InsideTheACC: Previewing The Orange Bowl

The Yellow Jackets (10-3) earned a trip to the Orange Bowl by finishing second in the ACC, and will now face the Bulldogs (10-2). We preview the sides here.

Georgia Tech Offense

  • Scoring offense: 37 PPG (19th nationally)
  • Passing offense: 135.2 YPG (122nd nationally)
  • Rushing offense: 333.6 YPG (3rd nationally)
  • Total offense: 468.8 YPG (22nd nationally)

The Georgia Tech offense is a run first (and second), pass only when necessary, triple-option scheme. Sophomore quarterback Justin Thomas’ numbers are skewed because of the team’s scheme, but he is a valuable member of the 22nd ranked offensej. Thomas only completed 89 passes in 13 games, throwing for 1,594 yards with 17 touchdowns and five interceptions. Thomas also took advantage of the team’s triple-option on the ground however, leading the team in rushing with 965 yards. He also added five touchdowns in averaging 75 rushing yards per game.

Senior running backs Zach Laskey and Synjyn Days were also crucial cogs in the triple-option offense. Laskey carried 161 times in 2014, collecting 788 yards and a team high nine touchdowns. Laskey also carried the Yellow Jackets to a win over rival Georgia in the season finale with three touchdowns, willing his side into the ACC Championship game. Days was also solid, with 753 yards and six touchdowns.

A passing offense that was already struggling to help the offenses cause took a hit when leading receiver DeAndre Smelter went down with an ACL injury. Smelter had 715 yards and seven touchdowns, both team highs, and his absence will likely continue to be felt in the Orange Bowl. After Smelter options are limited for Paul Johnson and the Yellow Jackets. Darren Waller is now the team’s top option, and he only caught 21 passes for 328 yards and five scores this season. The only other Georgia Tech wide receivers with receptions in 2014 are Michael Summers and Corey Dennis, and they combined for six.

Georgia Tech Defense and Special Teams

  • Scoring defense: 25.1 PPG (52nd nationally)
  • Passing defense: 193.7 YPG (22nd nationally)
  • Rushing defense: 168.7 YPG (70th nationally)
  • Total defense: 396.4 YPG (65th nationally)

Senior linebacker Paul Davis was the lone Yellow Jacket to break the 100 tackle barrier this season, finishing with a team high 108. Davis also recorded four sacks, half a sack behind team leader, lineman KeShun Freeman. Along with Davis, fellow linebacker Quayshawn Nealy also had a big season, contributing 90 tackles, two interceptions and 1.5 sacks. Up front Nealy added 51 tackles to go with his team lead in sacks, and junior Adam Gotsis continued to be a key piece in the Yellow Jackets defense. He only had 32 tackles, two sacks and an interception, but his role on the team extends beyond the box score.

The Georgia Tech pass defense was one of the best in the country, lead by junior defensive backs Jamal Golden and D.J. White. White recorded 62 tackles and four interceptions, the most important coming in overtime against Georgia to seal his school’s upset victory. Golden also had four interceptions, tied for the team lead, and 53 tackles. The Yellow Jackets other defensive backs Demond Smith and Isaiah Johnson were also valuable pieces in the team’s pass defense, recording a combined 135 tackles in 2014.

Golden handled kickoff return duties for Georgia Tech, and averaged a solid 24.1 yards on 28 returns. He also handled punt returns, but was less effective, finishing with a 4 yard average on 11 punt returns. The Yellow Jackets kicking game was a sore spot, as sophomore Harrison Butker missed seven of his 18 field goal attempts. Ryan Rodwell punted 29 times in his sophomore season, finishing with a 40 yard net average.

Mississippi State Offense

  • Scoring offense: 37.2 PPG (15th nationally)
  • Passing offense: 266.3 YPG (37th nationally)
  • Rushing offense: 239.8 YPG (20th nationally)
  • Total offense: 506.2 YPG (9th nationally)

Junior quarterback Dak Prescott is largely responsible for helping to put the Mississippi State offense and program as a whole back on the map. Prescott came up just short of throwing for 3,000 yards in 2014, finishing with 2,996. He threw for 250 yards per game, tossed 24 touchdowns, 10 interceptions, and had a solid quarterback rating of 151.3. Prescott knew how to distribute the ball evenly too, as five players finished with at least 25 receptions, but no one had more than 38. Sophomore receiver De’Runnya Wilson was tops in receptions (38), yards (575) and touchdowns (7). Receivers Fred Ross, Malcolm Johnson and Jameon Lewis,along with running back Josh Robinson all finished with at least 25 receptions and 300 yards, and combined for 10 scores. The Bulldogs ability to evenly distribute the ball makes them a tough offense to game plan for.

Prescott’s ability as a dual-threat quarterback was also on full display this season. He finished with 939 rushing yards and a team leading 13 rushing touchdowns. Along with his ability to catch out of the backfield, Robinson provided the second half of a stellar one-two rushing attack for the Bulldogs. The junior finished with 1,128 rushing yards on 177 attempts and 11 touchdowns.

Mississippi State Defense and Special teams

  • Scoring defense: 19.4 PPG (9th nationally)
  • Passing defense: 285.2 YPG (125th nationally)
  • Rushing defense: 126.5 YPG (25th nationally)
  • Total defense: 411.7 YPG (83rd nationally)

The Mississippi State defense may have been stingy on allowing the opposition to score this season, but they were liberal on giving up plenty of yards. Like the team’s offensive unit, the defense distributes the statistical wealth evenly. Nine Bulldog defensive players finished within 17 tackles of each other, with the leader being junior linebacker Benardrick McKinney with 61, McKinney also had three sacks, while missing one game in 2014. Senior linebacker Matthew Wells had four sacks, most for a linebacker on the Bulldogs and 44 tackles. Up front lineman Preston Smith was the top performer on the Mississippi State front four. He had 44 tackles as well, and a team leading nine sacks.

The Mississippi State pass defense struggled through stretches of 2014, finishing near the bottom of college football at 125th. The secondary did have some positives however, with defensive backs Will Redmond, Tolando Cleveland and Jay Hughes each recording at least two interceptions (three for Redmond). Secondary mates Christian Holmes and Taveze Calhoun also put in a solid effort, finishing with 58 and 51 tackles respectively.

Receiver Robert Johnson and running back Brandon Holloway split the team’s kickoff returns, with Holloway finishing with a better average (20 yards) than Johnson (18.1). Jamoral Graham handled the bulk of punt returns, ending with 67 yards on 14 returns. Sophomore Evan Sobiesk only attempted 12 field goals, missing two, and punter Devon Bell finished with a 43 yard net average.

Outlook and Prediction

This is perhaps the toughest bowl game to predict and may prove to be the best one of them all. Two evenly matched teams, that are difficult to plan against. The triple-option vs Prescott. Two defenses that don’t allow a lot of points to the opposition. This game could be played 100 times and could end up 50/50. In the end, the loss of Smelter might make all the difference in this one.

Mississippi State 31 Georgia Tech 30

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