A TaxSlayer Bowl that wasn’t especially competitive until the end was still awfully contentious Saturday.
Although Georgia Tech's methodical offense allowed the Yellow Jackets (9-4) to build a 20-point lead and then hold on for a 33-18 victory over Kentucky (7-6), Tech's blocking tactics raised the ire of Wildcats coach Mark Stoops.
Stoops and Yellow Jackets coach Paul Johnson got into a first-half shouting match while Kentucky’s training staff tended to one of several injured players, and Stoops later let the officials have it before heading to his locker room at halftime.
When it came to the in-game action, Saturday’s bowl was all Yellow Jackets until a late Kentucky rally. Georgia Tech ran 51 times for 266 yards, led by a season-high 169 yards on 31 carries from freshman Dedrick Mills.
That, plus four field goals by Harrison Butker, gave Johnson’s team a big enough cushion to survive Kentucky’s comeback attempt in the closing minutes.
Butker, by the way, surpassed fellow kicker Luke Manget as Georgia Tech’s all-time leading scorer Saturday. Butker entered the day tied with Manget at 322 points and finished his career with 337 after booting field goals of 23, 52, 44 and 26 yards and converting three PATs.
Georgia Tech scored a defensive touchdown on the fourth play of the game when defensive lineman Patrick Gamble knocked the ball away from Wildcats quarterback Stephen Johnson on a sack and linebacker P.J. Davis recovered the loose ball and rumbled 38 yards for a score.
After that, the Yellow Jackets weren’t exactly flashy, but they shut down a Kentucky running game that had been highly productive down the stretch. The Wildcats got just 69 rushing yards from their pair of 1,000-yard rushers, Stanley “Boom” Williams (11 carries for 35 yards) and Benny Snell (7-34), and finished the game with 149 yards on the ground.
Kentucky trailed 23-3 early in the fourth quarter when Johnson hit diving receiver Dorian Baker for a 20-yard touchdown, but Georgia Tech answered with a field goal drive that milked seven minutes and 27 seconds off the clock.
Johnson tiptoed down the sideline for a 21-yard touchdown run with 3:57 to play and then converted a two-point pass to tight end C.J. Conrad to make it 26-18.
The comeback petered out there, however. Georgia Tech recovered Kentucky’s onside kick attempt and then hit the Wildcats with a big pass play, which has been so lethal in Tech’s run-heavy offense.
Facing third-and-4 at midfield, Georgia Tech quarterback Justin Thomas caught Kentucky in a cornerback blitz and hit uncovered receiver Ricky Jeune for a 42-yard gain that nearly put away the game. Three plays later, Mills plowed into the end zone.
Johnson and the Wildcats put together a more competitive second half -- he finished with 175 passing yards, 49 rushing yards and two touchdowns (one passing, one rushing). But it was too little, too late.