Coming into the season, nobody expected much out of Georgia Tech. The media picked the Yellow Jackets to finish fifth in the seven-team ACC Coastal, and they received little love from other preseason guides. But there they were, opening the season 5-0, daring themselves to dream. Even after consecutive losses to Duke and North Carolina seemed to end the dream in Atlanta, Paul Johnson’s crew buckled down and reeled off another five-game winning streak to end the regular season. Then they went to Charlotte and pushed the defending national champions in the ACC Championship Game, ultimately falling 37-35 after a late drive fell short.
Still, 70 percent of bettors favored Mississippi State to win the Orange Bowl outright on New Year’s Eve, with 55 percent picking the Bulldogs while giving five points against the spread. Georgia Tech fed off the doubt all season, and they did it again at Sun Life Stadium on the last night of 2014. A three-yard run by Synjyn Days opened the scoring less than three minutes into the contest, and the Yellow Jackets never ceded the lead as they romped to a 49-34 victory over Mississippi State.
Both teams were with 25 yards of one another in yardage gained on offense, but it was the nature of Georgia Tech’s run-dominant option attack that wore down the SEC West runner-up. That softened up the coverage in the secondary as the Bulldogs pressed toward the line to stop the ground game. Quarterback Justin Thomas took advantage, hitting Darren Waller with a 41-yard touchdown pass with less than two minutes left in the first quarter to double the Yellow Jackets’ advantage.
Mississippi State chipped back in the second quarter, getting three straight scores to seize the momentum heading toward halftime. A five-yard touchdown run by Bulldog quarterback Dak Prescott was sandwiched by Evan Sobiesk field goals of 32 and 30 yards. Now leading by only a single point, Georgia Tech took the ball 82 yards in 12 plays to extend its lead back to eight. Thomas completed the drive on a 13-yard touchdown run, diving to the left pylon. With less than a minute left, it seemed as though the Yellow Jackets had regained the momentum heading to the locker room.
Instead Dan Mullen pressed the pace with 29 seconds left. The Bulldogs managed to get off five plays in that span, getting down to the Georgia Tech 42 with time remaining for one more heave. Prescott uncorked the ball to the endzone, and a deflection landed in Fred Ross’ outstretched hands on the Hail Mary to pull Mississippi State back within one at the intermission.
Georgia Tech quickly dispelled any notion of an SEC comeback once the third quarter commenced, needing less than a minute to grow its lead to 28-20 on a 69-yard touchdown run by Days, his second of the night. The Bulldogs were prevented from converting a 4th-and-21 play on their next drive, as Prescott’s pass to De’Runnya Wilson gained only 17 yards and they turned the ball over on downs. Thomas ran for touchdowns of 32 and 15 yards on the next two drives, with a Prescott fumble ending the Mississippi State drive in between.
By the start of the fourth quarter, Mississippi State was down 42-20 — but sitting on the Georgia Tech 7 with a chance of pulling back within two scores. Prescott and Wilson connected on the first play of the final quarter, and Sobiesk’s extra point made it 42-27. Days nabbed his third touchdown of the game on a seven-play, 46-yard drive that took less than three minutes.
The Bulldogs were held scoreless on fourth and goal at the Tech 5, and a late score by Mullen’s offense proved academic as Georgia Tech ran away with the 49-34 victory in Miami. After a year flown largely under the radar, the nation was given a full view of the Yellow Jackets’ sting in prime time on New Year’s Eve. The option offense finished with 452 rushing yards and another 125 efficient yards through the air. The question now becomes whether the bowl game will have an inflated impact on next season’s rankings, and whether one of the nation’s youngest teams in 2014 can take this result and validate heightened expectations in the new year.