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Georgia Tech true freshman Dedrick Mills (#26) rushed for career-high 169 yards and earned MVP honors in Tech's rout of Kentucky at the 2016 TaxSlayer Bowl.

JACKSONVILLE, FL – One season after snapping an 18-year bowl streak, the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (9-4, 4-4) got back on track in a big way today in sunny Florida. Saturday’s 33-18 thrashing of the Kentucky Wildcats (7-6, 4-4) put Head Coach Paul Johnson on the postgame podium to accept the TaxSlayer Bowl victors trophy on behalf of the 2016 edition of the Jackets.

Perhaps there’s something to New Year’s Eve bowl games for Tech. Much like 2014’s Orange Bowl victory over Mississippi State, 2016’s game versus the Wildcats proved the Jackets are capable of winning big on the date. And like 2014, contributions came from multiple phases of the game.

As they say, there are many ways to skin a ‘Cat.

First, and with little time wasted, Georgia Tech’s defense took the field for the first series of the game. Four plays into Kentucky’s opening possession, senior captain Pat Gamble got to Wildcats quarterback Stephen Johnson in the backfield culminating in a strip sack. Without a second’s hesitation, linebacker P.J. Davis scooped the ball and scored on a 38 yard touchdown return.

“That was a great play,” said Paul Johnson. “Trying to run a sprint-out pass. P.J. came on a blitz, [Gamble] slapped the ball loose, picked it up, was able to get it in the end zone. Can't think of a better way to start the game. That was a great start.”

Throughout most of the game, the Georgia Tech defense stifled the Kentucky offense. The Wildcats managed just 3 points and 199 total yards through the game’s first 3 quarters, and the Jackets’ defense applied enough pressure in the backfield to keep their third SEC opponent of the year off balance.

“It was very important for us in the game plan,” said Gamble. “We had to get pressure when they threw the ball. We knew they was going to run the football. When it was time for them to throw the ball, we had to push and get some pressure, man. Lucky we did that.”

Second, the Jackets spread option offense churned enough to keep the Kentucky defense on the field for 32:22 of the game. True freshman Dedrick Mills carried the load with 31 carries, 169 yards and 1 touchdown on way to game MVP. He seemingly gained strength and confidence as the game wore on, with 82 of those yards coming in the 4th quarter alone.

“It wasn't that tough. It wasn't that tough,” said Mills. “Behind the offensive line, running off their blocks. Made it easier for me to find holes and get through them.”

Mills’ quip brought a chuckle to senior captain and quarterback Justin Thomas’ face. Thomas himself was largely forced to feed Mills and the A-Backs throughout the game due to Kentucky’s gameplan to take the ball out of his hands. But it wasn’t enough to keep him from finding paydirt on a backbreaking 21 yard draw with 49 seconds to go in the first half.

The play that put Tech up 17-3 highlighted many of Thomas’ trademarks in his swan song campaign: first showing patience to pull the Wildcats defensive line upfield, next accelerating on a dime downfield bowing out toward the sideline, and finally proving otherworldly athleticism by stretching out toward the pylon for 6. The Thomas run is a microcosm of the legacy he leaves at Georgia Tech as he moves on to the next phase of his journey.

“I mean, he's had a great career, no doubt. He's such a great kid. He's just been a joy to coach, a joy to work with,” said Johnson. “Sometimes you have to be gone for a year or two before people really realize what you did. There's no question that he'll go down as, you know, one of the greats at Georgia Tech. I mean, he's had a heck of a career.”

Finally, speaking of great, there have been few if any better kickers in Georgia Tech’s history than the third senior captain, Harrison Butker. Butker entered the bowl game needing a single point to break Georgia Tech’s career points record. He did so with flying colors, converting all 4 of his field goal attempts and 3 extra points en route to a 15 point day. He set a bowl record with 4 field goals, breaking a previous Tech record of 2.

“It was a lot of fun,” said Butker. “Especially at Tech where throughout my career I’ve only had maybe 1 or 2 a game. And whenever I did have 3 field goals I usually didn’t make all of them. To make all 4, I’m really happy.”

A blocked punt by junior linebacker Terrell Lewis in the 2nd quarter added one more play to the Jackets’ Special Teams highlight reel. It also led to a successful 51 yard field goal attempt by Butker as the first half clock expired.

With the win, Tech finished the 2016 season on a 4 game win streak. They are 3-0 against SEC opponents and 5-1 in their last 6 games versus the conference. And like 2014, Yellow Jackets nation rings in the New Year victorious and with some fancy hardware on its way home to Atlanta.

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Defensive lineman Pat Gamble #91 (RS SR) and Kyle Cerge-Henderson #54 (So) rushing UNC Quarterback Mitch Trubinsky #10

CHAPEL HILL, NC - After giving up 559 yards and edging a win against Duke the week before, the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets' defense showed no sign of being able to cure any of its afflictions in Chapel Hill when it surrendered 636 yards to 21st-ranked Tar Heels in a devastating and physically taxing 48-20 loss.

When asked how he felt about the game during the post-game press conference, defensive back Corey Griffin didn't mince words. "It was definitely embarrassing. I'm embarrassed. The whole team is embarrassed," the redshirt junior said.

The Tech offense couldn't carry the team to a victory this time around as it failed to take full advantage of its opportunities even while racking up 518 yards. The offense only mustered to score on three out of six attempts in the red zone with just a single touchdown and a pair of field goals.

In woeful contrast, the defense gave up scores in all five red zone chances with only one being a field goal. UNC converted 8-of-13 third downs and only punted once.

As if not wanting to be left out, even special teams joined in on the game of adversity when often sure-footed Harrison Butker kicked a line drive right into the welcoming hands of UNC defenders.

"They didn't get any real penetration when the jumpers blocked it, we kicked it low. That was a huge play right before half, that cuts it to one score," lamented Head Coach Paul Johnson after the game as if he was playing pivotal mishaps of the game over-and-over in his head.

There was a glimmer of hope that the offense could have at least balanced out the defensive unit's struggles during Tech's third possession of the game. Quarterback Justin Thomas slow-played a counter option then whipped the ball over UNC's defensive backfield to a wide open Clinton Lynch who took it home for an 83-yard touchdown.

Nevertheless, the outlook started to look bleak with only a few minutes remaining in the third quarter when an attempt to keep the game to a single score broke down yet again and Carolina recovered a fumble by Dedrick Mills at Tech's own 44 yard line. Six plays and two third-down conversions later, UNC's tailback TJ Logan brushed by a couple of arm tackles then dove into the end zone for a 20-yard rushing touchdown to put Carolina up by three scores. This would end up being one of Tech's two turnovers of the game out of four fumbles total.

Coach Johnson summed the game up concisely: "We played about as poorly as you could play on defense and wasn't much better on offense or special teams so deadly combination."

Last but not least, what will make this loss a bitter pill to swallow for the Tech program is not only because of the final score but due to injuries to both RS SR starters Freddie Burden and Justin Thomas in the second half of the game. Neither returned for the remainder of the game.

Tech fans will be waiting with bated breaths for Thursday's official injury report as the Jackets will travel to Blacksburg to play against current ACC Coastal Division leader Virginia Tech on November 12th.