Sun Bowl Sunny: Happy Georgia Tech Leaves USC in Its Wake, 21-7 [OPINION]
It looked like popcorn. Gold and white helmets bouncing on the sidelines, a fresh batch being popped every few minutes.
Georgia Tech danced and bounced throughout the afternoon; partly to keep warm on a wind-chilled day, partly to celebrate its biggest moments in a 21-7 Hyundai Sun Bowl win over USC.
There were plenty of big moments, too. A pair of passing touchdowns from a pair of quarterbacks, Vad Lee and Tevin Washington, who also scored with his feet on the game-winning drive after a 56-yard Jamal Golden punt return to the Trojans’ one-yard line.
Three Yellowjackets’ interceptions also inspired some popcorn, including two in the end zone with USC on the verge of climbing back into the game.
The Trojans were favored by a touchdown but did very little to warm themselves, not only for the game but also for their entire bowl experience.
El Paso may not be Miami, but USC isn’t Notre Dame, either; dominated by a now 7-7 Georgia Tech team that was only bowl eligible because the ACC needed someone to play Florida State in its championship game.
The Trojans’ body language has been poor since being chosen to come to the Sun City.
Tweets from players dissing the host city didn’t help. Neither did showing up so late for the annual Sheriff’s Posse dinner on their very first night in town that Yellowjackets’ coach Paul Johnson felt disrespected, took his team and left.
Adding to the doubts about USC’s motivation was junior WR Robert Woods’ announcement in a post-game interview that he would declare himself eligible for the NFL draft.
Most players wait at least a day or two after their seasons end to declare that decision, whether or not they’ve made it. Woods sounded eager to get a head-start.
Speaking of head starts, USC head coach Lane Kiffin had a great chance to work on ironing out the Trojans’ kinks for 2013. Most coaches view bowls as the time to start on next year. It’s a golden opportunity to practice younger players and create depth.
Call Kiffin 1-and-1 for the new year.
The win? His call on benching pre-season Heisman Trophy candidate QB Matt Barkley, held back by a shoulder injury but rumored to be relatively healthy after a month and a half of rest.
Whether or not Kiffin could have started Barkley remains an object of discussion, but he absolutely did the right thing in moving on with redshirt freshman Max Wittek as his starter.
Now he knows.
Wittek, it must be said, was dreadful. He consistently overthrew receivers on passes over 10 yards. He threw the three picks. He was 14-of-37 for 107 yards, most coming on screens and slant routes.
The loss? It’s hard to pin down, but a team that falls from pre-season No. 1 to a 7-6 record has more issues than injuries can explain. Attitude was poor. Disappointment has been allowed to linger since October, as witnessed by a 1-5 finish after a 6-1 start.
It’s something Kiffin will need to clean up, lest he proves Al Davis a prophet.
Georgia Tech will happily let the Trojans worry about those things. Though they’ve been to a bowl game every year since 1997, the Yellowjackets hadn’t won one since the Champs Sports Bowl in 2004.
Johnson’s slick version of the triple-option didn’t need much misdirection magic — Georgia Tech pounded a lackluster USC defensive line, play after play.
Notable were downhill runners David Sims and Zach Laskey, who finished as the top backs for the Yellowjackets. Sims was one rushing yard away from 100 on the afternoon. Laskey isn’t called a fullback in Tech’s offense but is positioned like one. The lanky sophomore had the longest run from scrimmage on the afternoon — 39 yards on a plunge up the middle — and finished with 60 yards total.
The Yellowjackets rambled but rarely wrecked with three backs over 50 yards rushing (Sims, Laskey and Lee). Washington finished with 46 yards after two kneel-downs to run out the clock at the end.
Georgia Tech was only too happy to celebrate, then, too — the popcorn bouncing all the way to the locker room, leaving USC looking for the power cord to the microwave.