It has not been a great day overall for showcasing the power of the SEC East but at least the division could see one of the longest losing streaks in the country come to an end as Kentucky is locked into a tight game with No. 20 Florida 14-all at halftime in a fun atmosphere in Lexington.
The Wildcats generally looked like the sharper of the two teams offensively, racking up nearly six yards per play and scoring on both of their trips into the red zone. The latter of those two touchdowns, a beautiful Stephen Johnson pass to the corner of the end zone and into the hands of Garrett Johnson, was setup by a long punt return from Charles Walker that setup a short field and gave the team another brief lead. Johnson — Stephen that is, the quarterback of the two above — finished with 100 yards through the air and two scores going into the locker room.
Florida would not go quietly into the night with that 30 game win streak against the ‘Cats on the line though. Feleipe Franks was surprisingly solid as a passer when he wasn’t met with a hand in his face and finished with 7-of-9 for 85 yards and a touchdown. Most of that yardage and the score came as time was winding down in the second quarter and the Gators were facing a 4th-and-short from midfield. Not content to just run the ball, the team instead opted to throw it… to a wide open Tyrie Cleveland for a 45-yard score after nobody covered him as part of a defensive miscommunication.
A Vosean Joseph targeting call on the ensuing drive cost the Gators their starting linebacker and nearly gave UK a chance to take the lead but their long field goal attempt from 48 yards out hit the upright.
Could this finally, finally… finally be the time Kentucky beats Florida? The early returns are that the Wildcats will certainly have a fighting chance in the second half in what could be a huge SEC upset.
Unfortunately for Kentucky’s passing game, the speculation has come to fruition.
Over the weekend, Dorian Baker sustained an injury to his left leg during a scrimmage. The initial talk had it as a rather significant injury; Monday, the Wildcats confirmed that the senior wide receiver suffered a fracture-dislocation in his left ankle.
As a result, Baker will, at bare minimum, miss what the school described as “significant time” to, potentially, the entire 2017 season.
“We’re very disappointed for Dorian, as he had a good offseason and was helping lead our receivers during preseason camp,” head coach Mark Stoops said in a statement. “However, we are hopeful for a full recovery and look forward to his eventual return to the field.”
If there’s a silver lining amidst the injury clouds it’s that Baker has a redshirt at his disposal, which would allow him to return for the 2018 season should the injury sideline him for all of this year.
In three seasons with the Wildcats, Baker has totaled 88 receptions for 1,015 yards and six touchdowns. In 2015, Baker’s 55 catches and three receiving touchdowns led the team. Last season, after overcoming an early-season hamstring issue, he caught 14 passes for 208 yards a pair of touchdowns.
Jeff Badet may have left Kentucky, but he hasn’t climbed out from underneath the Stoops coaching umbrella.
On his personal Twitter account Tuesday morning, Badet revealed that he will continue his collegiate playing career at Oklahoma. The Sooners, of course, are coached by Bob Stoops; the wide receiver’s former program, the Wildcats, are coached by Mark Stoops.
Badet chose OU over another Big 12 school, West Virginia. The receiver had paid a visit to Morgantown late last month.
In mid-January, the Wildcats announced that Badet had decided to transfer out of the UK football program. Badet is on schedule to graduate in May, meaning he’ll be eligible to play immediately in 2017 for the Sooners.
A three-star member of the Wildcats’ 2013 recruiting class, Badet was third on the team in receptions and receiving yards as a true freshman. A leg injury in spring practice the following year — a tennis ball to the eye didn’t help either — led Badet to miss the 2014 season. Returning in 2015, he was third in receiving (29-430); in 2016, he led the team in receiving yards (670) and yards per catch (21.6).
That latter number was tops in the SEC and sixth nationally.
Georgia Tech (9-4) held off a late rally attempt by Kentucky (7-6) and pulled out a well-timed pass play to lead to a cushion-padding touchdown to win the TaxSlayer Bowl in Jacksonville, 33-18. Dedrick Mills rushed for 169 yards and a touchdown for Georgia Tech and Justin Thomas passed for 105 yards and ran for 42 more yards and a touchdown in the win over the Wildcats.
