Georgia Tech to play in Gasparilla Bowl

Georgia Tech head coach Brent Key watches during the first half of an NCAA college football game at Georgia Tech's Bobby Dodd Stadium, Saturday, November 25, 2023, in Atlanta. Georgia won 31-23 over Georgia Tech. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Georgia Tech head coach Brent Key watches during the first half of an NCAA college football game at Georgia Tech's Bobby Dodd Stadium, Saturday, November 25, 2023, in Atlanta. Georgia won 31-23 over Georgia Tech. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

The Yellow Jackets, and coach Brent Key, get another crack at Central Florida.

It was announced Sunday that Georgia Tech will be playing UCF at 6:30 p.m. Dec. 22 in the Gasparilla Bowl in Tampa, Fla., a rematch of a 2022 regular-season game won by the Knights.

Tech (6-6) waited until after 6 p.m. Sunday to learn its bowl destination and opponent. It’s an opponent awfully familiar to Key as he coached at the Orlando school from 2005-15.

“It’s my alma mater vs. my wife’s alma mater,” Key said. “The greatest connection I have from Orlando is (my wife). Starting our family there. Bear, my oldest dog, got him when I was down there. Lot of good friends, lot of great relationships and there were some former (UCF) players at the (Georgia) game.”

Key, who coached at UCF as an assistant under former Tech coach and then-UCF coach George O’Leary, has led the Jackets to their first bowl game since 2018. They’ll be looking to a win their first bowl game since 2016.

And winning is exactly what Tech will be looking to do, quarterback Haynes King said.

“That’s our attitude and that’s our motto. That’s our expectation and that’s everything about this program right now,” the sophomore added. “We’re definitely not satisfied. We want to go out with a win. At the end of the day, with it being the seniors’ last time putting on a Georgia Tech jersey – a one team tenure, it goes each and every year. Next year, yeah most the team might be back, but people leave. People come in, freshmen.

“To be a part of this team, for this to be the last go-round, last time out, last time to play together, it’s gonna be a special game to be a part of.”

Tech has been off since losing 31-23 to top-ranked Georgia on Nov. 25. In the days that have followed the Jackets have taken some days off to recover mentally and physically and to focus on academic work. But safety Jaylon King said the team has continued to weight lift and condition knowing that a 13th game remained on the schedule.

Key and Tech are allotted 15 days to practice leading up to kickoff. The first-year coach said he planned on getting to work Sunday night studying the opponent and then the Jackets will begin practicing some time this week.

“What I want to do is to be able to get as many opportunities as we can early on to keep our guys in shape to hone their skills so we haven’t lost what we’ve been able to build through the season,” Key said. “Get guys a lot of situational football, a lot of third downs, red area, two-minute, four-minute type situations. The first week of it will be good-on-good and then a lot of times for developmental guys to get practice reps.

“As we start moving in closer we’ll just back it up from a Friday and treat it as a normal game week.”

UCF won three of their final four games of the season and the lone loss came by a point at Texas Tech. Coach Gus Malzhan’s squad began the season 3-0 before losing five straight before the start of November.

The Knights had the Big XII’s best passing defense and best third down offense, but the league’s worst rush defense.

Tech is 3-2 all-time against UCF having lost in 2020 and in last year’s game played in Orlando. Before that it won matchups in 1996, 1999 and 2000.

The Jackets last played a game in Tampa in 2009 when it won the ACC championship game over Clemson. This matchup won’t hold quite the same weight, but Key still wants to bring home a trophy for his program’s veterans.

“Really, the biggest thing guys, is for these seniors. These seniors have done a lot for this program, they’ve done a lot this season, they’ve been through a lot here,” Key said. “To see these guys be able to have a chance to play in a bowl game their last year, that’s important. Make no mistake, this game is about the seniors, it’s about those guys who have four or five and a couple of ‘em six years now, and really to be able to send those guys out with a win. That’s what’s important to me. It’s been about those guys all year.”

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