It goes without saying if you really don’t want to be someplace; then don’t go. Playing in a bowl game has always been a reward for any college football team and once the players from USC started going onto their social networking sites and making derogatory remarks about the Sun Bowl host city; El Paso, that set the tone for this game. You would have thought given that they were unable to even go to a bowl game the past two years due to an NCAA ban that they would have been excited to be playing anywhere; apparently not.
I have no doubt that Georgia Tech wanted to be in this bowl game as they took the necessary steps to obtain a waiver from the NCAA just as UCLA did last season after losing their Conference Championship game to fall below .500. There was lots of discussion about even going through that effort, and perhaps being better off just sitting out this post season to avoid another losing effort in a bowl game.
Attitude is always a variable that coaches try to create as part of their job in motivating their team. In this case a few USC players came right out and said what they thought, and no doubt Lane Kiffin tried his best to put the genie back in the bottle but it was all for naught. To all my friends who are USC fans and alumni, even they would have to admit that the Trojans just tend to mail it in when they are not playing for a National Championship or in the Rose Bowl. The Las Vegas Bowl loss against Utah was an example in Pete Carroll’s first season, or the inaugural Freedom Bowl Game several years earlier against Fresno State also comes to mind. Heck, even the last time they played in the Sun Bowl TCU used that game as a springboard for their recent football successes.
Heading into this Sun Bowl game the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets were heavy underdogs and rightfully so after getting pummeled by those dreaded dawgs in COFH, then losing a very tough ACC Championship Game to FSU 21 to 15. The media was predicting another rout against USC to finish off this trilogy with a three game losing streak and even more appalling a final losing record of 6 and 8 for the year.
Well just as everyone was predicting in the pre-season a BCS National Championship for the USC Trojans even before they were able to bolster their running back position adding a thousand rusher by poaching Silas Redd from Penn State who opted to transfer immediately after the sanctions imposed on the Nittny Lions by the NCAA, now even more pieces were all in place to fulfill that proclamation. But as with all predictions, they are built on a foundation of sand and ultimately fall by the wayside as the regular season begins to play out with an assortment of unexpected wins and losses throughout the college football landscape.
So with all of the potential opponents the Yellow Jackets could have faced, they had the misfortune to draw the pre-season consensus No. 1 ranked Trojans in the Sun Bowl as their opponent and everyone was expecting another bowl loss. Only this one bordering on humiliating given the talent from top to bottom on the USC roster who regularly sign the premier recruiting classes in the nation every year or at least since the recruiting services began tracking these matters.
Throw in the fact that the GT high school offense can be stymied when teams have several weeks to prepare for it and the expected rout was on other than the actual final tally, and that’s even before the USC offense is added to the equation with their NFL passing scheme and Biletnikoff award winner at WR; Marquis Lee, and a certain first round NFL pick Robert Woods at the other WR.
So with all of those realities embedded before the opening kickoff the real question was; why even play the game? Because that’s what the Sun Bowl Committee was expecting, as well as the 48,000+ in the stands. One would have thought the folks in the stands might have been better off walking across the border into Juarez’ and watching a bullfight that at least on paper would have been more competitive than what they were about to witness in El Paso. Perhaps they even serve margaritas at the south of the border stadiums for those four legged events?
When the game started off with the Yellow Jackets offense sputtering on their first two offensive possessions, USC started their second possession with great field position after a shanked punt gave them the ball at the GT forty-one yard line. Surprisingly the Yellow Jackets defense held them to a field goal attempt that was clearly wide left of the cross bar. But the field judge called it good all the while the USC field goal team walked off the field downtrodden after the missed effort. Good thing instant replay is now a part of the fabric of these games or Paul Johnson might have been ejected arguing over that monumental error.
My thoughts heading into this contest was in order to have a chance to win the offensive line would have to open up some running lanes for the B-Backs to gain at least 120 yards. Well they paved the way for 159 by David Sims and Zach Laskey as they did not get stopped for a loss of yardage all game. After closing out a scoreless first quarter as both defenses were playing well, the Yellow Jackets went on a 14 play 74 yard drive with Vad Lee at QB and he threw a very nice three yard pass to B-Back David Sims for a 7 to 0 lead.
Then after the defense forced the Trojans to punt for the third time in the first half, the momentum was swinging in the favor of GT. Unfortunately Vad Lee threw an interception on his next possession. A few plays later Rod Sweeting returned the favor by picking off a pass from the Trojans QB and returning it to the Yellow Jackets 46 yard line. After moving the ball successfully on the ground to the Trojans 36 yard line, the next play Vad Lee was grabbed from behind on an option play and fumbled the football right back to them. USC scored in eight plays on a swing pass to Silas Redd coming out of the backfield for a nine yard TD to tie up the game heading into the half.
After kicking off to the Trojans to start the second half the defense held yet again forcing their fourth punt of the day. Jamal Golden fielded it on one bounce and took it all the way back to the one yard line. Tevin Washington scored on a keeper a few plays later and the lead was now 14 to 7. But the play of the Yellow Jackets defense was nothing short of fantastic. They were hitting, knocking down passes at the line of scrimmage, not letting anyone break a tackle, and forcing USC to drive the football by eliminating any big plays from their receivers.
The Georgia Tech defense continued to keep the Trojans off balance and after holding them on a fourth down took over at their own 38 yard line and proceeded to drive the ball 62 yards in nine plays to take the lead at 21 to 7. More impressive was the seventeen yard touchdown pass thrown by Tevin to Orwin Smith who shook off a tackle at the four yard line to complete the score. The defense continued their stellar play the rest of the game and intercepted their third pass of the day to keep the Trojans out of the end zone to end the game.
The entire Yellow Jackets bench was energized all game long and it was obvious they were not going to let this one slip away like they did last year in OT. The defense held USC to their lowest point total of the season; seven, and they only gained 205 yards the entire game; another season low for the Trojans. Kudos to the entire defensive team and Coach Kelly who along with his staff put together a great game plan to shut down the USC high powered attack. Then being able to execute it after losing their best player in the first quarter when outside linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu had to leave the game with a left arm injury makes it even more impressive.
Georgia Tech heads into the off season with lots of momentum with this bowl win to break their seven year losing streak. This win also goes a long way in taking away the tired old argument about being able to stop this high school offense with enough time to prepare for it as the Yellow Jackets ran for 294 yards and threw for another 75 with two touchdowns.
The real benefit that this squad should take away from this victory is the fact that it was not only a total team effort, but more importantly goes a long way in reinforcing the old coaching adage that; hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard. That was more impressive considering the talent disparity on paper between these two schools according to all of the recruiting experts. The Yellow Jackets have plenty of talent, just not the five stars variety.
I just want to thank all of the departing seniors on this team for their collective contributions the past several seasons in building what will be a very good program moving forward in the ACC provided they; keep working hard! Go Jackets!