Dec. 29, 2014
By Jon Cooper
The Good Word
No. 12 Georgia Tech will try to cap off a magical 2014 season with a win, but it won’t come easy, as they take on No. 7 Mississippi State of the SEC in the Capital One Orange Bowl. Kickoff at Sun Life Stadium in Miami is set for 8:00 p.m. The game can be seen on ESPN and WatchESPN.com. Tech fans can hear the game on the Georgia Tech Radio Network (680 AM, 93.7 FM) or on Sirius/XM radio (Channel 83), with Brandon Gaudin, Roddy Jones on the call and Sean Bedford reporting from the sideline.
The game marks the Jackets’ 18th straight bowl appearance and seventh in the Orange Bowl, where they are 3-3 all-time. Mississippi State is making its 18th trip to a bowl game, its fifth straight bowl appearance under Dan Mullen (they are 3-1 in bowl games) and first trip to the Orange Bowl since 1941. They are 1-1 in their previous visits, which coincidentally were the first two bowl games in school history..
The Yellow Jackets will look to bounce back from a tough 37-35 loss to No. 3 Florida State (they were No. 4 at the time) in the ACC Championship Game. The Jackets took a lead three different times in the first half but the Seminoles gained a 28-21 lead just before halftime and wouldn’t trail again. The Jackets didn’t go quietly, as they tied the game on their first drive of the third quarter. The defenses stiffened in the red zone in the second half, but FSU kicked field goals on three straight drives to build a 37-28 lead. A Justin Thomas-to-Darren Waller 25-yard scoring pass, cut the lead to two within two minutes, but the Seminoles recovered the ensuing onside kick and ran out the clock. The loss ended the Jackets’ second five-game winning streak of the season. Thomas ran for 104 yards and passed for 134 more, while Synjyn Days capped three scoring drives with touchdowns as Tech ran for 331 yards. Defensively, P.J. Davis led Tech with 11 tackles, while SAM Linebacker Demond Smith tied his career-best 10 stops, all solo.
The Jackets have had more than three weeks to put that game behind them and refocus on beating the Bulldogs. It’ll be a tall task as the runner-up in the powerful SEC West and the nation’s top-ranked team for five weeks, comes in enjoying its record 10th straight week ranked in the top 10. MSU will be the fourth straight ranked team on Tech’s schedule.
“We’ve played the gauntlet. I think this will be our third top-10 team in a row and if you throw in Clemson before that who is pretty salty as well,” said Head Coach Paul Johnson, who is coaching Tech in its seventh straight bowl game and second trip to the Orange Bowl. “It’s been quite a stretch. It’s one that our guys have looked forward to playing and we’ve got one more to go here in the Orange Bowl. Hopefully we’ll show up and play well.”
Mississippi State has redemption on its mind, as the Bulldogs saw dreams of a season bound for the College Football Playoff disintegrate when they lost two of their final three games, a 25-20 loss at current No. 1 Alabama, then a 31-17 defeat two weeks laster at arch-rival Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl.
While making it to the Orange Bowl is a thrill, the Jackets aren’t satisfied with just showing up. They want to finish on a high note.
“We set our goals and reached them,” said sophomore quarterback Justin Thomas. “We did big things this year. Now it is time to finish the job.”
Here is some statistical data to take into Wednesday’s Capital One Orange Bowl.
The Series: Wednesday night’s game will be the fifth in the series and third meeting since 2008. Georgia Tech has won all four previous meetings and are 2-0 in the Paul Johnson Era. The series began in Atlanta on Oct. 17, 1908, with a 23-0 victory. Tech made it two straight on Oct. 5, 1929, with a 27-13 win also on its home turf. The schools did not meet again until 2008 — bypassing Georgia Tech’s 32 years as a member of the SEC (1932-64) — when they played a home-and-home series. Johnson’s Yellow Jackets beat the Bulldogs, 38-7, on Sept. 20, 2008 at Bobby Dodd Stadium then made it 4-0 the following year in the first meeting between the schools in Starkville, as the No. 25/RV Jackets won a 42-31 shootout in current Head Coach Dan Mullen’s first season at the helm.
.837 – The combined winning percentage of Clemson, Georgia, Florida State and Mississippi State, the Yellow Jackets’ final four opponents of the 2014 season. No. 17 Clemson and No. 13 Georgia headed into their bowl games with 9-3 records, No. 3 Florida State takes a 13-0 record and a 29-game winning streak into the Rose Bowl and its first-round playoff game against Oregon, and Mississippi State comes in 10-2. That’s a combined 41-8 record. The teams combined for an .864 winning percentage (38-6) at the time they played the Jackets (No. 19 Clemson was 7-2, No. 9 Georgia 9-2, No. 4 FSU 12-0, and No. 7 MSU 10-2).
