The Yellow Jackets made it hurt. Facing 4th-and-3 they disdained kicking and Embry Peeples was able to turn the right corner for first down at the 24. On the next snap State bit on a pitch-left and ten Dogs pursued that way. Except it was a flanker-reverse and Stephen Hill only had to evade a well-blocked CB Louis Watson to score a 24-yard touchdown at 9:41.
A strong return by WR Leon Berry started State at their 39, and on 3rd-and-14 Lee bought time for WR Chad Bumpis to get open for a 27-yard completion down to Tech's 38. A completion on the other sideline to RB Arnil Stallworth netted 13 more yards. Lee had to recover his own fumble though and after two incompletes Sean Brauchle tried a 42-yard field goal. It went wide right, snapping a string of six-straight makes.
Tech immediately changed the field as on first down wideout Demaryus Thomas turned a square-out into a 28-yard gain down the right sideline. Tech worked the other side for a 19-yard throw to Peeples. With 4th-and-1 on the Bulldog eight it was Nesbitt scrabbling over his blocker's bodies for first-and-goal, and Dywer got the rest of the needed ground on two totes for a 14-0 lead with 0:34 left in the period.
Berry was able to cut the deficit in half in just 17 seconds, the time it took him to go from his 11-yard line to the Tech end zone. Once past the MSU 30-yard line Antonio Wilson was the last Tech chance and the 240-pound defensive end didn't have enough angle. The return touchdown was State's first on a kickoff since the 2003 season (Fred Reid vs. Memphis).
A play into the second quarter Georgia Tech seemed stuck on 3rd-and-8, but a draw handoff to Dwyer caught State for a 13-yard gash and move of chains. Two five-yard fouls though left a 3rd-and-14 and Nesbitt was hurried by DT Kyle Love into a long incomplete. The first punt of the night, by Chandler Anderson, rolled to State's 23.
RB Anthony Dixon punched out a fast dozen yards, but on his first series of the night QB Chris Relf didn't take care of the ball and was stripped by Ben Anderson with end Derrick Morgan recovering his sixth fumble of the year. The Jackets exploited opportunity with a nine-play drive, all on the ground. The big gainer was a 13-yard pitch of left end by Peeples down to the MSU nine. On second down Ronnie Jones took the pitch-left but read the blocking and took the inside seem for an easy touchdown at 8:23 and 21-7 lead.
Ground-pounding was State's answer after a fair-caught kick at their 32. Dixon did the heavy duty with runs of eight and 17 yards, setting Tech up for a quick five-yard throw to Bumphis. An option pitch to RB Christian Ducre netted 11 yard and first down at the Tech 31. Dixon got back to work, dragging tacklers for 12 and nine yards. With second down on the 10, MSU borrowed the visitor's idea of a reverse; with Jcket pursuit chasing Dixon to the right Bumphis took the flip and scored it at 6:09.
Tech should have regained the margin as on first down at their 32 Nesbitt lofted long and good to Thomas, who'd gotten behind all coverage beyond State's 40. Running hard, LB K.J. Wright had to drag him down at the three-yard line, a great effort that paid off. Because on first down Dwyer, straining for a little more gain, lost the handle into the end zone on contact by LB Jamar Chaney. CB/S Marcus Washington recovered for State at 5:21. But the Jackets would soon enough get their own gift.
Because while Dixon went through the middle for 14 fast yards and around right end for eleven more, his third handoff produced another MSU fumble. Worse, this one was scooped and returned 40 yards by Jerrard Tarrant for a 28-14 lead at 4:28.
A third-down pitch to Dixon got 14 yards and first down at Tech's 43-yard line. With 1:40 left State had 4th-and-2, and called time. As did the Jackets when MSU lined up. Dixon crashed left guard for the needed gain. State had to use the second stopper on 3rd-and-short at the 24 but this time Dixon was stuffed for a little loss. The clock wasn't halted until 0:16 with DePasquale setting up the 42-yard try, and Tech went ahead and also used their third timeout against the new placekicker.
Because holder Chris Cameron took the snap and dashed down to Tech's 14. Ten seconds were left, allowing Lee a shot into the end zone for Bumphis that was broken up by Morgan Burnett. With Brauchle sidelined by a muscle pull, Derek DePasquale had no problems chipping the short field goal through for his first college three-pointer and a 28-17 halftime score. Both teams had taken 35 offensive snaps with 256 yards of gains for Tech and 211 for State, 103 of that from Dixon's running.
