Happy Bowl Eve! After wrapping up a successful signing day on Wednesday, the Jackets have another big day on Friday as they take on UCF in the Gasparilla Bowl.
There are many ties between the two schools
The 2023 Gasparilla Bowl is an iconic matchup that carries lots of excitement. This game marks the third matchup in the last four seasons between the Yellow Jackets and the Knights. The last time these two teams met was in 2022, and for many Tech fans, it is known as the game that was the final straw for Geoff Collins’s tenure as head coach. Anyways, on a happier note, this bowl matchup is a meeting of legendary coach George O’Leary’s two primary teams. He was at Georgia Tech from 1994-2001 and had a 52-33 record, then coached UCF from 2004-2015 and had a record of 81-68. He was just announced as the honorary captain for the bowl game, which I find very fitting. O’Leary is well-liked and respected across the two programs, and I am sure it will be a memorable game for him to watch. It will also be a symbolic game for head coach Brent Key, as he spent 10 years working as the offensive line coach under O’Leary at UCF. As previously mentioned, this contest is not unfamiliar. Tech and UCF have met twice recently, with UCF winning 49-21 in 2020 and 27-10 in 2022. I anticipate this matchup will be a lot closer and hopefully more riveting. There are many ties between the two schools, which will make this game all the more significant.
UCF has had an interesting season, just like us
UCF is a team that is honestly quite hard to read. Just like us, they’ve had a lot of ups and downs and some head-scratching wins and losses this season. They started the year off with three wins against easier opponents, then took three straight losses in Big 12 play. One of these was a 36-35 loss to Baylor where they were up 35-7 in the first half, giving the Bears their largest comeback win in program history. Several weeks later, they had a chance to get a huge upset win against Oklahoma but ended up giving up the game in the 4th quarter and lost by 2. Their second chance for an upset was a huge success, as they took down 15th-ranked Oklahoma State 45-3 in one of the most shocking games in all of college football this season. This was their most complete game of the year, but they couldn’t continue that momentum into the next week, as they lost to Texas Tech by 1 point because of a missed extra point. Thankfully for them, they were able to secure bowl eligibility in Week 12 with a 27-13 victory against Houston, putting them at 6-6 to end the season.
UCF has a lot of talent on their roster, especially on offense. They have had an impressive run game, backed by running back RJ Harvey and dual-threat QB John Rhys-Plumlee. These two have the potential to give the defense fits, especially without edge Kyle Kennard, who just committed to South Carolina. Plumlee finished the regular season with 2,073 passing yards, 473 rushing yards, 13 touchdowns, and 8 interceptions. Running back RJ Harvey has 1,296 yards on the year and can also catch the ball, as he has 231 yards receiving. Speaking of receiving, the Knight’s leading wideout is Javon Baker, who has 966 yards and averages a whopping 22.5 yards per catch. The Jackets also have a lot of offensive talent, featuring Haynes King, Jamal Haynes, and Eric Singleton. Jamal Haynes is 69 yards away from a 1,000-yard season and Dontae Smith is playing in his final game as a Yellow Jacket, so I expect both to have a great game on the ground. With lots of offensive playmakers for both teams, there is potential for a fun, high-scoring game on Friday night.
It’s a bowl game but it feels like a must-win
Though our team has evolved since the 2022 matchup against UCF, this game seems poised to serve as a benchmark of improvement since the last time we met in the Sunshine State. While we know this program has gotten better regardless of the outcome, I can’t help but feel like this game holds a lot of weight. Can we finish the year above .500, a feat that many didn’t think we would be close to accomplishing? Can we gain momentum going into the postseason with a win in our first bowl game since 2018? Can Brent Key prove to the nation that we mean business? This was a fun season that had a lot of signs of refinement and growth. This game will be a fun and competitive matchup for both teams, and I am excited to be in a bowl game regardless of the outcome. But a win tomorrow will be the cherry on top for this season and will help boost morale going into 2024. We will see how things play out.
Go Jackets and Happy Holidays!