Union Home Mortgage Gasparilla Bowl: Georgia Tech vs. UCF
By Rory Daniels
The bowl game in the St. Petersburg/Tampa Bay area of Florida has held many names over the years, it has also been held at both Tropicana Field, home of MLB’s Tampa Bay Rays, and in the current home, the Raymond James Stadium. That said, The UCF Knights from just down the road in Orlando seem to have made this their end-of-season, home-from-home with their sixth appearance!
Where and When
Union Home Mortgage Gasparilla Bowl
Location: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa Bay, FL
Date: 22nd December 2023Time: 6:30 pm (ET)
Story so far…
Georgia Tech, who still looks a bit weird not running Paul Johnson’s triple option offense, comes into this game off the back of a 6-6 regular season. The Yellow Jackets’ season almost exclusively ran in a pattern of winning one and then losing the next, before winning the next one again. The only exception to this was the back-to-back wins on October 28th and November 4th against UNC and Virginia, but otherwise, the season lacked any kind of consistency of results. The good news could come from the fact that last time out, they lost to Georgia in their regular season finale. So could the sequence continue meaning this is a win? Or will another loss follow to balance out the two wins experienced mid-season? Quite the quirk.
On the other side of the field, UCF will arrive with the same regular season record, posting .500 in their first season in the Big XII conference. Despite the step up in their level of competition, the Knights are going bowling for the eighth consecutive season. The Knights’ season suffered a sticky patch from late September to late October which saw them lose five straight Big XII games, although Gus Malzahn’s troops turned it around with three wins from their final four.
Much like Georgia Tech’s seasonal win-loss quirk, UCF’s streak of seven bowls up until now has also alternated between wins and losses. Last year they lost to Duke in the Military Bowl… Make of that what you will.
After three years as a backup seeing limited action, King Haynes transferred to Georgia Tech. King is a former four-star dual-threat QB who has over 600 yards rushing yards on the season. King has issues with interceptions having thrown 15 throughout the season, but is undoubtedly an exciting watch.
Given that he has a year of eligibility remaining, he will surely be hoping to use this season as a launch pad to a better year next year, further development, and perhaps even a run at being drafted in 2025.
UCF’s QB is the multi-sport collegiate star, John Rhys Plumlee. Plumlee has played both football and baseball for both Ole Miss and UCF. He caught attention over on X in April when he played baseball for UCF’s win at home to Memphis, before catching a golf cart in the seventh inning to play in UCF’s spring game.
Much like Haynes King, Plumlee is adept at making plays with his legs and will be a threat to the Yellow Jackets’ defense on the ground as well as through the air.
Prospects to watch…
Dontae Smith, Running Back – A solid contributor over the years for Georgia Tech. He may not have the breakaway speed that will see him drafted within the first couple of days of the draft, however, he has shown that he can catch out of the backfield and on the ground and has always shared the workload, so hasn’t lost too much tread off the tires.
John Rhys Plumlee, Quarterback – The Knight’s QB has experience, athleticism, and a multi-sport background that a lot of NFL teams will find very intriguing. I don’t feel like his prowess as a thrower is worthy of ever being a starter in the league but a position switch (he has caught a pass at UCF) or a backup spot could be his.
R.J Harvey, Running Back – An undersized back at 5’8 with 16 touchdowns and over 1,200 on the ground, with another couple of hundred yards receiving, feels like the sort of formula for a day 3 back who has a chance to back some hay in the league. Harvey is less scat-backy than you would expect given his frame but can find space and create positive yardage.
This could be a high-scoring affair with a couple of QBs who are gamers at the controls of their respective offenses. UCF are slight favourites and I think that will play out in a narrow win, Plumlee to get a rushing touchdown to seal it late on.
Georgia Tech 35 – 38 UCF
NFL, CFB & NFL DRAFT
LEE WAKEFIELD IS A DEFENSIVE LINE ENTHUSIAST, CHARGERS SUFFERER, AND LONG-TIME WRITER AND PODCASTER WITH A NUMBER OF PUBLICATIONS. @WAKEFIELD90 ON TWITTER/X