Mark Stoops’ final game as defensive coordinator at Florida State was against Georgia Tech in the 2012 ACC Championship game. On a Saturday night in Charlotte, Stoops’ Seminoles held off the Yellow Jackets 21-15 to claim the league title. By Sunday afternoon in Lexington, he was being formally introduced as Kentucky’s new football coach.
So there’s symmetry to the fact that four years later, Stoops’ will face Georgia Tech in his first bowl game for the Cats, the Taxslayer Bowl on Dec. 31 in Jacksonville, Florida. ESPN will televise the 11 a.m. game.
It’s the first time since 1999 and just the third time in program history that Kentucky will play in a Florida bowl game. Bear Bryant’s 1949 Kentucky team lost to Santa Clara 21-13 in Miami’s Orange Bowl on Jan. 2, 1950. Coach Hal Mumme and quarterback Tim Couch lost to Penn State 26-14 in the Outback Bowl in Tampa on Jan. 1, 1999.
The Taxslayer Bowl is actually the old Gator Bowl, which began in 1946. Taxslayer, an online tax software company, signed on as the game’s sponsor in 2011. The Gator Bowl name was dropped in 2014.
Kentucky’s upset win at then-No. 11 Louisville 41-38 in the Governor’s Cup game on Nov. 26 not only lifted UK to 7-5 on the season, but also above the status of bowls in which UK had already played, such as the Music City in Nashville and the Liberty in Memphis. Let’s face it, there’s just something better about a Florida bowl.
Meanwhile, Georgia Tech also finished its season with a road win over an arch-rival, scoring 14 points in the fourth quarter to beat Georgia 28-27 in Athens. Paul Johnson’s club won five of its last six games, including a 30-20 victory at division winner Virginia Tech.
On a teleconference Sunday night featuring the head coaches and athletic directors of both schools, Johnson said he saw Kentucky on tape when preparing his team for Georgia.
Records: Georgia Tech 8-4 overall, 4-4 in the ACC; Kentucky 7-5 overall, 4-4 in the SEC.
“I saw a physical football team,” said Johnson. “They had every opportunity to win that game and probably should have won that game.”
If Stoops isn’t yet familiar with this year’s Yellow Jackets, he is very familiar with Johnson and the coach’s trademark triple option offense. “A real challenge,” said the UK coach.
While Georgia Tech was 82nd in the nation in total offense this season, it was 10th nationally in rushing offense, averaging 257.4 yards per game. Tech threw the football just 146 times. Among FBS teams, only Air Force (140), Navy (136) and Army (115) threw it less.
In that 2012 conference title game, Johnson’s team threw it just 16 times despite trailing 21-6 at the half. Still, the Jackets rallied, cutting Florida State’s lead to six points with 6:27 left in the fourth quarter before FSU was “fortunate to get a couple of stops,” Stoops said on Sunday.
He doesn’t remember much about the hectic week leading up to that game. On Wednesday, it was announced he would take the UK job. On Saturday, he coached in the game.
“But I remember this: I remember it being extremely important for me to finish at Florida State the best I could,” he said Sunday. “It was a great opportunity for me. I really respect Jimbo Fisher and the players at Florida State, and I really wanted to do the very best I could to finish out.”
Now, no doubt, Stoops wants to do the best he can to finish out his first bowl season at Kentucky with a win — and again the opponent is Georgia Tech.
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How to get Kentucky football tickets for the TaxSlayer Bowl
Kentucky has been alloted 8,000 tickets for the TaxSlayer Bowl, to be played Dec. 31 at EverBank Field in Jacksonville, Fla.
On Sunday evening, the Wildcats received the invitation to play Georgia Tech in the game formerly known as the Gator Bowl.
The UK allotment is priced at $125 for U.S. Assure Club level seats and $85 for lower-level seats. The majority of UK’s tickets are on the west (home) side of the stadium.
Priority requests are being accepted through Monday at 4 p.m. at UKFootballTix.com. During that period, orders from season ticket holders will be filled first, based on K Fund priority point rankings, followed by orders from fans without football season tickets. Tickets ordered after the priority request period will be filled on a first-come, first-serve basis, based on availability.
All requests should be submitted online through your My UK Account, which all season ticket holders have. Those without season tickets will be prompted to create a My UK Account to order.
As an alternative, fans may print and fax the TaxSlayer Bowl Ticket Application to the UK Ticket Office at (859) 323-1269.
The application, and additional information about how to obtain tickets, is available at UKFootballTix.com.
Ticket information for UK students was to be released later Sunday.