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Taxslayer Bowl Pick

Kentucky

vs.

Georgia Tech

12/31/16

Formerly known as the Gator Bowl, the TaxSlayer Bowl is in its third season of operation under this name. It's featured some top matchups throughout the years, but this year Georgia Tech, which didn't make a bowl last season and Kentucky, which hasn't appeared in a bowl since 2010, face off. The Yellow Jackets were sitting as -3.5 point favorites (dropped from -5) at 5Dimes Sportsbook for the game in Jacksonville.

Georgia Tech started off hot with three decent wins (Boston College, Vanderbilt), but when the schedule picked up, they struggled to beat some of the ACC's best. Still, the Yellow Jackets came through in winning five of their last six with impressive road wins at Virginia Tech and Georgia highlighting the slate.

It was a similar case for Kentucky, although the Wildcats started off really slow as seen in the opening loss to Southern Miss. But like GT, they came through, beating Vandy and Miss. State in back-to-back games and then closing the season with a win at Louisville.

In like opponents, Ga. Tech beat Vandy 38-7 early in the season and UK beat the 'Dores 20-13 in the middle of the year. UK lost to Georgia at home near the end of the season 27-24 and GT came back to beat them in the finale 28-27.

The main thing in this game is that both teams want to run the ball. That's obvious for the Georgia Tech triple-option led by quarterback Justin Thomas (562 yards, 5 TDs). They'll be without top rusher Marcus Marshall, but as usual, they'll throw another back in there whether it's Dedrick Mills (602 yards, 11 TDs) or any of the three other guys that had at least 35 carries. The main thing with Thomas is that he showed some improvement in decision making this season, completing a career-high 54.5% of his passes and only threw two picks after completing just above 40% last season with eight interceptions. When called upon, he has gotten the job done in 2016.

The problem is immediate for the Wildcats as they have one of the worst rush defenses in the country, allowing 225 yards per game. Against the triple-option, that isn't a good thing. As for Tech's defense, they're giving up 174.2 yards per game and that could be the difference in this matchup.

The UK offense came through in the win at Louisville and that was mostly because quarterback Stephen Johnson had a season-best game throwing for 338 yards and three touchdowns, but also running for 83 yards. Johnson was an absolute difference-maker and if he can carry that over to this game, that could lead to an upset for the Wildcats. Of course, it's easier said than done. Kentucky will still focus on the ground game between Stanley Williams (1,135 yards, 7 TDs) and Benny Snell Jr. (1,057 yards, 13 TDs).

Georgia Tech's defense had its moments this year, but often struggled against good offenses. If Kentucky can find room on the ground, this should be a back-and-forth game with a decent amount of points. Getting a month to prepare for the triple-option will only help Kentucky's case, as well.

The Yellow Jackets are 4-1 ATS in their last five vs. the SEC, but 2-6 ATS in their last eight bowl games. The Wildcats are 7-2 ATS in their last nine games overall, but 1-4 ATS in their last five non-conference games.

check back on game day for our pick

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