“Can’t think of a better way to start the game,” Paul Johnson said.
Over the afternoon, Tech’s pass-rush pressure limited Kentucky, whose deep game had concerned defensive coordinator Ted Roof. The Wildcats’ longest completion of the day went for 20 yards. Kentucky had had 34 pass plays of 20 yards or more coming into the game.
It was a most satisfying conclusion for a defense that had had difficulty pressuring the passer through much of the season. Johnson was 19 for 34 for 175 yards with one touchdown and two sacks.
“We had some shots,” Stoops said. “We didn’t get good protection, we really didn’t. We didn’t protect well enough to get the ball down the field.”
Tech’s final three opponents – Virginia, Georgia and Kentucky – had passing efficiency ratings under 110, which indicates exceptional pass defense. Tech had contributions at both ends Saturday, as pass rush pressure affected Johnson up front and coverage was likewise effective.
“We had to get pressure when they threw the ball,” Gamble said. “We knew they were going to run the ball. When it was time for them to throw the ball, we had to push and get some pressure.”
The Jackets’ run defense might have been even better. Kentucky ran 36 times for 149 yards, a 4.1 average. In the final seven games of the regular season, the Wildcats had been a run-game force, averaging 291 yards per game and 6.2 yards per carry.