Location: EverBank Field in Jacksonville, FL
Date and Time: December 31, 11 AM ET (ESPN)
It was now or never for Mark Stoops and Kentucky.
After failing to get the Wildcats to a bowl game in his first three seasons, Stoops undoubtedly knew what was at stake heading into this season.
And the pressure hit an all-time high just two games in. Kentucky dropped its season opener to Southern Miss, and then proceeded to get blasted 45-7 at Florida. It wasn’t an ideal start for a coach that was feeling an enormous amount of heat.
Luckily for Stoops, things got better. The Wildcats were able to reel off three straight SEC wins after a predictable loss at Alabama to start October, leaving the team just one win away from bowl eligibility.
Kentucky got that on November 19 against Austin Peay, but didn’t stop there in shocking rival Louisville the following week to get to seven wins on the season.
It was exactly the type of finish that Stoops and the program needed after several years of irrelevance. Now, the Wildcats will look to take even more momentum into the offseason by beating Georgia Tech in Jacksonville.
The Yellow Jackets present obvious challenges for Stoops’ team, with the triple-option offense being at the top of the list. Georgia Tech once again ran all over opponents this season en route to an 8-4 season, with Paul Johnson’s squad finishing 10th in the nation in rushing offense at 257.4 yards per game.
In case it wasn’t clear from those stats, the Yellow Jackets don’t pass the ball a lot. They only averaged 12 pass attempts per game, so the Wildcats know what they’re getting heading into this game.
And that may be the problem. Kentucky finished 108th in the country in rushing defense this season. It gave up 225 yards per game on the ground, which isn’t a great sign when you consider what Georgia Tech plans to do on offense.
On the bright side, the Wildcats can put up quick points if their offense is clicking. Quarterback Stephen Johnson hasn’t been perfect since taking over for Drew Barker back in September, but his game against Louisville (421 total yards and three passing touchdowns) showed what he was capable of.
If he can get off to a fast start and help Kentucky get a few quick scores, it’ll force Georgia Tech out of its comfort zone and make passing a necessity.
That situation certainly favors the Wildcats.
There’s no doubt that Kentucky will be amped up for its first bowl appearance in six years. However, the Yellow Jackets are also riding a nice wave of momentum after their own victory over their biggest rival in the last game of the season.
Admittedly, this is one of the toughest SEC bowl games to predict. There’s a lot to like about both teams right now, but overall, it feels like Georgia Tech is the better pick.
TaxSlayer Bowl Prediction: Georgia Tech 37, Kentucky 31
Other SEC Bowl Predictions
- Sugar Bowl: Auburn vs. Oklahoma
- Outback Bowl: Florida vs. Iowa
- Peach Bowl: Alabama vs. Washington (CFB Playoff)
- Citrus Bowl: LSU vs. Louisville
- Music City Bowl: Tennessee vs. Nebraska
- Liberty Bowl: Georgia vs. TCU
- Belk Bowl: Arkansas vs. Virginia Tech
- Birmingham Bowl: South Carolina vs. USF
- Texas Bowl: Texas A&M vs. Kansas State
- Independence Bowl: Vandy vs. NC State
- St. Petersburg Bowl: Mississippi State vs. Miami (OH)