1 – The previous number of seasons in which Georgia Tech played three consecutive games against top-10 teams. In 1959 Bobby Dodd’s Yellow Jackets played at No. 6 SMU while ranked 16th, No. 6 Clemson while ranked seventh and No. 8 Tennessee while ranked third. The Jackets won all three games, beating the Mustangs, 16-12, on Sept. 26, the Tigers, 16-6, on Oct. 3, and the Vols, 14-7, on Oct. 10. The week after the victory over Tennessee, the Jackets played a fourth ranked team, No. 11 Auburn, at Grant Field, but lost, 7-6. A win over Mississippi State would give the `14 Yellow Jackets three wins in their four-game stretch against these ranked teams.
5 – The number of times in the Paul Johnson Era that the Yellow Jackets have played at least four ranked teams in a season. The Jackets played six of them in 2012, the last time they played in the ACC Championship Game. They played five ranked/RV teams during the 2009 season, the last time they played in the Orange Bowl.
1 – The number of times in the Paul Johnson Era that Georgia Tech played ranked teams in four consecutive weeks. That came in 2008, when the Jackets played No. 16/16 Florida State, at No. 19/19 North Carolina, against No. 23/RV Miami and at No. 13/13 Georgia. Tech beat FSU, 31-23, on Nov. 1, lost to the Tar Heels, 28-7, Nov. 8, beat Miami, 41-23, and won in Athens, 45-42.
3 – The number of Georgia Tech wins in 10 games all-time against team’s ranked No. 7 in the country. It should be noted that Tech is 0-5 in true road games, but is 1-2 on neutral fields and 1-1 in bowl games.
.944 – The percentage of seasons in which Paul Johnson-coached teams have reached a bowl game or playoffs. Johnson’s teams have been rewarded with postseason play in 17 of his 18 seasons as a head coach. The lone season he didn’t get there was 2002, his first at Navy, when the Midshipmen went 2-10, although one of those wins did come over Army. Navy went 43-19 over his final five years, winning at least eight games in each season. Johnson has had only one other non-winning season since (2010, a 6-7 season with the Jackets).
2 – Georgia Tech’s national rank in rushing yards per game. The Jackets grind out 333.6 yards per game. They also lead the nation with 13 straight games rushing for at least 200 yards.
2 – GT’s rank in longest streak of seasons going to a bowl. The Jackets have gone bowling 18 straight years. That’s tied with Georgia and trails only Virginia Tech’s 22.
.333 – Georgia Tech’s percentage of points off turnovers directly scored by the defense (41 of 123). Quayshawn Nealy (Sept. 6 at Tulane), Paul Davis (Sept. 20 at Virginia Tech), D.J. White (Nov. 8 at NC State), Jamal Golden (Nov. 15 vs. Clemson) and Chris Milton (Nov. 15 vs. Clemson) have returned interceptions for scores, while Tyler Marcordes (Nov. 8 at NC State) took a fumble to the house. The six defensive scores are the most in the FBS.
2.6/12.3 – The number of turnovers and points scored off them per game in Yellow Jackets wins. Tech has 26 turnovers (16 interceptions, 10 fumble recoveries) good for 123 points in games won.
.3/0 – The number of turnovers and points scored off them per game in the Yellow Jackets losses. Tech has one interception. and no points in games lost.
1 – The number of fumble recoveries by the Jackets through the season’s first 28 quarters.
5 – The number of fumble recoveries by the Jackets in the first quarter Oct. 25 at Pittsburgh. They’d have six on the day.
10 – The number of different Jackets to intercept a pass and either force or recover a fumble.
5 – The number of games in the last six in which the Yellow Jackets have kept opponents from recording a sack. Clemson, which recorded three on Nov. 15, is the only team to get to QB Justin Thomas since Oct. 25 at Pittsburgh. Tech had allowed at least one sack in each of its previous six games heading into the game at Heinz Field.
3 – The number of Yellow Jackets’ offensive linemen to earn All-ACC consideration. Senior right guard Shaq Mason, a First-Team All-American, was named Second-Team All-ACC, redshirt-sophomore center Freddie Burden and redshirt-junior left tackle Bryan Chamberlain were named Honorable Mention.
34:02 – The amount of time Georgia Tech has held the ball per game. That ranks third in the FBS, behind only Michigan State (35:14) and UTEP (34:49). Tech has held the ball at least 30 minutes in 11 of 13 games this season (they’re 8-3), and Georgia Tech is 41-19 under Johnson when having at least 30:00 of possession per game.
34:55: Georgia Tech’s time of possession against Florida State in the ACC Championship Game. It’s the shortest time of possession for the Yellow Jackets in their last five games. Before FSU, Tech held the ball 38:55 vs. Virginia, 36:30 at NC State, 35:08 vs. Clemson, and 36:23 at Georgia.
