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.


Head Coach Paul Johnson

ATLANTA, GA - After the team's third practice of Fall Camp 2014, Georgia Tech head football coach Paul Johnson spoke about the team and fielded questions from the media. While confirming that Justin Thomas #5 was the starting quarterback and Tim Byerly #18 was the backup as it stands right now, Coach Johnson also pointed out that there were four weeks to fall camp suggesting that anything could happen before the season started.

Thomas, a 5'11 185 pound redshirt sophomore from Prattville, AL, is recognized for having the speed to get to the edge and the quickness to make defenders miss. On the other hand, Byerly is a 6'0 215 pound redshirt junior from Alpharetta, GA and a transfer from Middle Tennessee, is seen as a tough inside runner that can fight for extra yards after contact. "Justin is more of a 'make you miss' guy and Tim is more of a 'run through, run over you' guy," said Johnson while simplifying differences between the two quarterbacks. Coach Johnson also reiterated that, "they both can do what we need to do in the offense, don't think we'll need to change [the offense] for one or the other."

Heading into his seventh season at the helm of Georgia Tech's football program, Coach Johnson conveyed confidence in the players, their attitude, and the team as a whole. "I feel good about their work ethic and the way they work, they are a pretty tight-knit group, and I think they have high expectations for themselves. They want to be good and I think they believe in what we're doing," said Johnson.

Regarding depth at specific positions, Johnson highlighted that the majority of wide receiver will be back from last season and a lot of players at the A-back position had a lot of experience. Although Robert Godhigh #25, who was the team's 2nd leading rusher last season with 744 yards and averaging a whopping 9.4 yards per carry, will be missed; Johnson listed six familiar names at the position that all have had been part of the A-back rotation for the past few years. Among those that have started games in the past, Georgia Tech will return Deon Hill #31, Charles Perkins #21, Synjyn Days #10, and BJ Bostic #7.


Coach Johnson speaks to the media

"Right now there's a competition between Freddie Burden [#58] and Thomas O'Reilly [#77] [at center] but we'll be fine there," said Johnson of his offensive line. "I feel real good about [the offensive line]. We are probably more athletic on the offensive line than we've been, maybe not as much experience but a little bigger and more athletic." Johnson later continued, "we've got more depth there than we've ever had. We finally got the numbers that you need to have so we'll probably play a few more players there than we have in the past."

On the defensive front, Georgia Tech needs to replace the school's career sack (31.5) record holder set last season by Jeremiah Attaochu #45 who was drafted by the San Diego Chargers as the 18th pick of the 2nd round in the 2014 NFL Draft. Johnson emphasized the need to play by committee on the defensive line with experienced Adam Gotsis #96 and Shawn Green #97 anchoring the interior and looked forward to having the younger players like Francis Kallon #92 and Pat Gamble #91 step up this season. At the ends, Johnson expects those positions to be sorted out in fall camp but highlighted true freshmen KeShun Freeman #42 from spring practice, Tyler Stargel #99, Roderick Rook-Chungong #41, and Nick Menocal #48.

Coach Johnson also acknowledged the concerns about the experience lost from the team a season ago, "there's six guys in NFL camps right now. So we've got to replace those guys. We've got to replace a lot of experience on the offensive line. So there's question marks."

"Are we going to be the most talented team that we've had here? Individually? Probably not." Then the head coach contended, "but that doesn't mean you're not going to be the best team. We'll have to see."

Georgia Tech kicksoff its 2014 season at home against Wofford at 12:30 PM ET on Saturday August 30th, 2014. For the rest of the schedule, please click here.


Justin Thomas helps Charles Perkins warmup

ATLANTA, GA - Georgia Tech football's 2014 preseason is officially under way. The team continued preseason camp Saturday by completing their third practice leading up to the season opener on August 30. Saturday was also an unofficial 2014 season kickoff of sorts, highlighted by both Media Day and Fan Day. GTSwarm's @John, @PowderSpringsJacket88, and @CuseJacket were fortunate to be a part of it.

The day started with players streaming in for 9:30am practice. The team made it to Rose Bowl field and the John and Mary Brock Football Practice Facility 10-15 minutes early, an early indicator of the positive energy observed throughout the day's events.


Coach Sisk oversees warmups

Media was allowed for the first 20 minutes during warmups and start of special teams practice. Standing next to the players was a visual reminder of how much work the players put in during the offseason. Several players made obvious strides in the weight room, not the least of which were guys in offensive and defensive positions of great interest. Justin Thomas #5, Pat Gamble #91, and Francis Kallon #92 all passed the eye test. Their progress during camp continues to be a hot topic among fans that we intend to follow closely.

Shaq Mason #70 and Trey Braun #78 have established themselves as leaders of the offensive line as evidenced by them leading the unit through stretches. Their leadership and the overall health of offensive line going into camp is something that excites QB's Thomas and Byerly. When asked during the afternoon media session what it's like to work behind a healthy line Byerly stated, "Oh man, it is awesome. We have a ton of depth there. Shaq and Trey Braun are really taking control and making sure the new guys know what they're doing. That helps Justin and I a lot. We feel way more comfortable going up to the line. We don't have to check a play to a better position outside since we're more balanced. It helps us a lot."


Coach Preston and players

The incoming freshman class has many Tech fans excited. When asked which young guys have looked good so far, safety Jamal Golden #4 replied, "KeShun Freeman has looked really good. Then you have the Austin twins who have come in and have been very impressive. They're very skilled. They're still learning the game right now but I feel like they're going to be very good players." Some other players noted during player interviews include Step Durham #29, C.J. Leggett #30, and Qua Searcy #82. Searcy is starting out at wide receiver and was also one of four players seen fielding punts during practice.

When asked about personal goals this year, the common theme among players was to deflect to larger team goals. As a leader of the defense Golden's answer was no surprise, "Be top in the ACC. Right now I'm most worried about our team goal which is to get to Charlotte. Really my personal goal is to do whatever I can to get us to Charlotte." Byerly continued plainly, "Ultimately, I just want to win."

GTSwarm's complete player interviews are posted here where you'll find more from Justin Thomas, D.J. White, Zach Laskey, Jamal Golden, Tim Byerly, and Isaiah Johnson. There is plenty of good stuff, including Laskey's offseason preparation to carry the load at B-Back this year, D.J. White's efforts to continue his momentum from the Music City Bowl, and more on the 2014 freshman class.