From his perch in a Sun Life Stadium radio booth Wednesday night, former Georgia Tech captain Roddy Jones was incredulous, disbelieving that B-back Synjyn Days had managed to stay inbounds on his 69-yard touchdown run on the second play of the second half in the Yellow Jackets’ Orange Bowl victory Wednesday night.
Jones’ former teammate, Sean Bedford, the sideline reporter for Tech’s radio broadcast, offered a knowing response. Of course Jones knew. He had done the same thing six years ago.
Days’ 69-yard run may well take its place along Jones’ 54-yard sideline dash against Georgia in 2008. Days scored on a belly play, a quick-hitting run play in which he took a handoff from quarterback Justin Thomas and took a step into the line before bouncing out behind left tackle Bryan Chamberlain.
Chamberlain and A-back Deon Hill drove Mississippi State Preston Smith clear off the line, giving Days a lane to run. Days did the rest as he slashed to the sideline, taking advantage of Mississippi State tightly positioning eight defenders in the box who were quickly out of the play.
Starting at the line of scrimmage at the Tech 31-yard line, Days ran past safety Deontay Evans’ attempt to catch him from an angle at the 38. He stepped through safety Jay Hughes as he dove at his feet at the Tech 45. The centerpiece of the run was his overpowering cornerback Taveze Calhoun at the Mississippi State 46-yard line, as Calhoun absorbed the business end of Days’ tree-trunk right thigh.
Five yards downfield, linebacker Matt Wells made something of a half-hearted effort to push Days out of bounds, perhaps thinking Days’ momentum would carry him out of bounds. But Days stayed inbounds, at points perhaps inches from stepping out, and gained steam as he ran to the end zone.
Days’ run triggered Tech’s offensive onslaught in the second half, mostly generated by Days and B-back Zach Laskey, and often returning to the bountiful well that was the belly play. Coach Paul Johnson referred to it in post-game comments as a “gravy train.”
“We ran it once and we saw what they were in, and we were like, If they’re not going to take it away, then we’re going to keep doing it,” guard Shaquille Mason said.
Mason said the Mississippi State defense, which was being directed by first-time playcaller Deshea Townsend, never adjusted.
“Their interior, they had too many people on the inside and not enough people outside,” Mason said.
Townsend was at a considerable tactical disadvantage. Johnson has been calling plays and making adjustments for his offense since 1985. Townsend, a 13-year NFL veteran, has been a coach for four years, had never faced an option offense like Tech’s at any point in his career as a coach or even as a player.
“Honestly, I thought they would make adjustments, seeing how successful we were with it, but they stayed in the same thing and they paid for it,” Mason said.
In the second half, Days and Laskey had a combined 24 of the Jackets’ 33 carries and gained 210 of Tech’s 318 rushing yards after halftime.
Said Laskey, “We struggled in the first half but then we came out in the second half and got stopped only once the whole second half. Anytime you can make those halftime adjustments and come out and produce an outcome like that, it is a great day.”