Dec. 28, 2014
By Matt Winkeljohn
The Good Word
While it’s pleasantly warm and nearby beaches beckon, Georgia Tech players are not treating their trip to South Florida as a vacation. The Yellow Jackets are in the Miami to work, several for the final time. The Orange Bowl is serious stuff.
Senior B-back Zach Laskey is looking at Wednesday night’s game against Mississippi State as a final chance for him and his teammates to prove something.
“It’s a huge deal; we’re approaching this like it’s the Super Bowl for us,” Laskey said. “We haven’t had the best bowl record in the past. We’re 1-2 since I’ve been here. We get to play on a big stage, and get a chance to show that we can beat a good team.”
The 12th-ranked Jackets (10-3) have proven they belong in the postseason, with a 6-3 record against bowl/playoff teams.
Seventh-ranked Mississippi State (10-2) was No. 1 for a spell in October, and as the Bulldogs hail from the much-hyped SEC West, the Jackets’ second trip to the Orange Bowl in six years will provide yet an opportunity to remind others of that.
Having resumed practice Friday after nearly a week off, Tech is ramping up gradually. The heat and humidity of south Florida is different than what the Jackets faced recently in Atlanta, a not like the climate last year at the Music City Bowl in Nashville, or at the Sun Bowl the previous two seasons in El Paso.
As always in bowl season, that’s not the only adjustment.
By game time, it will have been 25 days since the Jackets last played, Dec. 6, when they fell 37-35 to defending national champion Florida State in the ACC Championship Game.
They haven’t really popped pads in a while, and Saturday’s practice – Tech’s first in Florida since arriving Friday evening – began somewhat slowly.
“I thought towards the end they picked up,” Johnson said. “That’s the biggest concern . . . you go so long without any live contact. It’s been three or four weeks. You just don’t know until you play . . . you don’t know until you get game speed.”
The Jackets went to a Brazilian steak house for dinner Saturday, and earlier in the day visited a local hospital.
They’re finding time for a little bit of fun, and for many players this will be a family affair.
Right guard Shaquille Mason’s girlfriend and daughter cannot make the trip from Columbia, Tenn., but much of his family will make the trip. Other than the fact that much of his family was at the Music City Bowl last year, the Orange Bowl experience is not much like trips to Nashville and El Paso.
“It’s a very different feeling because you just know how big this name is, and a New Year’s Eve game,” Mason said. “I’m just soaking it all in, taking it as it comes. I have about 10-12 coming for the game.”
Laskey said about 15 family members and friends will begin driving to south Florida today, and while he’s looking forward to socializing and a trip or two to local beaches, he’s focused chiefly on finishing his college career with a bowl win.
“It’s about 80 and humid. [Friday], I was telling the guys yesterday I almost forgot it was Christmas,” Laskey said. “No disrespect to other bowls, but this is a great environment. For the past two and a half three weeks we’ve been hitting each other . . . today we picked it up a notch.
“Every day you have to approach practice and go full speed because you’re getting old and this is the end of your career. Maybe when you were younger you didn’t want to go to practice, but now you don’t want it to end.”