UK Football

Cats can’t sleep on the pass against run-happy Georgia Tech

So much is made of Georgia Tech’s ability to run the ball that the pass often gets overlooked.

That’s what the Yellow Jackets are counting on each and every game, including in Saturday’s TaxSlayer Bowl against Kentucky at EverBank Field.

“We have to remember that they will throw the ball and don’t get lulled to sleep,” UK cornerback Derrick Baity said. “Just because they ran it 30 times, I’ve got to be ready for the two that they’re going to throw my way.”

The Yellow Jackets pass the ball an average of just 11 times a game, but when they do put the ball in the air, it’s rarely for short yardage, averaging 20.4 yards per catch.

“When they throw it, they’re big shots, they’re touchdowns,” Cats secondary coach Steve Clinkscale said. “They just do a great job of exploiting your eyes. If you have poor vision, poor eye control, you’re not trusting your keys and doing your job, they will expose a secondary.”

If a cornerback or safety cheats up just a little bit anticipating the next run because there have been 10 straight runs before that, Georgia Tech quarterback Justin Thomas will see it and find an open receiver.

His most likely target will be Clinton Lynch, who has just 16 catches this season, but six of them have been for touchdowns.

So when UK Coach Mark Stoops talks about the defense playing with discipline against the triple-option attack of the Yellow Jackets, which has run the ball 79.3 percent of the time this season, he’s not just talking to the linemen and linebackers.

A three-week tutorial

Stoops and UK defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot had to develop a game plan against Georgia Tech’s unique triple-option attack on just one week’s time back in 2012 while at Florida State.

Having three weeks to plot and scheme is more preferable.

“It’s certainly nice to have three weeks,” Stoops said Friday. “I think it gives you some options, gives you some change-ups. I don’t think it makes it much easier.”

It’s still a complicated rushing attack, and UK’s players have to settle in and make plays.

“We have to be very fundamental, we have to stay on our feet, we can’t get chopped, can’t get cut,” Stoops continued. “We have to be very disciplined. I am glad we had three weeks. Hopefully things will work out the way we want them to. I think our players are really prepared well.”

Senior defensive lineman Courtney Miggins said the players are as ready as they can be.

“I feel like we’re prepared,” he said. “It’s been three weeks. Scout team has been giving us a good look. Few missed assignments, but pretty much everybody’s been on the same page. I think we’re ready to tee it up.”

The Yellow Jackets’ coach seemed intrigued by what Stoops and Eliot would throw at them this time around versus that 2012 Atlantic Coast Conference title game.

Paul Johnson noted that UK is primarily a 3-4 defensive front compared to the Florida State 4-3 alignment a few years back. That could make a big difference.

“We’ll see which one they bring to the table,” Johnson said. “It will be interesting when we line up for the first snap, see where they are.”

Sendoff to remember?

Kentucky doesn’t have many seniors who will be playing in their final game, but it would be extra special to send those players off with a victory in a bowl game, quarterback Stephen Johnson said Friday.

“The seniors deserve this one more than anybody,” the junior quarterback said. “It just really means a lot to them.”

Stoops has had plenty of kind things to say about the team’s veteran players, especially center Jon Toth, who will make his 48th career start on Saturday, most in the country.

“Jon is really a special guy; he really is,” Stoops said of the center, a likely NFL Draft pick. “He’s really the closest thing you could get in a college player to being a professional. … We’re going to be sad to see him go. We have to send him out the right way, try to get this victory.”

News and notes

Much of Georgia Tech’s three-game win streak has hinged on its ability to force turnovers.

The Yellow Jackets scored just 14 points off nine forced miscues in their first nine games, but they’ve generated 34 points off nine takeaways in the last three games.

This could be a problem for Kentucky, which has been one of the most turnover-prone teams in the nation, coughing up the ball 27 times in 12 games. Opponents have scored 106 points off of those mistakes.

The Cats have become less turnover-prone in the last five games with just nine, but mistakes could prove costly in a game where possessions could be at a premium.

▪  Kicker Harrison Butker goes into the bowl game tied for Georgia Tech’s all-time scoring record with 322 career points. Johnson messed with his senior this week saying the Yellow Jackets would only do two-point conversions.

“Hopefully we can find a way of getting in the end zone or have him kick a field goal because he’s certainly very deserving of that,” Georgia Tech’s coach said.

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