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College Football Playoff: Playoff Semifinal - Sugar Bowl

Georgia Tech (10-3, 6-2 ACC) vs. Mississippi State (10-2, 6-2 SEC)

Date: Wednesday, December 31, 2014
Time: 8:00 p.m. (EST)
Location: Miami, FL
Stadium: Sun Life Stadium (76,100)
Television: ESPN
Series Record: Georgia Tech leads 4-0
Last Meeting: 10-3-09: Georgia Tech 42 - Mississippi State 31 (Starkville, MS)

Mississippi State has never beaten Georgia Tech on the gridiron.

The Bulldogs and Yellow Jackets, who have only met four times, will be playing for the first time since Dan Mullen’s initial season in Starkville and this easily marks the largest stage on which the two programs have ever met.

Georgia Tech has made the postseason in each of the seven years that Paul Johnson has been at the helm. However, after experiencing great success in his first two seasons in Atlanta, things had fallen off over the last four years. This year, the Ramblin’ Wreck is participating in its first selection committee/BCS bowl since 2009 when the Jackets fell to Iowa in the Orange Bowl. The Yellow Jackets losses were near misses to Duke, North Carolina, and Florida State (37-35 in ACC Championship game).

Mississippi State, which has won ten games for just the second time in program history, is going bowling for the fifth straight year under Dan Mullen. The Bulldogs spent several weeks at No. 1 in the CFB Playoff Rankings, as they started 9-0 before dropping two of their final three.

The first loss was a 25-20 decision at now No. 1 Alabama and the other was 31-17 defeat at Ole Miss in the “Egg Bowl”.

The game will feature contrasting styles, as well as teams that both run the football extremely well and light up scoreboards.

The MSU attack, which is led by dual threat quarterback Dak Prescott, produces 37.2 points and more than 500 yards per contest. The Bulldogs averages 240 yards per game on the ground (18th nationally).

Prescott has yielded nearly 4,000 yards of total offense. He has completed 61.2 percent of his passes while throwing for 2,996 yards and 24 touchdowns (compared to ten interceptions) while also rushing for 939 yards and 13 scores.

Josh Robinson, who averaged well over six yards per carry while accumulating 1,128 yards, gives Mississippi State a consistent and explosive option in the backfield.

When Prescott puts it in the air, he spreads the wealth. The Bulldogs have nine players with at least ten receptions and De’Runnya Wilson leads the deep group with 38 catches for 575 yards and seven scores.

Defensively, MSU succeeded in stopping the run (126.5 ypg) and surrendered just 19.4 points per contest. The Bulldogs swarm to the football and no player recorded more than 61 tackles. Preston Smith tops the team with nine sacks—a total that ranked fourth in the SEC. As a team, MSU ranked second in the league with 36 sacks.

That pressure on the quarterback helped the Bulldogs intercept 15 passes. Will Redmond and Richie Brown are tied for the team lead with three each.

Pressure on the quarterback won’t be as much of a factor in this one, as Georgia Tech will present Mississippi State with a rarely seen and tough to replicate triple option flexbone attack that will place an emphasis on assignment football—quarterback, fullback, pitch.

The Jackets are second in the nation with 333.6 rushing yards per game and produce an ACC-leading 37 points per game.

Quarterback Justin Thomas, who took over for last year’s starter Vad Lee who transferred to JMU, ran for 965 yards. Senior B-Back Zach Laskey has rushed for 788 yards and nine touchdowns while fellow senior, A-back Synjyn Days, has run for 753 yards and six scores.

When Thomas puts it in the air, it is often off play-action looks where the Jackets get a lot of production per attempt. He has thrown for 1,600 yards and 17 touchdowns while only being intercepted five times.

DeAndre Smelter led Georgia Tech with just 35 receptions, but they went for 715 yards and seven scores. That average of 20-plus yards per catch shows the big play potential that Georgia Tech has via the play-action pass.

Defensively, Ted Roof’s unit wasn’t impressive, but good enough to win ten games. The Jackets gave up 25 points and nearly 400 yards per contest—with nearly 170 of that coming on the ground—which ranked them 12th of 14 teams in the ACC.

Sophomore linebacker P.J. Davis topped the team with 108 tackles—75 of which were solo.

Tech registered just 18 sacks, but they did force 27 turnovers—17 of which were interceptions. D.J. White and Jamal Golden collected four each.

This should be a very entertaining match-up. Mississippi State’s defense will face the challenging task of tackling Georgia Tech’s triple option attack. However, the Bulldogs have had the advantage of getting more than three weeks to prepare. The Jackets are just 1-5 in bowl games under Paul Johnson and the Bulldogs have possessed the better defense of the two.

If Mississippi State can protect the football and get off the field on third down—Georgia Tech converts 57% of its third downs and possesses the ball for more than 34 minutes on average—the Bulldogs will win this one. Dak Prescott and company will likely have a big game against the suspect Jacket D.

Orange Bowl Prediction: Mississippi State 38 - Georgia Tech 31


By Thomas Rosenbaum
DFN Sports Staff Writer

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