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The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

Mississippi State prepares to face Yellow Jackets

Courtesy Photo | Capital One Orange Bowl Media Staff
Capital One Orange Bowl

While many around the country view this year’s Orange Bowl as a matchup between the two biggest surprises of the college football season, do not even bother mentioning this to the head coaches. These are two men who not only expect their teams to be great, but are use to the nation at large doubting their teams chances. Entering the season, neither team was ranked in the preseason top 25 and very few media types predicted either team to do anywhere near the things they have accomplished on the season. With both teams possessing ten wins and a top ten ranking during this season, this year’s Orange Bowl sets up to be an exciting one to say the least.

Head coach Dan Mullen has been very open about the fact that he and his team were ecstatic to hear they would be playing in the Orange Bowl in Miami, once it became clear the playoffs were out of the equation. 

“We felt this was an unbelievable destination for us to go to,” Mullen said. “If you went and asked all our players to what bowl game they wanted to go, this would be their No. 1 choice and we’re thrilled to be involved in going to this game.”

Georgia Tech comes into the game averaging 334 rushing yards per game, which is good enough to slot them in as being third best in the nation. Their signature triple option style on offense, while simple in premise, has been a nightmare to opposing defenses all season, and was almost good enough to hand Florida State their first lose in the ACC Championship Game in December. 

Senior Linebacker Christian Holmes spoke on how Georgia Tech’s quarterback Justin Thomas can deceive even the most experienced defensive units with his play on the field. 

“It’s basic, but it is very hard to stop,” Holmes said of Tech’s triple option offense. “[Yellow Jackets’ quarterback Justin Thomas] is tremendous at it. He’s small and he hides behind the offensive line. The line cuts so he can see. There’s a lot of motion for eye candy. It tries to mess with your eyes and keys [to reading the offense.]”

It’s not an understatement to say that Thomas has been tremendous in his first season under center for Georgia Tech. His ending total of 965 rushing yards placed him third all time for rushing yards in a single season by a Georgia Tech quarterback. Along with this, he was voted Second Team All-ACC by the coaches in the conference, only bolstering his already impressive resume. Thomas is lightning quick, and opposing defenses must be worried about the occasional deep ball that Thomas likes to pull out of his arsenal of tricks as well. 

On the defensive side of the ball for the Bulldogs, it’s a unit that has only conceded 200 yards rushing in a game twice all season, and it currently sits at 25 in the country in terms of stopping the run, only allowing 127 rushing yards per game. While the critics have not been shy in voicing their frustrations with the pass defense, it must be said that the run defense has been the strong point of the squad all season long. The Bulldogs on defense are lead by their highly impressive front seven; including Junior middle LinebackerBenardrick McKinney, who might be playing his final game for the Bulldogs. The expected first round pick, made it clear that the team will have fun in Miami, but the main focus still remains on the field. 

“We came here to do our job and win the game,” linebacker Benardrick McKinney said, in comments provided by Orange Bowl organizers. “When it’s time to have fun, we will have fun. When it’s time to lock in, we will lock in.”

It’s important to note that the Bulldogs will be without a defensive coordinator when they take the field against the Yellow Jackets, as defensive coordinator Geoff Collins accepted the same position at the University of Florida just a couple weeks ago. Mullen decided that graduate assistant John Haneline will work with the linebackers in Collins’ absence and as a whole many on the staff will pitch in to the defensive game plan for the Mississippi State. 

One thing going for the Bulldog defense is that the Yellow Jackets rarely throw the ball on offense, as it average just 135 yards through the air a game. This puts the Yellow Jackets well near the bottom in that category in the country. The Bulldogs give up an average of 285 passing yards per game, which is also good enough to be one of the worst in the country for that statistic. Do not be surprised to see Georgia Tech open up the offense a little bit and look to try and expose the secondary of Mississippi State, as the Yellow Jackets have a wide receiver in Darren Waller that could potentially make some plays deep. Waller averages 18.6 yards per catch, so he is not afraid to try and stretch the defense out during the course of the game.

In defending the Mississippi State offense, Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson pointed at Dak Prescott and praised the Bulldog’s on everything they accomplished during the season. 

“Everybody knows about Dak Prescott and what he’s done,” Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said. “I know that they were ranked No. 1 in the country for about three or four weeks there. Tremendous team, some outstanding individual players and a lot of respect for what they’ve done there.”

Prescott, the once Heisman front runner in many people’s eyes, finished the season playing his worst football on the season and will be looking to recapture that spark that brought State fans to their feet throughout the majority of the season. While it would be easy to just point the finger at Prescott for why the offense has been less productive of late, it’s fair to say that the offensive line struggled to hold their own against Alabama and Ole Miss. Prescott was constantly under fire, and the running game did not appear to have much chance of materializing into a steady force for the offense. If the Bulldogs want to regain their momentum on offense, then it will need to start with the big guys upfront. 

If the Bulldogs were to come away from the game victorious, it would be their second ever win in the Orange Bowl, the other coming in 1940 as they were able to defeat Georgetown 14-7. Since 1999, the Bulldogs hold a very impressive 6-1 record in bowl games and two of those wins came against ACC opponents as well. 

Georgia Tech on the other hand, is just 1-5 under Paul Johnson in bowl games, and many have pointed to the long layoff that gives teams a better chance of preparing to deal with the triple option, as the primary reason for their struggles. Whether if that is the case or not, the Yellow Jackets will stick to their offense no matter the situation and they will want to show the college football world that they can win when it really matters.

The Orange Bowl takes place December 31st at 8:00 P.M in Miami and for those watching at home, the game can be seen on ESPN. 

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Mississippi State prepares to face Yellow Jackets