UK Football

Blue Review: Instant analysis from UK’s 33-18 loss to Georgia Tech in the TaxSlayer Bowl

Stephen Johnson takes blame for early fumble

Kentucky quarterback Stephen Johnson talks about his early fumble, which Georgia Tech returned for a score in the TaxSlayer Bowl.
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Kentucky quarterback Stephen Johnson talks about his early fumble, which Georgia Tech returned for a score in the TaxSlayer Bowl.

Instant analysis from Kentucky’s 33-18 loss to Georgia Tech in the TaxSlayer Bowl:

How the game was won

In the first half, Georgia Tech got a scoop-and-score fumble recovery touchdown on Kentucky’s first offensive drive, blocked a UK punt to set up a field goal and held Kentucky to three points on two trips inside the Yellow Jackets’ red zone. The Wildcats never fully dug out from their 20-3 halftime hole.

Game balls

1. Paul Johnson. The Georgia Tech coach’s bold gamble to go for it on fourth-and-1 from the Yellow Jackets’ 15 succeeded and ignited the drive that put Tech up two touchdowns.

2. Dedrick Mills. Bowling ball of a Georgia Tech fullback bulldozed UK to tune of 169 yards and a game-clinching touchdown.

3. Georgia Tech defense. Held a Kentucky rushing attack that averaged 241.2 yards a game to 149 yards.

4. Georgia Tech football program. Handled the bowl experience like you’d expect of a program making its 44th postseason appearance.

5. Kentucky football fans. Blue dominated the stands at EverBank Field, perhaps 30,000 of the announced TaxSlayer Bowl crowd of 43,102. UK backers were not the reason this was the least-attended “Gator Bowl” since 1958.

Running gassers

1. Mark Stoops. Whatever a coach thinks of the quality of the officiating, when a head man loses his composure, it doesn’t do his team any favors.

2. Stephen Johnson’s fumbling problem. The UK quarterback’s early-season issue came back at a most inopportune time.

3. Kentucky offensive line. A much-praised unit (deservedly) as UK gained bowl eligibility did not fare especially well against a Georgia Tech defensive front that, entering the bowl, was considered so-so.

4. UK defense. When the Cats had chances to get back in the game, consistently could not get crucial stops.

Key number(s)

0 and 3. Kentucky’s loss to Georgia Tech in the TaxSlayer Bowl in Jacksonville drops UK’s all-time record in bowl games played in the state of Florida to 0-3. The Cats also lost 21-13 to Santa Clara in the Orange Bowl in Miami following the 1949 season and 26-14 to Penn State in the Outback Bowl in Tampa following the 1998 season.

Fashion police

For its first bowl game since Jan. 8, 2011, Kentucky went traditional and wore blue helmets, blue jerseys with white numbers and letters and white pants.

Next up

Kentucky will open its 2017 season on the road at Southern Mississippi on Sept. 2. In 2016, Coach Jay Hopson’s Golden Eagles went 7-6 with a 28-21 victory over Louisiana-Lafayette in the New Orleans Bowl.

Know your foe

1. With former Kentucky offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson calling the plays, Southern Mississippi shocked UK in Commonwealth Stadium in the 2016 opener by rallying from a 35-10 deficit to win 44-35.

2. In Dawson’s first season at USM after his dismissal at Kentucky, the Southern Miss offense averaged 32.8 points and 472.8 yards a game. In 2015, Dawson’s sole UK offense averaged 24.7 points and 372 yards.

3. Southern Miss will be breaking in a new starting quarterback in 2017. Nick Mullens ended his stellar career at USM by throwing for 346 yards in the bowl win over Louisiana-Lafayette. Mullens leaves Hattiesburg as Southern Mississippi’s career leader in passing yards (11,994) and passing touchdowns (87).

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