SUn life stadium
The 2014 Orange Bowl features two completely opposite teams in more ways than one. For starters, Georgia Tech is familiar with this bowl, as they will be making their seventh appearance all time. Mississippi State, on the other hand, is returning to the Orange Bowl for the first time since 1941. Not only is Georgia Tech more accustomed to the bigger bowl games such as this one, but they are more accustomed to bowl games in general. This will be their 18th consecutive bowl game they have taken part in.
As far as what you'll see on the field, don't expect any similarities there either. You will get a dose of two completely different styles of offense in this game. Georgia Tech is run heavy, pounding the option over and over and over again until you finally break. Mississippi State likes to spread you out and stay balanced with the run and the pass to keep you guessing. The Dogs take pride in their defense, particularly in the red zone, and try to take away your running game. The Yellow Jackets give up a good bit of yards but rely on forcing turnovers to get off the field.
Given all of their differences, there is one thing these two teams have in common: they were never supposed to make it this far. Mississippi State was coming off a seven win season and had only won 10 games two times in its history. Georgia Tech was also coming off a seven win year in 2013 and lost 13 players from their roster during the off-season that were not seniors. They were picked to finish 5th in the ACC. Mississippi State was picked to finish 5th in its own division. It's no surprise that Dan Mullen andboth earned conference coach of the year awards.
Both teams took different paths to arrive at this point. Mississippi State got off to a hot 9-0 start and was the #1 team in the country for a large portion of the year. Georgia Tech's season was in a bit of doubt after two losses in a row to Duke and North Carolina put them at 5-2. The Dogs lost two of their last three to fall out of playoff contention and the Jackets won five in a row to go 10-2 and make it to the ACC Championship Game. They gave Florida State all they wanted but fell short in the end, 37-35.
Both teams should have plenty of motivation going into this game and play with something to prove, especially Mississippi State. Losing to rival Ole Miss to end the season left a sour taste in a lot of fans' mouths. Nothing would help take that away more than an Orange Bowl victory to finish the season 11-2.
You have to like Mississippi State's chances of doing just that. They couldn't have possibly asked for a better match-up. Their strength on defense matches exactly what Georgia Tech likes to do offensively, which is run the football. They have ran for 334 yards per game, and Mississippi State is holding opponents to just 127 rushing yards per game. Something will have to give.
The big weakness for the Bulldogs on defense all year has been the secondary. They rank 124th in passing defense. The good news is that the Yellow Jackets rank 122nd in passing offense. While Quarterback Justin Thomas has been a threat on the ground, he is only completing 50.9 percent of his passes. Given that with the fact that top receiver DeAndre Smelter tore his ACL in the Georgia game, Mississippi State should be able to take away the passing game.
Tech's triple option has been phenomenal all season. If Mississippi State wants to shut that down, they will need to play assignment football. They will have to get penetration with the defensive line and take away the dive plays. That will be easier said than done with an offensive line as good as Georgia Tech's.
It will be interesting to see how the Bulldogs respond without their defensive coordinator. After Geoff Collins left to take the Florida job, it was announced that cornerbacks coach Deshea Townsend would handle play calling duties. He has never been in a play calling role and is only a few years removed from playing in the NFL. I'm not reading too much into it. Play calling against an offense like this is not nearly as important as the players sticking to their man and playing sound, assignment football. The triple option is always difficult to defend, but it helps when you've had a month to prepare for it.
Looking at the other side of the ball, Mississippi State matches up well with the Georgia Tech defense as well. The Dogs average over 500 yards a game and have torn apart every average defense they have faced. Neither Georgia Tech's pass defense or run defense stands out, as they rank 66th and 71st, respectively. They also haven't generated hardly any pass rush all season, as was evidenced in the ACC Championship Game. Jameis Winston had all day to throw the football.
The one thing that Tech's defense has flexed its muscles about is turnovers. They have forced 27 of them on the season, which ranks 16th nationally. Not only do they force turnovers, but this defense scores touchdowns. The Jackets have had an impressive six defensive touchdowns, tying them for second in the country in that department. Dak Prescott will have to play smart and not force any throws down the field.
I would expect the Yellow Jackets to stack the box and make Prescott beat them with his arm. If Tech comes out with that game plan to start the game, MSU will have to use the pass to set up the run. De'Runnya Wilson and company will need to have a big game. If they can stretch the field early, that will open up the running lanes for Dak and Josh Robinson to be effective. If Dan Mullen shows more creativity in play calling than he did in the losses to Alabama and Ole Miss, I like Mississippi State's chances to put up a lot of points.
If Mississippi State can't slow down the triple option, this game has a shootout written all over it. That would definitely be fun to watch. It wouldn't be your typical sling the ball all over the field type of shootout. If both teams are running the football as much as they usually do, I wouldn't take any bathroom breaks during this one. The game might be over before you make it back into your seat.
Numbers to Know
Rushing yards per game for the Yellow Jackets, good for 3rd in nation. Everyone knows that Tech will come at you with a triple option offense heavy on the run, however some teams still can't stop it. MSU finished the regular season 25th against the run this year, so State matches up well with Tech. Can the Bulldogs slow down the ground game? They'll have to in order to have a chance to win on New Year's Eve.
Georgia Tech's national rank in turnover margin (+10). Tech has only 12 fumbles on the year, which is impressive given how much of their offense is centered solely on the run. On the flip side of that, they've forced 10 fumbles while collecting 17 INTs. State's turnover margin on the year isn't quite as good, so they'll look to improve on their turnovers in order to win.
Percentage of scoring conversions in the redzone against the MSU defense. That number still ranks as the best in college football by nearly nine percentage points. There's no denying that State's redzone defense was a big part of their success this year, and with Tech being mostly one dimensional, State will be able to focus its efforts even more inside the 20s.