Three-Point Stance: Yellow Jackets' Dedrick Mills shows he's ready to be workhorse
A year after winning just three games, Paul Johnson and Georgia Tech capped their impressive turnaround with a dominant 33-18 win over Kentucky in Saturday's TaxSlayer Bowl.
Johnson has now led the Yellow Jackets to nine wins in two of the past three seasons and four times overall. To put that into perspective, since Bobby Dodd stepped away in 1966, Georgia Tech has won nine games just 11 times.
That ninth win came with it the reality of the end of quarterback Justin Thomas' time in Atlanta after he threw for 105 yards and ran for another 42. But the play of Dedrick Mills and a stifling defensive effort from a unit that could return eight starters paints a bright picture for Johnson and Co. in 2017.
1. Dedrick Mills shows he's ready to shoulder the load in running game
Dedrick Mills' first season in Atlanta was nothing short of eventful. He was suspended three games, sitting out the second game of the season against Mercer for violating team rules, then missed games vs. Virginia Tech and Virginia due to another infraction.
But the B-back also ran for 99 yards against Miami, had 132 vs. North Carolina, and with leading rusher Marcus Marshall already announcing he was transferring to James Madison, the pressure was on Mills vs. the Wildcats.
He proved up to being the workhorse in the Jackets' offense, racking up 31 carries and rushing for 169 yards against Kentucky's 108th-ranked rush defense. Both of those were career highs, and he put the game away on his final tote, a a 3-yard touchdown run with 2:18 to play.
It made for an interesting dynamic, as Kentucky coach Mark Stoops was all too familiar with Johnson's offense, having served as defensive coordinator at Florida State. But Johnson's scheme dominated, racking up 266 yards on 51 carries, and it served as a statement that the running game figures to be in good hands with Mills as the centerpiece in 2017.
Over the last six games of the season, Kentucky had averaged 512 yards, including a whopping 635 vs. Tennessee on Nov. 12 and 581 in knocking off in-state rival Louisville in the regular-season finale.
That momentum, stacked against a Yellow Jackets defense that came in 63rd in FBS (408.1 ypg) and hadn't kept a Power-5 opponent to under 402 yards since Oct. 1 vs. Miami (355), made for a problematic matchup.
But Kentucky managed just 324 yards and had a trio of three-and-outs, while Georgia Tech's stifling defense produced a number of crucial plays.
On the fourth play of the game, linebacker P.J. Davis picked up a fumble by Wildcats QB Stephen Johnson and ran it back 38 yards for the score. Then, the Jackets stopped Kentucky on 4th-and-1 from Georgia Tech's 5-yard line.
3. History for the Jackets against that <i>other</i> conference in the South
A former member of the SEC -- up until 1964 -- it's been a while since Georgia Tech has delivered three wins against its former conference. Like 50 years long, as the Yellow Jackets beat Vanderbilt, Tennessee and Auburn in 1966.
But the victory over the Wildcats, added along with the Yellow Jackets having beaten Vanderbilt 38-7 on Sept. 17 and rival Georgia 28-27 on Nov. 26, brought an end to that drought.
Interestingly enough, that 1966 team didn't beat the Bulldogs -- falling 23-14 -- and also lost its bowl game to another SEC opponent, Florida (falling 27-12 in the Orange Bowl).
This amounted to Georgia Tech's second bowl win over the SEC in six tries, and both have come under Johnson, the other in the 2014 Orange Bowl vs. Mississippi State.