35 – The number of rushing yards quarterback Justin Thomas needs to gain 1,000 for the season. Thomas has been held below 35 yards rushing only three times this season (27, Oct. 4 vs. Miami, 4, Nov. 1 vs. Virginia and 34, Nov. 29 at Georgia).
73 – The number of rushing yards Thomas needs to set a school-, single-season record for rushing yards by a quarterback. Joshua Nesbitt set the record of 1,037 in 2009. Thomas, who enters the game third all-time, needs 23 yards to catch second-place Tevin Washington (2011).
4 – The number of 100-yard rushing games by Thomas this season. His 965 rushing yards rank fifth in the FBS and are 26 more than MSU’s Dak Prescott (who’s played one fewer game).
1 – The number of passing touchdowns Thomas needs to break the tie with Joe Hamilton and tie George Godsey for fourth all-time for TD passes in a season. Thomas begins play with 17 touchdown passes, having thrown one in six of the last seven games.
10/2 – The number of touchdowns and interceptions by Thomas over those seven games.
30 – The number of rushing yards senior B-Back Zach Laskey needs to reach 2,000 for his career. He’s 57 yards from moving past William Bell and into 12th all-time in career rushing.
4 – The total number of yards lost by B-Backs Laskey and Synjyn Days on 297 carries this season. GT’s B-Backs duo has gained 1,541 yards in those carries.
6 – The number of times in seven games that the Yellow Jackets have scored a touchdown on their opening drive of the third quarter. They’ve gone at least 75 yards on each drive. The one half-opening drive in which Tech did not score was the 91-yard drive at Georgia, which ended on a controversial Thomas fumble at the goal line.
60 – The number of points allowed by Georgia Tech in the third quarter. It’s the fewest points allowed by the Jackets in any quarter.
7 – The number of consecutive losses by GT in Bowl Games played against the SEC. That includes last year’s 25-17 loss to Ole Miss in the Music City Bowl.
9.1 – The number of yards per carry by redshirt-senior A-Back Charles Perkins. Perkins, who has 384 yards on 42 carries, came into the season averaging 4.8 yards per carry.
5/73/1 – The number of catches, receiving yards and touchdowns for Darren Waller against Florida State in the ACC Championship Game, the Jackets’ first game without injured DeAndre Smelter. Waller had six catches, for 50 yards and two scores combined in the previous four games.
58 – The total yardage in losses resulting from 247Sports Freshman First-Team All-American DE KeShun Freeman. Freeman accumulated 35 yards in losses with his nine tackles for loss and 23 more with his 4.5 sacks. Both the TFLs and sacks are team-highs.
108 – The team-leading number of tackles for Honorable Mention All-ACC WILL Linebacker P.J. Davis. That’s 18 more than Second-Team All-ACC MLB Quayshawn Nealy. His 75 solo stops also are a team best, 20 more than Nealy, who is next.
42 – The streak of consecutive games played by Nealy in which he recorded at least one solo tackle, which ended in the ACC Championship Game against Florida State. Nealy did assist on six tackles against the `Noles, the fourth-most stops for the Jackets.
71 – The number of tackles for redshirt-junior SAM Linebacker Demond Smith. Smith, a converted DB who has played in all 13 games, making nine starts, came into the season with 57 total tackles over his first two seasons.
275 – The all-time leading number of tackles for a DB by redshirt-senior strong safety Isaiah Johnson.
7 – The career-high-tying number of tackles in the ACC Championship Game by Third-Team All-ACC free safety Jamal Golden.
68.7 – Opponents’ red zone conversion rate in Georgia Tech’s 10 wins (32-for-42).
100.0 – Opponents’ red zone conversion rate in Georgia Tech’s three losses (15-for-15).
17/114 – The number of Yellow Jackets sacks and resulting lost yardage in GT wins.
1/1 – The number of Yellow Jackets sacks and resulting lost yardage in GT losses.
10 Things To Know About Mississippi State (plus why Dan Mullen’s Mississippi State teams are the most offensive in school history)
.605 – Dan Mullen’s winning percentage as head coach in Starkville. In only six years he’s already third in school history in wins (46) and has the highest winning percentage since Allyn McKeen, who won 76.4 percent of his games from 1939-48 (78-25-3). He already holds the school record for Bowl wins (three), recording his third in last year’s 44-7 rout of Rice in the 2013 AutoZone Liberty Bowl.
2 – The number of 10-win seasons in Mississippi State history prior to this season. The Bulldogs went 10-0-1 in 1940 under McKeen, finishing their season with a 14-7 win over Georgetown in the Orange Bowl (coincidentally a year after Georgia Tech knocked off Missouri, 21-7), and were 10-2 in 1999 under Jackie Sherrill, concluding their year in the Peach Bowl. MSU also had only their third six-win season in SEC play in 2014 and its first since 1999.
