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Mississippi State gears up for Ramblin' Wreck in Orange Bowl

Orange-Bowl-Logo-jpegNo. 10 Georgia Tech (10-3, 6-2 ACC) vs. No. 8 Mississippi State (10-2, 6-2 SEC), Wednesday 7 p.m. CST (ESPN)

Line: Mississippi State by 7

Payout: $18 million

Series Record: Georgia Tech leads 4-0

WHAT’S AT STAKE

Mississippi State is looking for the first 11-win season in school history, a major rallying cry for the team that spent much of the season in position for a spot in the inaugural College Football Playoff. Georgia Tech is also looking for an 11-win season that would basically assure the ACC runners-up of finishing in the Top 10 of the national polls.

KEY MATCHUP

Georgia Tech QB Justin Thomas vs. Mississippi State DE Preston Smith. Thomas is obviously a two-way threat in Georgia Tech’s triple option offense. Smith is almost certainly going to get put on the ground by Tech’s offensive line, and how fast he gets back up in an effort to thwart plays is critical.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Georgia Tech: RB Synjyn Days scored three touchdowns in the ACC championship game against Florida State, and if has another big night in a big game, Tech’s chances will soar. … LB P.J. Davis has been a breakout player in 2014 for the Yellow Jackets, with more than 100 tackles and evolving into a true leader.

Mississippi State: RB Josh Robinson has run for 1,128 yards and rarely gets caught on a negative play. … QB Dak Prescott is on the cusp of becoming the first Mississippi State player with 3,000 passing yards and 1,000 rushing yards in a season. … DT Kaleb Eulls will start his 52nd straight game, almost unheard of in the college game.

MSU logoFACTS & FIGURES

Mississippi State will feel right at home, in the sense that the Orange Bowl has approved the use of cowbells by Bulldogs fans in the stadium on game night. … It’s a homecoming for Georgia Tech football spokesman Chris Yandle, who went to Atlanta earlier this year after working in the same role at Miami, which also calls Sun Life Stadium home. … Mississippi State is 24-4 in nonconference games under coach Dan Mullen. … Georgia Tech is the first ACC school to play four consecutive ranked opponents since Miami in 2009.

IT’S ALL ABOUT THE RUN

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla.  — Georgia Tech is all about the run. Mississippi State is all about stopping the run.

That’s the matchup that will likely decide who wins the Orange Bowl on Wednesday night, when the Yellow Jackets (10-3) take on the Bulldogs (10-2) in an absolute clash of styles.

The payout for the bowl is $18,000 million.

No. 10 Georgia Tech has the nation’s second-ranked rushing offense. No. 8 Mississippi State has held seven of its 12 opponents under 125 yards on the ground.

“We’re going to do what we do and they’re going to do what they do,” Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said. “It’s going to be a big challenge for both teams, I think. And it’ll probably end up somewhere in the middle.”

There are some similarities between the teams as well, including that both are trying to put aside some late disappointment.

Georgia Tech had Florida State in trouble at the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game, before losing by two points in yet another one that the Seminoles found a way to win this season. Mississippi State reached No. 1 in the country this year, with the Bulldogs looking like a team that could win the Southeastern Conference, and was on course to head to the inaugural College Football Playoff.

But in the end, there was no conference title for either.

For someone, winning the Orange Bowl will just have to do.

“We’ve just got to come out and start off fast,” Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott said. “Every game of the season we’ve started off fast we’ve done really well, set the tempo and made the other team play our style, and just have to do the same with Georgia Tech, get up on them and make them play from behind.”

There’s a very big bonus for Mississippi State to chase — a win would make this team the first in school history with 11 wins.

“We’re here as a reward for such a great season,” Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said. “But we’re also here to win a football game.”

Here’s what to watch in the Orange Bowl:

START FAST: It’s critical that Georgia Tech not find itself in a big hole early, one that would force the Yellow Jackets to abandon their game plan. Mississippi State has started fast all season, outscoring teams 106-35 in the opening quarter. If that form holds and Georgia Tech has to throw more than it wants, that’s a big edge for the Bulldogs.

DAK ATTACK: Some teams take their foot off the gas pedal on third downs. Not Mississippi State. Prescott has 17 third-down touchdowns this season with his arm and legs and will be going up against a Georgia Tech defense that allowed eight TDs on third downs all season.

AT LEAST 25: Georgia Tech has scored at least 25 points in every game so far this season, meaning its defense has a cushion to play with. The Yellow Jackets’ defense doesn’t have to be perfect — the team is 9-0 this season when allowing 28 or fewer points. But shootouts aren’t their forte: They’re 1-3 when giving up more than 28.

INSIDE THE NUMBERS: The knock on Mississippi State’s defense is that it struggles against the pass. And yes, the Bulldogs have allowed 3,422 yards through the air this season, ranking 113th in the country. But look inside that number: Opponents had the 25th-worst quarterback rating against the Bulldogs, and teams threw a ton against them because hardly anyone had success in the ground game.

DEJA VU: It’s the second straight time that Georgia Tech’s season will end against a team from the Magnolia State. The Yellow Jackets were beaten 25-17 by Mississippi in last season’s Music City Bowl.

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