They’re quite different in their stature, but the quarterbacks who will oppose each other in the Orange Bowl carry the same sort of importance for their teams.
Dak Prescott has the look of a player who has the NFL scouts standing around practice with a stopwatch in their hands. He’s 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds and has run the 40 in 4.57 seconds. He has got a rocket arm and looks the part of a player on the next level.
Justin Thomas probably doesn’t interest NFL scouts, at least not as a quarterback. He’s 5-11 and 185 pounds. Thomas has run a 4.3 but is more elusive than he is speedy. He has the knack of escaping tacklers. More than anything else, Thomas knows how to run head coach Paul Johnson’s option offense better than anyone else in the land.
“(Prescott) is multi-talented in what he does,” Johnson said. “He’s a real threat to run, and he’s got a real strong arm and is a good passer. He’s the true definition of a dual-threat.
“We like to think our guy is the same way. He’s just not as big as big as Dak.”
Prescott has rushed for 939 yards and 13 touchdowns. He has thrown for 2,996 yards and 24 touchdowns. About halfway through the season he was one of the players prominently mentioned as a Heisman Trophy contender.
“When you look at what a guy has done for his team and his value to the team, he’s certainly deserving of it in that way,” Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen said. “He fell just short of being a 3,000-yard passer and a 1,000-yard runner. He’ll have the opportunity in the bowl game to eclipse both of those marks.”
Prescott had some ups and downs in the second half of the season. He threw for 268 yards and ran for 105 in an important victory at LSU. He threw for 290 yards and ran for 82 against Alabama but tossed three interceptions in the loss. He didn’t have his best day against Mississippi, throwing for 282 yards but rushing for only 48 yards on 24 carries.
“He’s an elusive guy, both passing and running,” Georgia Tech defensive coordinator Ted Roof said. “He’s a multi-faceted guy who does both well.”
Thomas hasn’t attracted the same level of attention, unless you watch the ACC. He was good enough to be named second-team all-conference and has grown in confidence as the season has progressed.
Thomas has rushed for 965 yards and nine touchdowns and thrown for 1,594 yards and 17 touchdowns. He shined down the stretch, throwing for 102 yards and rushing for 46 against Clemson, throwing for 64 and rushing for 34 against Georgia and throwing for 134 and rushing for 104 against Florida State in the ACC championship game.
“He’s gotten better as he’s gotten more playing time,” Johnson said. “And he’s helped us get to the Orange Bowl.”
Prescott hasn’t said whether he’ll return for his senior season. He received a grade from NFL scouts but said he wouldn’t pay any attention to it until after the Orange Bowl. He is projected as a second-round draft pick in a year in which there are very few elite quarterbacks in the pool.
There’s no question about the immediate future for Thomas. He’ll be returning for his junior season at Georgia Tech to continue his climb up the program’s all-time record book.
“Hopefully he will continue to grow,” Johnson said. “He’s got a great demeanor, and he’s got a good skill set for what we want to do. Hopefully this will be his best game.”