Dedrick Mills of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets hoists the TaxSlayer Bowl MVP trophy as coach Paul Johnson looks on after the game against the Kentucky Wildcats at EverBank Field on December 31, 2016 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images)

Monster game for Dedrick Mills, game MVP

Mills earned game MVP honors in the TaxSlayer Bowl on Saturday, punishing Kentucky with 31 carries for 169 yards in the Yellow Jackets’ 33-18 win over the Wildcats. Both were career-high numbers for Mills. He carried the load — his carries accounted for 48 percent of Tech’s offensive plays — without sharing snaps without B-back Marcus Marshall, who left the team after the regular season and has transferred to James Madison.

“It wasn’t that tough,” Mills said with a laugh about running against Kentucky. “Behind the offensive line, just running off their blocks made it easier for me to find holes and get through them.”

Tech looked to Mills to gain four of the most critical yards of the game. He converted a fourth-and-1 at Tech’s 15-yard line in the second quarter, a high-risk play that he turned into a 3-yard gain by running behind left guard Parker Braun and center Freddie Burden. He put the game out of reach in the fourth quarter by running the ball in on a third-and-goal from the 3 with less than 2:30 to play to stretch the lead to 15 points.

Mills gained tough yards between the tackle, breaking tackles and taking on contact. Tech leaned heavily on him on a fourth-quarter drive that started to finish off the Wildcats. Ahead 23-10 after a Kentucky touchdown, the Jackets drove 68 yards in 11 plays, eight of them carries by Mills, to score a Harrison Butker field goal and box in the Wildcats.

Even better, Mills was playing in front of about 60 family and friends. He is from Waycross, about 80 miles northeast of Jacksonville.

He finishes the season with 771 rushing yards and 12 rushing touchdowns, the most rushing yards for a Tech freshman since Jimy Lincoln’s 913 in 1991. It ends an eventful season, one in which he was suspended twice for a total of three games and missed another with a concussion.

“I think he can be a very special player,” coach Paul Johnson said. “He’s a very talented young man. We’ve got to try to help him grow up. Sometimes, you know, at that age, when you’re 18, we all didn’t make great decisions. It’s our job to help him make the right decisions because he’s got a bright future if he’ll continue to work hard.”

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