When everyone thinks about Georgia Tech and Paul Johnson, they immediately think of the triple option. Is having a school with such a recognized offense something that stands out as interesting to fans of Georgia Tech?
I think it definitely does stand out as interesting to most fans. That's even more so true in a season like this year when Georgia Tech's offense is considered as the most efficient in the nation when looking at F/+ metrics. Having such a unique offense work to near perfection like it has at many times this year really gives a sense of pride to many fans.
If you were tasked with stopping the triple option attack of Georgia Tech, what would you do?
It's pretty hard to stop every phase of the triple option, so you usually have to force one specific area to beat you. The main two options you can't let tear you up is the passing game and the B-Back dive up the middle. Many uninformed fans believe it's smart to completely stack the box, but that allows the passing game to kill you over the top, and it gives little containment for long runs. That leaves the quarterback keeper or pitch to the A-Back as the two options left. With a fast playmaker like Justin Thomas at QB, I believe forcing the pitch is the most possible way to stop Tech's triple option this year. The A-Back core isn't deep due to injuries, and if you can get outside quick enough, you can force some tough pitches and turnovers.
How has Justin Thomas developed as a quarterback this year? Can he make enough plays in the passing game if he has to, and is giving up a bit of the rushing game to attack the MSU secondary an idea interesting to Georgia Tech?
After some rough patches very early in the year, Justin Thomas has been awesome this year for the Yellow Jackets. He has learned the system as well as you could hope for from a first-year starter, and his explosiveness is huge for a quarterback in the option offense. His passing has continually improved and the general consensus is he's the best thrower Paul Johnson has had in his time in Atlanta. His back-shoulder throw has been a go-to for Tech and has really improved the 3rd-and-long situations for the offense. He can make enough plays in the passing game, but the loss of DeAndre Smelter has definitely hurts. I don't necessarily think Johnson will go into the game looking to expose the MSU secondary right away, but if he sees the usual aggressive MSU defensive attack, he won't hesitate to try to over the top against a pass defense that has had more struggles that the run defense.
Defensively, how does Georgia Tech look to stop the Mississippi State offense?
I think the gameplan will be much like it was for Tech's game against Miami. Both teams possess a great running attack with a passing game that's good but will turn the ball over at times and make some mistakes. I'm expecting Tech to be very aggressive with stacking the box and sending blitzes to try to contain the strong rushing attack from the Bulldogs and try to force MSU to beat them with the passing game. Prescott can certainly beat the defense with his passing, but he has been vulnerable to turnovers at times this season, and that's what the Tech defense has thrived on all year to bail them out of drives and get the offense back on the field.
How has Georgia Tech accommodated for the loss of DeAndre Smelter in the back half of the season?
The FSU game was the first time that Smelter was out for the entire game, and it was evident how much the offense missed him. Not only is he Thomas' most reliable receiver and huge presence on 3rd downs, but he's also a great blocker on the perimeter for the run game. Thomas' chemistry with the new number one receiver Darren Waller was a bit off, and the two will have needed to improve over the break to field a formidable passing attack on Thursday.
The ACC took a bit of grief this season about the quality of football in the conference. How big is this game as far as perception goes?
The grief for the ACC may have been a bit misguided this year, as they were much better than the past few years and could even be considered the 2nd or 3rd best conference using F/+. Winning the four games against the SEC in the last week of the season was huge for the ACC, but this game would really be big for perception. MSU is in the SEC West and was considered the top team in the nation at once. If Tech could handle them in the Orange Bowl, it would show that the top of the ACC can compete with the ACC's best and hopefully reduce the hate towards the ACC for just a little while. The other two big games for the ACC is Louisville against UGA and obviously FSU against Oregon.
Who are a handful of Georgia Tech playmakers for whom Mississippi State fans should watch during the Orange Bowl?
The two guys you'll see plenty of are senior B-Backs Synjyn Days and Zach Laskey. They'll both rotate at the position throughout the game and should each receive at least ten carries each. Days is a little shiftier back who uses cuts vision to get through holes, while Laskey explodes through the middle with power and speed to try to get to the next level. A-Back Charles Perkins is the senior leader of that group and is a reliable blocker on the perimeter who almost always seems to make a big play when he does touch the ball. On defense, sophomore linebacker P.J. Davis has been awesome for the Yellow Jackets defense this year. He's undersized, but he plays with incredible intensity and has a knack at getting in the backfield in a hurry. He may be they key to slowing down that effective MSU rushing attack on Thursday.
Georgia Tech fans have a bit of experience with the Orange Bowl. Is there anything MSU fans should make sure to do while they are there?
Unfortunately, I've never been able to make the game since it's a much further trip than it may seem since it's only one state south of Georgia. While I don't know of anything in particular to do during the stay down there, I'll say this; enjoy the weather and the time of the year. It's going to be 80 degrees and sunny all week, and I can't think of better conditions to bring in the new year than taking in that weather on South Beach. I'll be envying you when it's 40 degrees and raining in Atlanta this weekend.