It wasn't quite as bad as the Peach Bowl beatdown that their cross-state rivals had endured just a few hours before, but by the end of the Orange Bowl on Wednesday, that was about the closest thing to a bright side that could be said about the loss that Mississippi State suffered against Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets rode a 21-point third quarter to a 49-34 win against the Bulldogs, dropping the state of Mississippi to 0-2 on the day and the SEC to 4-3 in the postseason.
Thing is, the Orange Bowl started out as a competitive game. Georgia Tech took an early 14-0 lead, but Mississippi State came back over the course of the second quarter and ended up trailing just 21-20 at the half. The Bulldogs were having mixed success gumming up the works for Tech's triple-option offense, but they were gumming them up well enough so that a beautiful Hail Mary at the end of the first half got them to that one-point deficit. It was as close as they'd get.
As the game wore on, the Yellow Jackets' attack did what it does to most opponents when things are going well: It wore down the State defense, which started to break with increasing frequency. Georgia Tech would end up with 452 yards and six touchdowns on 61 rushes, led by Synjyn Days' 21 carries for 171 yards and three scores. Justin Thomas wasn't far behind in rushing (14 attempts, 121 yards, three touchdowns) and also had a good day through the air for an option quarterback, going 7-of-12 for 125 yards, a touchdown and an interception.
Dak Prescott did not play all that poorly from a 30,000-foot view; he was a more-than-respectable 33-of-51 for 453 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. But Prescott and his receivers failed to connect on a few throws that they should have, the ground game was slowed down just enough, and Mississippi State simply couldn't complete drives. The Bulldogs only punted once -- in the first quarter -- but had two possessions end on downs and another end in a fumble during their attempt to keep up with and then catch up with Georgia Tech in the second half.
The loss marked the second time in one day that one of the surprising Mississippi teams had seen a quality season end not with a bang, but a whimper. Near the midpoint of the season, Mississippi State and Ole Miss were both ranked among the top three teams in college football; after Wednesday's debacles, it's hard to see either of them remaining in the Top 10, and even falling out of the Top 15 isn't out of the question. At the same time, both also had exciting seasons that included historic highlights -- just not enough.
Where Mississippi State goes from here is another question. Josh Robinson is going to the NFL, taking away one of the best complements to Prescott, though the quarterback appears to be on track to return for his senior season. (Though Mississippi State athletics official Bill Martin said on Twitter that, contrary to assertions by Brent Musburger on national television, Prescott hasn't made up his mind yet.) Meanwhile, 12 of the other players listed as starters on the team's official Orange Bowl depth chart are seniors.
The Bulldogs exceeded most people's expectations for them this year. If they want to return to the big-money bowls for a second straight year, and maybe get one of those titles that they missed out on, they will likely have to beat the preseason predictions again in 2015.