Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson summed up the TaxSlayer Bowl in seven words Friday:
“I think it will be over quick,” Johnson said.
Considering the Yellow Jackets and Kentucky have two of the nation’s most prolific rushing attacks, the clock might barely stop Saturday.
Georgia Tech (8-4) ranks 10th in the country rushing, averaging 257 yards a game. Kentucky (7-5) is 16th at 241 yards a game. And with an 11 a.m. start time in Jacksonville, players and coaches should be off the field in time for a late lunch and maybe home in time to watch some of the national championship semifinals.
“We’d like to play at 8 (a.m.) if they want to move it up,” Johnson said. “I love early morning games because you don’t have to sit around all day and wait and anticipate.”
With both teams coming off impressive victories against in-state rivals, one will be able to carry a modest winning streak into the offseason.
The Yellow Jackets have won three in a row, including a 28-27 victory at Georgia to end the regular season, and five of their last six. The Wildcats have won two in a row, including a 41-38 shocker at then-11th-ranked Louisville , and seven of 10.
“I think it would mean a lot to this program for this eighth win,” Kentucky quarterback Stephen Johnson said. “It’s been a while to be at this point.”
The Wildcats, who are making their first bowl appearance in six years, haven’t won eight games since 2007. They might have to outgain Tech on the ground to reach that milestone again.
Johnson’s flexbone spread option — he insists the triple option is a play, not a scheme — has been a staple of his programs since 1985. This season, only Army (123) and Air Force (140) have thrown fewer passes than Tech (146).
“We feel like we’ve been doing this long enough that sometimes we can have an answer or two,” said Johnson, whose leading rusher, Marcus Marshall, won’t play after deciding to transfer.
Defenses that have found success slowing Tech down typically have talent up front and discipline all around. Having three weeks to prepare should help the Cats.
“I’d like to think so. It’s certainly better than a week, that’s for sure,” Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said. “We have to be extremely disciplined. Coach Johnson has been around a long time. They can throw a lot at you. … They put a lot of stress on you.”
The same can be said about Kentucky’s ground game, which features Stanley “Boom” Williams, freshman Benny Snell and senior JoJo Kemp.
With Williams (1,135 yards, seven TDs) and Snell (1,079 yards, 13 scores) leading the way, the Wildcats have their most rushing yards (2,895) since 1976 and have gained at least 229 yards on the ground in six of their last seven games.
“It takes a lot of pressure off me having Benny, Boom and Joe back there,” Johnson said. “It’s really hard for defenses to stop.”
Some other things to know about Georgia Tech and Kentucky, who are playing for the first time since 1960.
SEC STRETCH: Tech is playing its second of three consecutive games against Southeastern Conference teams. The Yellow Jackets beat rival Georgia 28-27 in their last game and open next season against Tennessee on Labor Day night in Atlanta.
SCORING RECORD: Georgia Tech place-kicker Harrison Butker likely will break the school record for scoring. Butker has 322 points, tying him with Luke Manget (1999-2002) for the program’s all-time mark. Butker has made 54 of 56 kicks this season, including 11 of 13 on field goals and all 43 extra points. “I joked with him during practice and told him we were going to go for two all the time,” Johnson said.
BOWL BOOTY: Players stayed at exclusive resorts near the beach, enjoyed an outing to Topgolf, toured ships and helicopters at Mayport Naval Base, and visited a children’s hospital. But maybe the coolest part of their TaxSlayer Bowl trip was getting a personalized bobble-head doll featuring each player’s face, name and uniform number.