Georgia Tech Rushes to Victory in 81st Capital One Orange Bowl
The Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets win the 2014 Capital One Orange Bowl
The ringing of the cowbells from Mississippi State fans that made the trip to South Florida from “Stark Vegas” and elsewhere could be heard all night, but it was the Georgia Tech faithful who rang in the New Year with a victory in the 2014 Capital One Orange Bowl.
Click here to see photos from the 2014 Capital One Orange Bowl
As the clock struck midnight, ushering in the year 2015, the Yellow Jackets of Georgia Tech were on stage hoisting the Capital One Orange Bowl trophy amid a back drop of fireworks and fanfare, minutes after concluding the 2014 season with a 49-34 win over Mississippi State.
“I was really, really proud of our football team. I told them after the game in the locker room, I think this concluded my 36th year of coaching, and these guys were probably as much fun or more fun to coach than any team I've been associated with, just because they play so hard and they care so much about each other,” said Georgia Tech Head Coach Paul Johnson.
The 12th-ranked Yellow Jackets from the Atlantic Coast Conference were never favored over the seventh-ranked Bulldogs of Mississippi State, who hailed from the powerful Southeastern Conference West. Mississippi State was in the midst of a dream season in the sixth year of Head Coach Dan Mullen’s tenure in Starkville. An 11th win would have been a school record for the Bulldogs, who were the No. 1 ranked team in the country when the College Football Playoff Selection Committee’s initial rankings were announced.
Nonetheless, Mississippi State spent five weeks ranked as the nation’s top team this season and boasted a balanced attack that featured one of the country’s most decorated quarterbacks amongst a host of other talented players. Georgia Tech’s vaunted spread option attack, a Paul Johnson staple since the beginning of his career in the ‘80s, was the key in a season in which they won the ACC Coastal Division, despite being a pre-season pick for fifth place.
“I couldn't be more proud of our guys. I couldn't be more proud of the senior class, what they've established here for us,” said Mississippi State Head Coach Dan Mullen. “Obviously it's very disappointing to end the season on a loss, but you end the season on a loss to a very good Georgia Tech team, and we've got a lot of build on. And got to find a way tonight to get some sleep and wake up tomorrow morning, and find a way to make the 2015 edition even better than this year.”
As the two teams took center stage on New Year’s Eve, Georgia Tech would prove fairly quickly that they belonged. Dak Prescott threw an interception on the first drive of the game, leading to a 3-yard Synjyn Days touchdown to put the Yellow Jackets up 7-0 early in the contest. Later in the first, it was the arm of quarterback Justin Thomas, rather than his legs, putting Georgia Tech up 14-0 with a 41-yard touchdown pass to Darren Waller.
Days and Thomas would pace the Yellow Jackets throughout the game, both turning in career-high performances in what turned into a record-setting night in South Florida. Thomas, the game’s Most Outstanding Player, finished with 125 yards passing and one touchdown, all of which came in the first half. He added another 121 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. Those 121 yards gave Thomas 1,086 rushing yards on the year, a Georgia Tech single-season record for rushing yards by a quarterback.
“I don't want to say it is, but it felt like it was going pretty easy going out there. It was just we've been doing it for so long, it just comes natural to you. When the guys do their part, and without the guys doing their part, I wouldn't have gotten the MVP,” said Thomas of his performance after the game.
Days finished with 171 yards rushing and three more touchdowns, the exclamation point of which was a 69-yard rush on the second play of the second half which thwarted Mississippi State’s momentum, as he ran over a handful of Mississippi State defenders en route to the end zone.
Mississippi State was not lacking in big plays itself, and kept the game close throughout. The aforementioned momentum was in large part due to the miraculous 42-yard Hail Mary that Mississippi State converted to end the half. Fred Ross caught the tipped pass from Dak Prescott in the end zone to bring the score within one at halftime, 21-20. The touchdown capped off a 20-point second quarter that also featured a Dak Prescott rushing touchdown and a pair of Evan Sobiesk field goals.
However, in a game of runs, Georgia Tech struck next. Days’ scintillating touchdown run was the first of three straight Georgia Tech touchdowns that eventually put the Yellow Jackets up 42-20 entering the fourth quarter. Despite two more touchdown passes from Dak Prescott and a Capital One Orange Bowl record 453 passing yards, the Ramblin’ Wreck offense was too much as their own record setting performance, 452 team rushing yards, carried them to the win.
Two areas of the game that played huge roles in the outcome were third downs and the redzone. Georgia Tech entered the game leading the nation in third down conversion percentage (57.0%). They went up against the 13th best third down defense in Mississippi State but finished the game 9-of-13, a 69% conversion rate. When it came to the redzone, Mississippi State boasted the nation’s top redzone defense, allowing opponents to score on only 60% of their possessions. However, it was the Georgia Tech defense that emerged in the redzone, only allowing touchdowns on three of Mississippi State’s six trips inside the 20.
“It's kind of bittersweet, playing in a game like this and winning your final game, it's fantastic,” said Days, a senior. “You really can't write it much better.”
Georgia Tech improves to 5-0 all-time against Mississippi State and 2-0 against the SEC this season. The Yellow Jackets improved to 4-3 all-time in the Orange Bowl with its first win since the 1952 game. Next season, all eyes will be on the Capital One Orange Bowl as it is set to host one of the two 2015 College Football Playoff Semifinals on New Year’s Eve.
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