Georgia Tech got things started early with the defense putting the first points on the scoreboard. P.J. Davis picked up a loose ball fumbled away by Kentucky quarterback Stephen Johnson on a third down play on the game’s third play of the game. Davis returned the recovered fumble for a touchdown, which was later followed by a Georgia Tech field goal on the first offensive series for the Yellow Jackets in the first quarter. After Kentucky put a dent on the scoreboard with a field goal early in the second quarter, Georgia Tech padded its lead with 10 more points before halftime. Quarterback Justin Thomas took off running for a 21-yard touchdown in the second quarter.
Georgia Tech continued to pad its decisive lead with a pair of second-half field goals, while Kentucky finally got a touchdown in the fourth quarter. Johnson completed a pass to Dorian Baker from 20 yards out, which needed a video review to confirm. The Wildcats needed 12 plays to cover 75 yards for the score, but Georgia Tech responded by putting together a time-consuming drive over 12 plays resulting in a field goal to create a 16-point advantage with 6:16 left to play.
The win by Georgia Tech helps improve the ACC 7-3 in the bowl season (Louisville lost in the Citrus Bowl at the time this game was played). The ACC will end the bowl season with a winning record against the SEC, even if Clemson should happen to lose to Alabama in the national championship game. Georgia Tech now has three bowl victories under head coach Paul Johnson and ends the season with its second-highest win total under Johnson (Johnson won 11 games twice at Georgia Tech).
Georgia Tech’s 2017 season will begin with another game against an SEC East opponent. The Yellow Jackets are scheduled to face Tennessee on Monday, September 4, 2017 in the brand new Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta as one half of the Chick-fil-A Kickoff, with Alabama and Florida State playing in the spotlight game of the opening weekend two days prior. For Georgia Tech, this will mark three straight games against SEC East opponents with a regular season finale against rival Georgia, this bowl game against Kentucky and the 2017 opener against Tennessee.
Kentucky will start the 2017 season on the road against Southern Miss on Saturday, September 2, 2017. Kentucky avoids the toughest of crossover opponents from the SEC West next season by getting Ole Miss at home and Mississippi State on the road. Kentucky will not face Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Arkansas or Texas A&M. Kentucky will also host rival Louisville in Lexington at the end of the 2017 season. The Wildcats will hope to back a second-straight postseason bowl trip for the first time since going to five straight bowl games from 2006 through 2010.
Florida quarterback Luke Del Rio is out indefinitely with a shoulder injury, throwing another wrench into an SEC East battle that’s become a grinding war of attrition.
Del Rio injured his shoulder during Florida’s 31-10 loss to Arkansas on Saturday and couldn’t lift his duffle bag, according to coach Jim McElwain. Purdue transfer Austin Appleby will take over at quarterback for the Gators as they head into a strangely pivotal game against South Carolina and former coach Will Muschamp.
Florida is 4-2 in SEC play but still has that makeup game against LSU looming. If Florida loses to South Carolina and LSU, and Kentucky beats Tennessee, Mark Stoops’ Wildcats would play in the SEC Championship game with a 5-3 conference record.
If Florida were to lose out, Kentucky and Tennessee (if it beats Kentucky, Mizzou and Vanderbilt) would be the only teams in the SEC East with a shot at winning five conference games.
South Carolina’s chances of winning the SEC East are slim, but not zero. Josh Kendall of TheState.com laid out the scenario here.
The way things have gone in the SEC East this year, it’s almost fair to expect something weird and improbable to happen. Maybe that means South Carolina or Kentucky wind up playing Alabama in the SEC Championship. Or maybe it’s more mundane than that and Florida beats South Carolina, earning its second consecutive trip to Atlanta. But this is one of those chaotically-intriguing conference races that features far more intrigue than good football.