Georgia Tech defeats Kentucky to win 2016 TaxSlayer Bowl

Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports

Courtesy: Georgia Tech Athletics

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) – Dedrick Mills ran for a career-high 169 yards and a touchdown, Justin Thomas scored in his final collegiate game and Georgia Tech beat Kentucky 33-18 in the TaxSlayer Bowl on Saturday.

The Yellow Jackets (9-4) also got significant contributions from defense and special teams en route to their fourth consecutive victory.

Playing without running back Marcus Marshall, who decided to transfer after the regular-season finale, Tech turned to Mills to handle the workload. And the freshman from nearby Waycross, Georgia, delivered. He carried a career-high 31 times as the Yellow Jackets won back-to-back bowl games for the first time in more than a decade.

It wasn’t totally a one-man show, though.

Senior P.J. Davis returned a fumble 38 yards for a touchdown on the game’s opening drive, a horrible start for a Kentucky team that was making its first bowl appearance in six years. And fellow linebacker Terrell Lewis blocked a punt late in the first half that set up a 52-yard field goal.

Thomas added a 21-yard touchdown run. And Harrison Butker made a career-best four field goals.

The Wildcats (7-6) looked like a team merely content with being in a bowl game. They couldn’t slow down coach Paul Johnson’s flexbone spread option and really struggled to get much going on the ground.

Kentucky’s backfield duo of Stanley ”Boom” Williams and Benny Snell combined for just 69 yards on the ground.

Still, the Wildcats had a shot in the final minutes. Quarterback Stephen Johnson scrambled for a 21-yard touchdown with 3:57 remaining and then connected with C.J. Conrad for the 2-point conversion to make it a one-score game.

But Thomas found Ricky Jeune wide open on a third-and-4 play near midfield for a 42-yard gain. Mills scored three plays later to seal Tech’s victory.

THE TAKEAWAY

Georgia Tech: The Yellow Jackets have to replace two significant cogs in its flexbone spread option, with Thomas graduating and Marshall transferring. But Mills looks like he could be a force for at least two more years.

UP NEXT

Georgia Tech: Plays the final of three straight games against Southeastern Conference teams when it opens 2017 against Tennessee on Labor Day night in Atlanta.

Team Notes

  • Georgia Tech finished the 2016 season with a 9-4 overall record, good for the program’s 11th nine-win season in the last 60 years. Four of Georgia Tech’s 11 nine-win campaigns since 1957 have come in nine seasons under head coach Paul Johnson (2008, 2009, 2014, 2016).
  • Georgia Tech finished the season with a four-game winning streak and wins in six of its last seven games.
  • The four-game winning streak to close the season is Georgia Tech’s longest since it won its final five games of the 1998 season.
  • Georgia Tech finished 3-0 against opponents from the SEC — all from the East Division — in 2016 (def. Vanderbilt, 38-7, on Sept. 17 and Georgia, 28-27, on Nov. 26). Georgia Tech opens the 2017 season versus another SEC East opponent — Tennessee — on Sept. 4 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
  • Georgia Tech is 5-1 in its last six games against SEC opponents.
  • Georgia Tech moved to 12-7-1 all-time against former Southern Conference and SEC rival Kentucky.
  • The win was Georgia Tech’s third-straight over Kentucky but its first since the last meeting between the teams since 1960.
  • Georgia Tech moved to 25-19 all-time in bowl games, becoming the 10th program with 25 bowl victories (LSU would become the 11th with a win over Louisville in Saturday’s Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl).
  • Georgia Tech evened its record at 4-4 all-time in the TaxSlayer Bowl (formerly known as the Gator Bowl).
  • The win was Georgia Tech’s third in its last four bowl games overall.
  • Georgia Tech’s 41-yard fumble return for a touchdown in the first quarter (forced by senior DT Patrick Gamble, recovered and returned by senior LB P.J. Davis) was the Yellow Jackets’ first defensive touchdown in a bowl game since Quayshawn Nealy returned an interception 74 yards for a touchdown versus Utah in the 2011 Sun Bowl (Dec. 31, 2011).
  • The defensive touchdown was Georgia Tech’s first overall since DT Adam Gotsis (now a member of the Denver Broncos) recovered a fumble in the end zone versus Clemson on Oct. 10, 2015.
  • The defensive touchdown was Georgia Tech’s 29th non-offensive TD in Johnson’s nine seasons at the helm.
  • The punt block by junior LB Terrell Lewis that set up Georgia Tech’s field goal at the end of the first half was the Yellow Jackets’ first since DB Chris Milton (now a member of the Indianapolis Colts) blocked a punt vs. North Carolina on Oct. 3, 2015.

Individual Notes

  • Senior PK Harrison Butker became Georgia Tech’s all-time scoring leader when he scored the 323rd point of his career on the Yellow Jackets’ first extra point of the game, breaking a tie for the school record with PK Luke Manget (322 pts. — 1999-2002). Butker finished with 337 career points.
  • Butker’s 52-yard field goal on the final play of the first half was his longest of the season (prev.: 42 at North Carolina, Nov. 5) and was tied for the third-longest of his career (career-long: 53 vs. Florida State, 2015 and at Georgia, 2014).
  • Butker’s four field goals on Saturday were a career high (previously achieved three times) and were a Georgia Tech bowl record (prev.: 2 — Manget vs. Miami in 2000 Gator Bowl and Justin Moore vs. Utah in 2011 Sun Bowl).
  • Butker’s four field goals were tied for the second-most in a game in Georgia Tech history and the most since Scott Blair kicked four versus Clemson in the 2009 ACC Championship Game.
  • Georgia Tech freshman BB Dedrick Mills rushed for a career-high 169 yards on 31 carries (5.5 avg.) — prev. career high: 132 at North Carolina, Nov. 5.

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