By Ryan S. Clark
MIAMI GARDENS -— Even if the Georgia Tech offense consists of only “six or seven plays,” sophomore quarterback Justin Thomas looked good on at least four of them.
Through Thomas’ four touchdowns, the Yellow Jackets were able to extend one streak while bringing an end to a longer, less flattering trek. No. 12 Georgia Tech rushed for 452 yards to break the 200-yard barrier for the14th consecutive game and in the process, snapped a 59-year winless streak in the Capital One Orange Bowl with a 49-34 win over No. 7 Mississippi State on Wednesday at in front of 58,211 fans at Sun Life Stadium.
“I thought Justin Thomas really played a great game,” Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said. “He made some guys miss.”
Georgia Tech (11-3) also helped the Atlantic Coast Conference save face in what’s been a dismal postseason against Power 5 schools. The ACC now moves to 2-5 against schools from the Power 5 with Clemson getting the other win.
“This is a good football team. I think we’re a top-10 team for sure,” Johnson said. “ . . . And for at least a week or two, we don’t have to hear about the SEC.”
Meanwhile, Mississippi State (10-3) ends what was arguably the strongest campaign in program history. Ranked at No. 1 in the nation for four weeks, the Bulldogs created the kind of national attention Stark-ville hasn’t seen in years. The Southeastern Conference is now 4-2 in games against the Power 5 and Notre Dame.
Trying to win its first Orange Bowl since its maiden and only appearance in the 1940 season, the Bulldogs fell victim to the Yellow Jackets and the dynamic Thomas, who rushed 21 times for 171 yards and went 7-of-12 for125 yards.
With a 21-20 halftime lead, Tech catapulted to a 42-20 lead in the third quarter off two touchdown runs from Thomas and a 69-yard run from Synjyn Davis just 55 seconds into the frame.
Davis’ run, which was the second play of the quarter, was a long darting run that saw him just stay in bounds to push the lead to 28-20.
It set up Thomas, who was later voted the Orange Bowl’s most valuable player.
Thomas, on first down, found a little space and froze Bulldogs junior defensive end Ryan Brown. After leaving Brown in his wake, Thomas put another move on cornerback Will Redmond before cruising in for a 32-yard touchdown run and a 35-20 lead with 7:58 left. His run set the Tech single-season record for rushing yards by a quarterback.
He made history again on the next drive. Mississippi State was trying to respond when running back Josh Robinson, who declared for the NFL Draft earlier in the day, was blasted by Tech’s P.J. Davis.
Davis’ booming hit, which drew a collective “OOOH!” from the crowd, forced the ball loose and the Yellow Jackets recovered.
“We played pretty good in the red zone,” Johnson said of his defense.
A few plays later, Thomas optioned to Charles Perkins, whose 21-yard run put the Yellow Jackets beyond the 300-yard mark for the 48th time in coach Paul Johnson’s tenure.
Johnson, who said earlier in the week his offense only featured “six or seven plays,” watched Thomas stroll into the end zone on a 15-yard touchdown run for a 41-20 lead with 4:17 left to put the game out of reach.
Mississippi State struggled to find comfort from the opening series. Quarterback Dak Prescott’s opening pass was tipped an intercepted by Chris Milton and it set up the Yellow Jackets at the Bulldogs 36. Perkins broke off a 23-yard run and two plays later, Days scored on a three-yard run for a 7-0 lead with 12:38 left in the first quarter. Prescott, playing in what could have been his final game at Mississippi State, finished 33-of-51 for 453 yards and three touchdowns.
Bulldogs coach Dan Mullen said numerous times entering the game he wanted his team to avoid falling into an early hole because the Yellow Jackets can make a comeback challenging. The Bulldogs’ struggles intensified when the Yellow Jackets deviated from the run and went to the air.
Tech receiver Darren Waller beat cornerback Jameson Love, who was late reading the play. Love was left to yank Waller’s jersey for about 15 yards before the Tech receiver hauled in a 41-yard touchdown pass from Thomas for a 14-0 lead with 1:37 left.
Mississippi State, however, managed to slightly recover.
Field goals from Evan Sobiesk and a five-yard touchdown run from Prescott cut the lead to 14-13. Both teams exchanged late touchdowns with Tech taking a 21-20 halftime lead.
But Georgia Tech’s third quarter surge was too much for Mississippi State to overcome.
Sports | Jan. 1, 2015 | Page 1C, 5C
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