Paul Johnson was mostly his same old straight-faced self on the final night of 2014 — make that the first morning of 2015 — at the press conference after his Yellow Jackets ran over Mississippi State 49-35 in the Capital One Orange Bowl.
Did Johnson feel like his team’s prolific offensive performance Wednesday would silence the critics who say Georgia Tech is easier to face when there’s a month to prepare?
Deadpanned Johnson: “Until the next time we play.”
That brought plenty of laughter to the Sun Life Stadium media corps, which watched with the rest of the nation as Johnson’s triple-option offense put on an impressive New Year’s Eve display.
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“I was really, really proud of our football team,” Johnson said. “I told them after the game in the locker room, I think this concluded my 36th year of coaching, and these guys were probably as much fun or more fun to coach than any team I’ve been associated with — just because they play so hard and they care so much about each other.”
The Yellow Jackets (11-3) rushed for an Orange Bowl-record 452 yards and six rushing touchdowns Wednesday, finishing with 577 yards of total offense.
Led by star quarterback Dak Prescott, Mississippi State (10-3) produced even more yards: 605.
Together, the teams set a new Orange Bowl record of 1,182 combined yards, eclipsing the 1,032 gained by West Virginia and Clemson in 2012.
Georgia Tech quarterback Justin Thomas threw only 12 passes, but he connected on seven for 125 yards, 114 of those to senior Darren Waller. Thomas also threw an interception.
Prescott connected on 33 of a hefty 51 passes for 453 yards and three touchdowns, with one interception. Three Bulldog receivers had more than 100 yards in receptions — De’Runnya Wilson (105), Joe Morrow (117) and Fred Ross (102).
But no matter how well the Bulldogs did, they couldn’t keep up with the Ramblin’ Wreck of Georgia Tech.
“Obviously a tough loss for us,” MSU coach Dan Mullen said after the game. “Give Georgia Tech a lot of credit. I think they executed at a very, very high level.
“Look at what they were able to do. They scored touchdowns in the red zone, converted real well on third down, didn’t have penalties.”
When asked if there were certain things that the Yellow Jackets were doing to prevent Mississippi State from executing offensively, Mullen said, “We had 600 yards of offense. We just didn’t score enough. That’s a lot of yards.”
As the seconds ticked away in the final quarter, Georgia Tech fans began sarcastically chanting “SEC! SEC! SEC!” referring to the Southeastern Conference’s reputation as the strongest league in the Power Five — as opposed to the Atlantic Coast Conference’s modest reputation.
The Yellow Jackets also defeated SEC member Georgia in the regular-season finale Nov.29.
“I take pleasure in beating anybody,” said Thomas, who became the second quarterback in Georgia Tech history to rush for more than 1,000 yards in a season. “Just beating ranked teams, the teams that we’ve been beating, makes it that much better.”
The Bulldogs ended 2014 by losing three of their past four games — at Alabama, at Ole Miss and in the Orange Bowl.
On Tuesday, Mullen was asked what the impact of Wednesday’s game might be in terms of perception, should the Bulldogs lose.
“I don’t deal in perception,” Mullens said. “I deal in reality.
“We’ll either be 11-2 or we’ll be 10-3. We still would have the highest GPA in school history. We still have every one of our seniors graduating. We still set multiple school records and a new standard within the program.
“The next day, I’m going to wake up after the game and try to make sure our 2015 team has a higher GPA, even more college graduates and an even better record next year.
“That’s my reality. You guys can perceive us how you see fit.”