The Georgia Tech football team is on the brink of doing something very special.
If the Yellow Jackets can win the Orange Bowl on Wednesday against Mississippi State, they will have 11 wins. That only has been accomplished four other times in the history of a program that began in 1892.
Bobby Dodd did it in back-to-back years, going 11-0-1 in 1951 and 12-0 in 1952, when the program won a national championship. It didn’t happen again until 1990, when Bobby Ross’ team went 11-0-1 and won the program’s fourth national title. Georgia Tech went 11-3 under head coach Paul Johnson in 2009.
Yes, this could be a historic night.
“It would mean a great deal for us seniors and for the underclassmen to send the seniors out that way,” senior linebacker Quayshawn Nealy said. “One of four teams out of 120-plus years at Georgia Tech to win 11 games would be a great deal. I definitely want to make history.”
Johnson said, “We just want to show up and play the way we’re capable of playing, and we’ll see what happens. If we’re good enough, we’ll be good enough. But if we show up and play hard, we’ll be hanging around. We’ll be around in the fourth quarter if we play.”
Two months ago, this moment didn’t seem possible. Georgia Tech was reeling after back-to-back losses to Duke and North Carolina. But the Yellow Jackets managed to find something on defense and closed the regular season with five straight wins, including victories over Clemson and Georgia.
“We’re playing on a national stage, 8 o’clock, right before New Year’s,” senior B-back Zach Laskey said. “The whole nation is going to be watching, so it’s a big deal.”
Nealy, Laskey and 20 other seniors were carried off the field by the underclassmen following Monday’s practice, the final one of the year.
The national television audience likely will see an offensive show. Georgia Tech’s success could be determined by the defense, which seemed to take a step back against Florida State. But the Yellow Jackets have not backed away from a challenge all year, and that isn’t likely to change just because the opposition is the former top-ranked team in the country.
“We sometimes get gashed at times, but our defense is going to fight until the end, and no matter what happens on the field, we have each other’s backs. We have our coaches’ backs; they have our backs,” Nealy said. “We’ve come up with big plays at the end, too.”
Mississippi State’s so-called “Psycho Defense” will play at the same frenetic pace, despite the loss of defensive coordinator Geoff Collins, who left to take the same position at Florida.
“We play great defense no matter what coach is going to be here,” Mississippi State head coach Mullen said. “Right now our focus is going to be on beating Georgia Tech.”
The departure, which obviously grated on Mullen, has complicated the preparations for Georgia Tech’s option attack.
“They’re somewhat of a unique offense,” Mullen said. “There’s not a lot of carryover with them from other teams you see. We’re going to put a great plan together and make sure we’re sound.”
Georgia Tech has been a handful for the opposition to stop all season. The Yellow Jackets average 37 points and have scored no fewer than 25 in a game all season. During the past six games Georgia Tech has averaged 40.1 points.
“I think we just need to do our thing,” Johnson said. “If we can go out and execute and take care of the ball, that’s all you can ask our guys to do. We need to win some battles physically, but that’s why you play the game.
“They’re very, very talented up front, very deep in the front seven, so it’ll be a challenge. But if we can read the thing right and execute, we know that what we’re doing will work. We’ve just got to out there and play.”