3 – The number of consecutive wins over top-10 teams orchestrated by the `14 Bulldogs. In order, MSU won at No. 8/8 LSU, 34-29, on Sept. 20, knocked off No. 6/7 Texas A&M, 48-31, on Oct. 4, then upended No. 2/2 Auburn, 38-23, on Oct. 11. The Bulldogs are the first team to record a pure hat trick over top-10 teams since 1983, when Auburn beat No. 5 Florida, No. 7 Maryland and won at No. 4 Georgia in Athens.
10 – The number of school records broken this season by junior quarterback Dak Prescott. The Heisman candidate and Maxwell and Davey O’Brien Award finalist, already holds the school’s record for touchdown responsibility, with 68 (30 rushing, 38 passing) and has accounted for 228 points in 2014 (sixth in the nation). He is one of only two players in the last seven years to average 240 passing yards (249.7) and 75 rushing yards per game (78.3), joining Johnny Manziel, who did it in 2012. Prescott’s 17 touchdowns on third down lead the nation (a nation-leading five of those are to WR De’Runnya Wilson), his 326 rushing yards on third down rank fifth, and he’s the only player in the top 20 nationally in passing and rushing yards. His next passing touchdown will give him 25 and set a school single-season record. Should he gain 61 rushing yards and four through the air he would become the first player in school history to join the 3,000-1,000 club (3,000 yards passing, 1,000 yards rushing).
.600 – The success rate of Mississippi State opponents in the red zone this season. That’s the lowest in the nation. The Bulldogs have allowed opponents 24 scores in 40 trips inside the 20 and only 15 touchdowns (37.5 percent).
19.4/2 – The number of points per game and shutouts recorded by MSU in 2014. The PPG total ranked fifth in the SEC, was 10th in the nation and the best by a Bulldogs’ defense in 16 years, since they finished sixth, allowing 13.5 ppg. The two shutouts also were the most by a Bulldogs defense since 1998.
50 – The number of plays going at least 10 yards from scrimmage by Second-Team All-SEC running back Josh Robinson. That led all SEC running backs and was second in the conference behind only Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper (60). Nicknamed “Bowling Ball,” Robinson rolled for 94.0 yards per game (third in the SEC), and 6.4 yards per carry (second).
56 – The number of points by which the `14 Bulldogs have already broken the school-record for points in a season. The previous record was 390, set in 2000. They’ve scored at least 34 points in nine of 12 games this season and 10 of the last 13 dating back to last year’s bowl game.
61/8.0/3.0 – The number of tackles, tackles for loss and sacks for junior linebacker Bernardrick McKinney. A First-Team All-American (one of two on the team, with OL Ben Beckwith), and a semifinalist for the Bednarik, Butkus and Lombardi Awards, McKinney, leads the team in tackles and has six career double-digit tackle games, including a 12-stop effort on Sept. 6 against UAB, during which he also registered a career-best 3.5 TFLs. The defense’s leader with 35 starts, his 8.0 TFLs are a career-high, and he is half-a-sack and a pass break-up shy of tying his career-bests. His three fumble recoveries also lead the Bulldogs.
14.5/9.0 – The number of tackles for loss and sacks by senior defensive end Preston Smith. An All-SEC First-Teamer, Smith was fourth in the SEC in TFLs — he’s recorded at least one in 11 straight games — and is fifth in sacks. He led all SEC DL’s with two interceptions (one of which took back for a score) and led MSU with 15 QB hurries, two forced fumbles (tied for the team lead), and two blocked kicks, seventh in the FBS. Smith has a quarter of the team’s 36 sacks, which rank second in the SEC and 16th in the nation,, which are three away from tying the school-record set in 1996.
506.2 – Mississippi State’s SEC-leading total offense per game yardage total (ninth in the nation). That attack that puts up 37.2 ppg (second in the SEC, 14th nationally), averages 239.8 ypg on the ground (third in the SEC, 18th in the country), and 266.3 ypg through the air (fifth in the conference, 35th in the nation). The Bulldogs convert on 47.0 percent of their third downs (fourth/19th) and are 82.0 percent efficient in the red zone (10th/72nd).
6,074 – MSU’s school-record-setting total offense total in 2014. That blew past last year’s total of 5,647 set in 2013. The Bulldogs also have scored 56 offensive touchdowns (28 rushing, 28 passing), surpassing the similarly short-lived record of 47 set in 2013. They’ll enter the Orange Bowl tied for the most passing TDs in a season and three off the record for rushing scores. MSU’s top five seasons in passing touchdowns and total offense have come in the Dan Mullen Era.
Get The Good Word in your e-mail box — it’s free! Just register here to get the latest features on Georgia Tech Athletics.