WHO: No. 7 Mississippi State (10-2) vs. No. 12 Georgia Tech (10-3)
WHAT: The 80th Capital One Orange Bowl
WHERE: Sun Life Stadium, Miami, Fla.
WHEN: 8:00 p.m. ET Dec. 31 on ESPN
THE SKINNY: Assignment football will be the name of the game when the No. 7 Mississippi State Bulldogs meet the No. 12 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in the Capital One Orange Bowl.
The last time Mississippi State traveled to Miami to play in the Orange Bowl was 1941. Head coach Allyn McKeen led his team onto the field against the Georgetown Hoyas 11 months before the United States experienced the attack at Pearl Harbor. The Mississippi State Maroons — as they were called at the time — won the contest 14-7.
Fast forward 73 years, and the Bulldogs will face another throwback offense in the Orange Bowl.
Georgia Tech’s triple option attack is the most difficult run game to stop among the Power Five conferences. The Yellow Jackets averaged 333.6 yards per game. That is nearly 30 more yards per game than the Wisconsin Badgers with Heisman finalist Melvin Gordon on the roster.
Playing an option offense is all about discipline. Each defender along the front seven has an assignment they must complete on each and every down. If one of those defenders fail, the Yellow Jackets will be able to exploit the crease that is inevitably created.
Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen isn’t just worried about the triple option. Justin Thomas isn’t a typical run-first quarterback in Paul Johnson‘s system.
“…he’s got guys in there that run the system very, very well,” Mullen said during his final meeting with the media Tuesday, via MississippiState.scout.com. “They have a play-making quarterback to me that’s dangerous, not just running the option, obviously, which is what he needs to be able to do, but also extending plays and making those outside-the-box plays when it all breaks down being able to make something else happen outside of the framework of the play, makes them a pretty difficult team to stop.”
The undersized signal-caller is a dynamic running threat, but he can also beat teams with his arm. Despite being an option quarterback, Thomas already threw for 17 touchdowns this season.
However, the Bulldogs have consistently won the battle in the trenches this season. Mississippi State owns one of the most talented and deepest defensive lines in college football. Linebacker Benardrick McKinney — all 6-5 and 245 pounds of him — will be roaming behind that front wall. Mississippi State has the size and athleticism up front to present plenty of problems even for Georgia Tech’s prolific rushing attack.
Meanwhile, quarterback Dak Prescott and the Bulldogs offense will face the nation’s 64th-ranked defense. Despite its ball control offense, Georgia Tech still surrenders nearly 400 yards per game. Prescott and running back Josh Robinson — both of which already ran for more than 900 yards this season — should be able pound the ball as well.
This is Georgia Tech’s seventh appearance in the Orange Bowl, but the Yellow Jackets last victory came in 1952. It’s unlikely that trend will change this year.
THE PREDICTION: Mississippi State 31, Georgia Tech 28