#12 Georgia Tech (11-3) and #7 Mississippi State (10-3) came into the Orange Bowl from different directions and mindsets — and it showed for much of the game. The Yellow Jackets enjoyed a second half surge this season, which netted them a spot in the ACC Championship game and the Orange Bowl. The Bulldogs on the other hand lost two of their final three games, and fell out of the College Football Playoff picture, into this spot in Miami. Georgia Tech came out playing like they wanted to win, withstood a second quarter challenge, and added to the SEC misery against the ACC in recent weeks with a 49-34 victory Wednesday, and with that the Jackets won for just the second time in their last 10 bowl attempts.
The Yellow Jackets were off and running early in the Orange Bowl, with junior defensive back Chris Milton intercepting Bulldog quarterback Dak Prescott on the third play from scrimmage, the 18th pick this season for the Tech defense. The explosive Georgia Tech ground game quickly drove down the field on the shell-shocked Mississippi State defense, punctuating the drive with a three yard touchdown run from fifth-year senior running back Synjyn Days, to give them an early 7-0 lead.
Following several drives in which both sides traded possessions, the vaunted Georgia Tech triple-option offense put the Yellow Jackets up 14-0 late in the first quarter. Sophomore quarterback Justin Thomas showed off his mobility, exploiting holes in the Bulldogs run defense, before connecting with senior Darren Waller on a 41-yard touchdown pass. Waller made a spectacular grab on the touchdown as he crossed the goal line, despite having a defender holding his jersey the entire way for a declined pass interference call.
Georgia Tech extends the lead! Justin Thomas finds Darren Waller for a 41-yard TD. GT leads MSST, 14-0.
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) January 1, 2015
All the energy and momentum Georgia Tech enjoyed in the first 15 minutes was returned to them in the second quarter, as the tide changed in Mississippi State’s favor. The swing followed a questionable call at the close of the first quarter, where an apparent fumble recovery by the Yellow Jackets was nixed by the officials who ruled the play dead. The Bulldogs scored the first 13 points of the second quarter on a Prescott touchdown run and two field goals, the second following a Mississippi State interception of an errant throwaway attempt by Thomas mid way through the second.
Georgia Tech would respond five minutes later with a 13-yard touchdown run by the quarterback Thomas to cap a 12 play, 82-yard drive. However, the last word of the seesaw first half belonged to Mississippi State when Prescott connected with Fred Ross on a 42-yard Hail Mary as time expired, cutting the Yellow Jackets lead to 21-20 at the break.
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) January 1, 2015
However, like the air being let out of a balloon, all of the momentum Mississippi State had built in the second quarter quickly evaporated in the third quarter. Synjyn Days erupted for a 69-yard touchdown run 55 seconds into the second half to extend the Yellow Jackets lead, and Thomas expanded it with his second touchdown run of the game, a 32-yard score. Any hope the Bulldogs had of salvaging the third quarter ended when the Yellow Jackets Jamal Golden forced running back Josh Robinson to fumble the ball and Georgia Tech recovered, leading to a 15-yard touchdown run for Thomas, his third of the game.
Justin Thomas TD. https://t.co/4qIADZxPns
— Barrett Sallee (@BarrettSallee) January 1, 2015
Prescott opened the fourth quarter with a seven yard touchdown pass to narrow the gap, but Georgia Tech put the game on ice three minutes later on Days’ third touchdown run of the game, a four yard scamper. Days finished with 171 yards on 21 carries, but fell short to his teammate Thomas for the game MVP award. In earning the honors Thomas threw only 12 times for 125 yards and a touchdown, while rushing for 121 yards on 14 attempts.
Prescott finished with a record 453 passing yards and three touchdowns, while adding 47 yards on the ground and another score. The Bulldogs played hard to the final whistle, but they couldn’t combat the Yellow Jackets and their double-digit lead, despite adding a late touchdown strike.
Meanwhile, Georgia Tech put the rest of the ACC and perhaps the rest of college football on notice with the statement win in their bowl game — they will be a force to be reckoned with in 2015. Not only did head coach Paul Johnson prove the triple-option is a nightmare to plan for, even with three weeks notice, but it can be successful against even a stout defense. Unorthodox, but effective, the triple-option and Georgia Tech made their mark at the Orange Bowl Wednesday, and on college football in 2014.