6 things to know before Georgia Tech-Kentucky

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The Georgia Tech end zone at EverBank Field in Jacksonville, Fla. (AJC photo by Ken Sugiura)

SEC East champs?

Georgia Tech couldn’t win the ACC Coastal Division, but a win in the TaxSlayer Bowl would give the Yellow Jackets a reasonable claim on the SEC East championship. With a win over Kentucky would give the Jackets a 3-0 record against the SEC East (Vanderbilt, Georgia and Kentucky). Florida and Tennessee had the best in-division records in the East, tied at 4-2.

Interestingly, beating an SEC opponent is not much of a driver for the Jackets. Offensive line coach Mike Sewak said that “our kids’ and our guys’ focus has all been to try to get that ninth win.”

“It’d be great (to go 3-0 against the SEC), but you know what? For us to have win No. 1, regardless of what conference the team we’re playing is in, it’s about getting win No. 9 more so than what conference they come from,” defensive coordinator Ted Roof said.

Tech will play another SEC East team, Tennessee, to start next season in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff game on Labor Day night in the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The Jackets will have played three consecutive SEC opponents (across two seasons), the first time they’ve done that since the 1980-81 seasons, when Tech finished the 1980 season against Georgia and started the 1981 season with Alabama (and the most unlikely 24-21 upset of the No. 4 Tide before losing the final 10 games of the season) and Florida.

Qua Searcy’s touchdown from seven Tech vantage points

Scouting report

Sewak’s assessment of Kentucky: “Very big, very mobile, very long. Both nose guards are over 350 pounds, they can hold the point. (Matt Elam is 360 pounds, Naquez Pringle is 320) The linebackers run really well – 34 (Jordan Jones) and 51 (Courtney Love) are excellent linebackers. They can go sideline to sideline. They do a good job of gap control and let the linebackers make the play. The defensive ends, one leads the team in sacks and 41 (linebacker Josh Allen) and 35 (DE/linebacker Denzil Ware) coming off the edge present a problem in your passing attack if you get into passing situations.”

Doing good

Six players – center Freddie Burden, kicker Harrison Butker, defensive ends KeShun Freeman and Rod Rook-Chungong, defensive tackle Patrick Gamble, quarterback Justin Thomas – paid a visit to Wolfson Chidlren’s Hospital Friday after a luncheon for both teams in downtown Jacksonville.

For young men not experienced making visits like this, they were engaged and enthusiastic and brought a little piece of joy into the lives of children who needed it.

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Harrison Butker, Freddie Burden, Justin Thomas, Georgia Tech cheerleaders and a young patient at Wolfson Children’s Hospital in Jacksonville, Fla., Friday afternoon. And, yes, these are the jerseys that the team will wear in the TaxSlayer Bowl. (AJC photo by Ken Sugiura)

Butker has made an impact on children’s health in another way. For his senior design project, Butker was part of a team that improved the processes at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta’s AFLAC Cancer Center. The team tried to address delays in the infusion center, and developed a usage protocol that has lowered the average wait time for patients to use the center by two hours.

And he’s tied with Luke Manget for Tech’s career scoring record with 322 points. And, also, at the TaxSlayer luncheon on Friday, he was named Tech’s scholar-athlete and received a plaque from the bowl.

Luke Manget ready to cede Tech scoring record to Harrison Butker 

Odd stat

Tech has the chance to earn an unusual distinction. The Jackets are averaging 58.8 plays per game, which is the fewest in FBS. It’s a curious status for a team that’s 8-4 and is 20th in the country in yards per play at 6.60. Some of the teams in Tech’s neighborhood are Illinois (59.3 plays, 3-9) and UTEP (61.3 plays, 4-8) and Georgia State (62.9, 3-9). Iowa was more alike, running 62.3 plays and going 8-4.

It’s a reflection of Tech’s slow tempo and the defenses’ predilection for allowing long drives and the relatively low number of turnovers by both the Tech offense and defense.

Captains look back on highs, lows

At a news conference Friday, I asked Tech captains (the aforementioned Butker, Gamble and Thomas) to name a play they’ll always remember and a play they’d like to have back. Pretty good answers (if not terribly surprising, at least the plays they’ll remember) and worth watching. My apologies that the video quality rates as “awful.”

On the television

The color analyst for the ESPN crew doing the game is Rod Gilmore, who has gone through the season while undergoing a debilitating protocol three times a week for multiple myeloma, a form of blood cancer. Quint Kessenich, the crew’s sideline reporter, spoke with great admiration for Gilmore’s perseverance and attitude.

Kessenich said that Gilmore “never complains about anything, so then we can’t complain about anything, so the standard has been lifted by that.”

Kessenich said that Gilmore is actually doing the best work that he has heard him do, because he has been watching so much game video during the time he has been receiving his treatments.

“He’s an amazing guy,” Kessenich said.

Unrelated, but interesting. The team of Mark Jones, Gilmore and Kessenich called Tech’s win over Florida State last year. It was Kessenich’s job to try to track down Lance Austin after he scored the game-winning touchdown.

“I was on the Florida State sideline getting ready to conduct a game-winning interview with either Jimbo (Fisher) or (Roberto) Aguayo. Then the play happens. They went away from me, so I had to find, whether it was Coach (Paul Johnson) and Austin, so I find Coach and then I eventually found Austin. I almost got, just, pummeled in the student section.”

Etc.: Tech will not reach its allotment of 7,000 tickets. The athletic association has sold between 5,500 and 6,000 tickets. Presumably, the availability of tickets on secondary markets hurt sales. The athletic department will be on the hook for the remaining tickets, which could mean taking a loss of about $85,000. … The Ramblin’ Wreck will lead the team onto EverBank Field Saturday, so long as the weather cooperates. It will be the final ride-out for Wreck driver Mitch Brown. … The high on Saturday is forecast to be 69 with no chance of precipitation, according to the Weather Channel. … If you haven’t read my story on Qua Searcy’s touchdown against Georgia, and how seven different players and colleges experienced it, I hope you will.

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