Kentucky is playing in a bowl game for the first time since 2010 and take the field with plenty of confidence after upsetting Louisville 41-38 in its season finale as 28.5-point road underdogs. After head coach Mark Stoops inserted Stephen Johnson under center, the Wildcats won seven of their final ten games. I like Kentucky in this game and will make Stoops’ squad my free sports pick for Saturday, December 31.
Kentucky possesses a potent offense that averaged 6.4 yards per play against teams that would combine to allow just 5.6 yards per play to a mediocre offense. While Johnson is not a great passer, completing 54.5% of his pass attempts with a 6-12 ratio, the Wildcats’ ground attack is prolific behind running backs Stanley Williams and Benny Snell.
Both Williams and Snell rushed for over 1,000 yards in 2016, and the Wildcats ended the regular season averaging 5.5 yards per rush attempt against teams that would combine to allow just 4.8 yards per rush play to a mediocre ground game. Overall, Kentucky’s offense is 0.8 yards per play better than average, including 0.7 yards per rush attempt better than average.
That production is certainly good enough to exploit a subpar Georgia Tech defense that is 0.3 yards per play worse than average (5.9 yards per play to teams that would combine to average 5.6 yards per play). The Yellow Jackets’ stop unit was really exploited on the road this season where they allowed 29.2 points and 447 total yards per game at 6.6 yards per play.
Williams and Snell should find plenty of room to run against a bad Georgia Tech front seven that was 0.6 yards per play worse than average against the run. I also expect Johnson to have some success through the air against a pedestrian Georgia Tech secondary that allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete 62.7% of their pass attempts during the regular season.
Georgia Tech enters the Taxslayer Bowl with a triple-option attack producing 254 yards at 5.5 yards per rush attempt against teams that would combine to allow 4.4 yards per rush play. With Justin Thomas at quarterback, the Yellow Jackets also have a passing threat.
Thomas threw for almost 1,500 yards this season, and the Yellow Jackets averaged an incredible 11.0 yards per pass attempt in 2016 (against a group of secondaries that would combine to allow 7.3 yards per pass attempt to a mediocre quarterback). Overall, I rate Georgia Tech’s offense 1.0 yards per play better than average with Thomas leading the triple-option attack. The Yellow Jackets will move the chains against a subpar Kentucky defense that is 0.6 yards per play worse than average (6.4 yards per play to teams that would combine to average 5.8 yards per play).
My math favors Georgia Tech by three points but the motivational edge favors Kentucky, who is fired up to be playing in its first bowl game since 2010 and is eager to secure the school’s first bowl win since 2008. Kentucky is also 7-2 ATS in its last nine games overall, including 4-0 ATS versus teams with a winning record and 5-1 ATS in its last six games following a win.
Georgia Tech is a money-burning 2-5 SU and ATS in bowl games under head coach Paul Johnson, which is not surprising since teams have extra time to prepare for his option attack. Despite entering postseason play on a three-game win streak, the Yellow Jackets were actually out-first downed by a 72-38 margin in those games! Georgia Tech also yielded 174 rushing yards per game at 5.0 yards per carry to bowl teams this season.
For additional technical support, consider that .749 or worse bowl favorites off three consecutive against-the-spread wins are a woeful 17-47 ATS since 1980, including just 9-39 ATS as favorites of less than six points. Kentucky also applies to a very good 12-2-1 ATS angle of mine that invests on certain bowl underdogs off a win versus teams that are allowing over 22.0 points per game on the season.
With Kentucky motivated to secure its first 8-win season since 2007, grab the points with the Wildcats as Oskeim Sports’ Free Sports Pick for Saturday, December 31. Be sure to check back later for another free sports pick. Oskeim Sports published a free sports pick earlier in the bowl game between North Carolina and Stanford.
Oskeim Sports’ Free Sports Pick: Kentucky (+3/+3.5)