LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — University of Kentucky football coach Mark Stoops talked to his team all season about knocking down doors.

His Wildcats won seven of their last 10 games after an 0-2 start, including an upset of then No. 11-ranked Louisville that was the third biggest upset of the college football season, according to point spread analysts.

Now he’s hoping his team can take one more step when it faces Georgia Tech on New Year’s Eve in the TaxSlayer Bowl at 11 a.m. in Jacksonville, Fla.

The Wildcats went from bowl eligible to a higher class of bowl with their win over Louisville. In the 72-year history of the TaxSlayer Bowl — formerly the Gator Bowl — it has played host to every current member of the Southeastern Conference except Kentucky. Now, that circle is complete.

When he heard that, Stoops chuckled.

“We had to do our part,” he said. “But we’re excited for this opportunity and this great challenge, facing coach (Paul) Johnson and Georgia Tech.”

Georgia Tech, which finished the year 8-4, is making its eighth appearance in the Jacksonville bowl game and its 19th bowl appearance in the past 20 seasons.

Both teams finished the regular-season by knocking off in-state rivals on the road. Louisville won 41-38 at Kentucky, while Georgia Tech beat Georgia 28-27 in Athens.

“Our mantra all year, to be honest with you, has been knocking down doors and this is another one,” Stoops said. “Beating Louisville was big for us. We didn’t get off to the start we wanted to but it’s about how you finish.  I think it was good for us to get that sixth victory before we played Louisville to take a little pressure off our team and let us go in there and play with a lot of confidence and play loose. We really played a good football game. I think our best football is ahead of us and hopefully we can continue to improve through these bowl practices because we’ll need it. But it was big. I think it was big to get the Governor’s Cup, first and foremost, and to beat Louisville. We’ve been close the past couple of years, and again, it‘s another one of those doors we’re trying to knock down, so we’re tired of being close, we wanted to finish, and so we’re excited about playing in this bowl.”

The game will mark the 20th all-time meeting between Kentucky and Georgia Tech but the last time they met was in 1960.  Georgia Tech leads the series, 11-7-1.

The Yellowjackets, and their unconventional triple-option rushing attack, are not unknown to Stoops. In fact, his last game as Florida State defensive coordinator before coming to Kentucky was preparing for Georgia Tech in the ACC championship game.

Georgia Tech ranks 10th in the nation in rushing at 257.4 yards per game. Coach Paul Johnson noted that given his team’s ability to run the ball, and Kentucky having the only team in the SEC with a pair of 1,000-yard rushers, it might be a quick afternoon in Jacksonville. The Wildcats rank 17th nationally in rushing offense, with Boom Williams and Benny Snell Jr. leading the way. 

“If Mark will promise not to throw, I will too,” Johnson said.

Stoops said that his defense will have to be disciplined.

“Anybody who knows anything about college football knows Coach Johnson and the success that he’s had and the difficulties that it is of defending that offense and what they do as a whole team,” Stoops said. “. . . It does take some work.  Fortunately we do have some extra time so hopefully we will put that to good use and have a good plan.   But it was a real challenge to play them in a week’s time at Florida State.  Fortunately, we had some extremely athletic guys there and we were able to get a few stops but it’s definitely a real challenge.”

This marks UK’s first bowl appearance since the 2010 season and first during the Stoops era. Overall, this will be Kentucky’s 16th bowl appearance with the Wildcats owning a record of 8-7 in those games.


The UK Ticket Office is now accepting ticket requests for the TaxSlayer Bowl from both season-ticket holders and the general public. Fans should visit UKFootballTix.com for full information and requests can be submitted through your MyUK Account. Ticket requests will be filled based on availability and are not guaranteed.

Fans are highly encouraged to request tickets through UK Athletics, as institutional ticket purchases can impact future bowl opportunities. The priority deadline to request bowl tickets is Monday, Dec. 5 at 4 p.m. Seating will be allocated by K Fund priority point ranking with priority given to 2016 football season ticket holders.

Copyright 2016 WDRB Media. All Rights Reserved.