowl victory in his last game.
After dropping his first four bowl games as head coach at Tech, Paul Johnson has won two of his last three. And he is coming off of a nice bounce back season after a disastrous 3-9 2015 campaign.
Veteran, steady hand
If Thomas is playing well, the entire offense is playing well. While he may not have put up quite the same numbers that he did during the Yellow Jackets’ surprising 2014 Orange Bowl run that culminated with a win over Mississippi State, Thomas still rushed for 562 yards and five touchdowns while adding 1,454 yards and eight scores through the air. He also tossed just two interceptions, became the first Georgia Tech quarterback since Joe Hamilton in 1998-99 to beat rival Georgia twice in a career.
Thomas will have a fantastic game, so his play won’t be the reason if the Yellow Jackets falter. He has protected the football so much better this year compared to last that turnovers won’t be an issue for him against the ‘Cats.
While *NSYNC may be my favorite boy band of all time, this is a GT offense that has played much better than the 2015 unit, but it still did not play as well as it had hoped this past fall. Thomas tried to do too much last season, but he received improved play all around him this past fall. The offensive line was much better despite battling injury and depth issues, and Thomas was able to connect on big plays through the air.
Yet consistently putting together long drives that takes the fight out of an opposing defense has not quite been there in 2016. Against Kentucky, expect GT to put together at least one drive that lasts about a half of quarter, which will wear down the UK front seven.
Tick tock, tick tock
The Yellow Jackets, like always, will want to control the tempo and eat clock until their offense springs a big play. However, both teams are in the postseason because of their run game, so both squads will want to keep the opposing offenses off of the field. That’s why GT has to be on point in its rushing attack, because it will be able to keep its defense off of the field for long stretches and then be fresh for when the UK offense eventually takes over. The Wildcats still have defensive depth issues, so the Jackets will want to exploit that weakness.
Thomas and the Yellow Jackets rallied from a 13-point fourth-quarter deficit at rival Georgia in the regular-season finale, which capped off a nice bounce back year from a brutal 2015. Johnson’s squad rallied in the first game of the year in Dublin as well, as a late scoring drive helped GT beat Boston College. If GT is down in the fourth quarter to UK, do not count this team out because it’s proven that it is capable of a comeback win or two.
While we know the bread and butter of this GT offense is its potent ground attack via the triple-option, Thomas is the best passer that Johnson has had in Atlanta. So expect the Yellow Jackets to rush, rush, rush and pound, pound, pound before taking a deep shot down the field once in a while. Thomas averaged nearly 11 yards per attempt in 2016, and collectively the GT pass-catchers averaged more than 20 yards per reception. Keep an eye on sophomore running back Clinton Lynch, who averaged more than 30 yards per catch out of the backfield. He had six of his 16 receptions go for scores, and he’ll add a seventh against the Wildcats.