ATLANTA -- The Georgia Tech defense will face perhaps its biggest challenge of the season in the Orange Bowl. The Yellow Jackets must prepare for a two-pronged attack they haven’t seen the likes of for most of the season as they get ready to meet Mississippi State on New Year’s Eve.
Most of Georgia Tech’s opponents have used either a standout quarterback or a standout running back, leaving the defense one area upon which to focus.
The exception was Florida State in the ACC championship game. The Seminoles had the reigning Heisman Trophy winner at quarterback and an emerging star at tailback. The Yellow Jackets had trouble stopping either and came up just short of victory.
Mississippi State features quarterback Dak Prescott, who was on many Heisman lists midway in the season, and running back Josh Robinson, who put up some lofty numbers in helping the Bulldogs climb to No. 1 in the national polls during the regular season.
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“It all starts with that running game,” Georgia Tech defensive coordinator Ted Roof said. “They have a lot of balance and a lot of athletes.”
Prescott is the sort of dual-threat quarterback who has given Georgia Tech trouble this year. He has thrown for 2,996 yards and 24 touchdowns and rushed for 939 yards and 13 touchdowns. The Bulldogs scored at least 34 points in each of their first seven games.
“It’s definitely a quarterback-driven team,” Georgia Tech linebacker Quayshawn Nealy said. “He’s 6-2, 235 ... that’s actually bigger than me, and the defense is going to have to gang tackle him. We’ll have to put a lot of guys at the point of attack.”
Robinson has rushed for 1,128 yards and 11 touchdowns. But since he had 198 yards against Kentucky, he has not gotten near the 100-yard mark. He ran for 64 yards against Arkansas, 37 against Alabama and 44 against Mississippi.
Mississippi State has a solid stable of receivers, too. Five different players have at least 20 catches, including De’Runnya Wilson, who has 38 receptions and seven touchdowns, and Fred Ross, who has 24 catches and four touchdowns. Robinson is a threat out of the backfield, too, with 28 catches.
“They have a good mixture of wideouts,” Roof said.
Mississippi State will be the fourth consecutive quality opponent faced by Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets played well against Clemson and Georgia but didn’t make any big plays against Florida State. Mississippi State’s offense is as good as any of those three teams, and it is better in some areas.
“These are the kind of games you want to be in at the end of the season,” Roof said “You want to be relevant on a national perspective. To take the next step, we have to play well, and that’s what we’re preparing to do.”