The season-ending three-game winning streak made a big difference for Georgia Tech when the bowl committees made their selections.
The Yellow Jackets closed the season with wins over Virginia Tech, Virginia and Georgia to finish 8-4 and Sunday accepted an invitation to play Kentucky in the TaxSlayer Bowl on Dec. 31 in Jacksonville, Florida.
“We are very excited to represent the ACC in the TaxSlayer Bowl,” Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson said. “Playing in such a terrific bowl with a long, storied history is a great reward for our student-athletes after winning five of the last six games to close the regular season.”
The flurry of wins enabled the Yellow Jackets to climb out of the bottom rung of bowl commitments and into one of the mid-level bowls. It also puts them in a warm-weather city that is only a six-hour drive from home.
Georgia Tech is among 11 teams from the ACC that received a bowl invitation. Before the win over Georgia, the Yellow Jackets were believed to be headed to Shreveport, Louisiana, for the Independence Bowl or Annapolis, Maryland, for the Military Bowl. The TaxSlayer Bowl paid out $2.75 million to each team last year, making it one of the top 10 bowls in payouts after the College Football Playoff and New Year’s Six games.
It will be Georgia Tech’s first trip to Jacksonville since the 2007 Gator Bowl, a 38-35 loss to West Virginia. The Yellow Jackets are 3-4 in the Gator Bowl. Georgia Tech hasn’t played Kentucky since 1960. Kentucky (7-5) went 4-4 in the SEC and closed the regular season by defeating Louisville 41-38.
The participants have two common opponents – Vanderbilt and Georgia. Georgia Tech defeated both, while Kentucky beat Vanderbilt but lost to Georgia on a game-ending field goal.
“We have a lot of respect for coach (Mark) Stoops and Kentucky and look forward to a great trip to Jacksonville and a great game,” Johnson said.
On the surface the game could be an offensive shootout. Kentucky averages 31 points and 428.2 yards per game — 241.2 on the ground and 187 in the air — and has scored 35 points or more in seven games. But the Wildcats allow 31.2 points and 439.5 yards per game.
Georgia Tech averages 27.8 points and 388.6 yards per game, 257.4 of it on the ground. The Yellow Jackets allow 25 points and 408.1 yards per game.’
It will be the final game for Georgia Tech quarterback Justin Thomas. He will leave as the most successful quarterback during Johnson’s nine-year tenure. The senior (1,454 yards passing, 562 yards rushing) ranks No. 4 on the program’s all-time total offense list and this season became only the fourth ACC quarterback to have 4,000 yards passing and 2,000 yards rushing for his career.
But the Yellow Jackets will play without leading rusher Marcus Marshall, who announced last week that he was transferring to another program. Marshall rushed for 624 yards this season and led the team with 654 in 2015.