A penalty, with the flag thrown an impressive 25 or so yards, had Tech starting the second half at their ten-yard line. Except it took just two throws, to Thomas for 14 yards and Anthony Allen for 20 more, to dig the Jackets out nicely. After an official pause for clock issues of all sorts, Nesbitt hooked up with Thomas on third down for 23 more yards to State's 30. Dwyer should have been wrapped up by Wright but squirmed out and reversed field for 13 yards.
Nesbitt kept for a dozen himself, setting up first-and-goal at the four, but on second down his pitch was batted by DE Pernell McPhee. The quarterback had to chase the ball down back at his 23-yard line. No problem, because Nesbitt evaded the four-man rush and found Thomas in the end zone where he'd lost CB Damein Anderson. The PAT made it 35-17 at 9:32.
Bumphis returned this kickoff to State's 38. With 4th-and-2 after Dixon was stopped for no gain State saw no point in punting. The Jackets likely expected a rush but Lee froze the coverage and hit WR Chris Smith at the Tech 46 for first down. A flip to RB Rob Elliot gained 18 yards and shots to Berry and WR O'Neal Wilder 14 and nine more, then Lee made it first-and-goal at the three.
It was all for nought. Because as Dixon crashed the middle the ball came loose at the one-yard line and was recovered there by Tech's Morgan Burnett at 5:19. Whether this particular turnover devastated the Dogs, enlivened the Yellow Jackets, or more likely both, by the time the period changed Tech was already on State's 48-yard line with a couple more 3rd-and-1 conversions. A holding penalty did more to squelch this drive than anything State could manage with the punt downed at the 19.
Relf ran twice for a first down, then Lee subbed-in and struck long. With wideout Smith sucking coverage deeper, Bumphis crossed to snare a heave and then work through traffic the rest of the way for a 69-yard touchdown play at 9:49. But what hope this score inspired was checked as Tech took only five plays to answer with a strike of their own. Nesbitt evaded the rush on a roll-right and flung down the sideline where Hill got position on S Zach Smith for a 53-yard reception to State's 22. On 3rd-and-3 an incomplete throw didn't matter because Tech had the choice of a roughing call on DT Fletcher Cox or interference at the five. They took the later and Allen did the honors with a easy jog across the goal at 7:05.
State was able to make the final margin look more respectable with a ten-play drive, as Lee took advantage of modest Jacket pressure to find open targets such as Elliot, TE Marcus Green, and others. Even a 15-yard penalty that set the Dogs back from the Tech 14-yard line just delayed things as two throws to Ducre netted 24 yards. Ducre also got to put up the final points on a four-yard rush at 3:41. Mullen used timeouts until Tech punted it away at 2:40 but another ten-play possession was stopped as Lee's throw into traffic was batted and intercepted by Mario Butler at 0:28.
It was only fitting State's game end on another turnover. Three of Georgia Tech's touchdowns had come after Bulldog fumbles, after all. And the one time MSU was presented a Jacket turnover, they only fumbled it back to them four plays later. The four lost fumbles were the most for State since the 2001 home loss to Troy State. Thus the fact that P Heath Hutchins never had to kick the ball away, the first such outing by State since the 1998 East Tennessee State game, mattered not at all in the outcome.
Nor did a final statistical edge of 487 to 479 yards for MSU, on an identical 68 offensive snaps for each side. Tech offset that by holding the ball 36 clock minutes to MSU's 24, and by getting a career passing day out of Nesbitt. He only threw 14 times but completed 11 for 266 yards, was sacked just once and not picked at all. Thomas made a mockery of coverage attempts, hauling in eight balls for 174 yards. So, Dwyer only had to run 16 times for 83 yards and Nesbitt 23 for 53 net.
Lee had his own career outing with 278 yards on 20-of-30 throwing, including the longest completion of his two-year tenure on the 69-yard hookup with Bumphis. Lee's 27-yard run on the opening series was also a career-long. Bumphis caught six balls for 123 yards, one of eight Dogs to get a reception. Dixon, who had 103 yards at intermission for his 12th career 100-yard outing, only touched the ball twice in the last half and ended up with 106 yards. He still moved up to 3,030 career yards and needs 181 more to match the MSU record of 3,212 held by Jerious Norwood, who attended the game with Atlanta's Falcons being off.
Wright led State's weary defense with a dozen tackles while McPhee netted 11 with a lone sack.