Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

TaxSlayer Teams Finished Strong; Wildcats, Jackets Both Beat Top Rivals to Close out Regular Season

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

TaxSlayer Teams Finished Strong; Wildcats, Jackets Both Beat Top Rivals to Close out Regular Season

Article excerpt

Byline: Garry Smits

The SEC circle is complete for the TaxSlayer Bowl.

Kentucky (7-5) will play Georgia Tech (8-4) in the 72nd TaxSlayer Bowl on Dec. 31 (11 a.m., ESPN), their first appearance and the eighth for the Yellow Jackets.

It means that all 14 current members of the SEC will have played in the TaxSlayer Bowl over the course of its history - a claim no other bowl game can make.

"What took us so long?" said TaxSlayer Bowl president Rick Catlett.

Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said his team playing in Jacksonville for the first time dovetails with a philosophy he's preached to his team since he took over in 2013.

"Our mantra all year has been about knocking down doors," he said. "This is another one. We're trying to knock them down one at a time."

The Wildcats haven't played in a Florida bowl since 1998 and are bowl-eligible for the first time since 2010. UK lost its first two games, was 2-3 at one point, then won five of its last seven games, including a season-ending victory over 11th-ranked Louisville, 41-38.

"Our fan base is so excited to participate and come to Jacksonville," UK athletic director Mitch Barnhart said. "We started out 0-2 but we won seven of our last 10 games and took steps along the way. The step we took to get bowl-eligible is something we had not done in six years. We've been close but the monkey is off our back."

Georgia Tech also finished strong, rallying from a 3-3 start to win five of its last six. The Yellow Jackets also beat their arch-rival to close the regular season, edging Georgia 28-27 in Athens.

"We're excited the way the last six games ended," said coach Paul Johnson. "We beat a really good Virginia Tech team and then to go into Georgia is always tough. We're still a young team, not a lot of seniors and we're excited to have another chance to play."

The Wildcats also faced adversity when they lost starting quarterback Drew Barker to an injury in the third game against Florida. …

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