STARKVILLE, Miss. -- This performance by Josh Nesbitt, this was the kind of game that Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson has said everyone would see from his quarterback.
Nesbitt completed 11 of his 14 passes for a career-high 266 yards to lead the No. 25 Yellow Jackets to a 42-31 win over Mississippi State on Saturday. Eight of those passes went to Demaryius Thomas for 174 yards and a touchdown.
"I thought Josh played a heck of a game, but so did No. 8 [Thomas]," Johnson said. "He played a heck of a game, he made a lot of big plays for us."
Johnson told the media after the win against Clemson, when Nesbitt missed on 11 of 14 passes and threw two interceptions, that he had no worries about Nesbitt's arm or accuracy.
He said it again after the Miami game, when Nesbitt missed on nine of his 15 attempts.
Fans got a glimpse of Johnson's belief in last week's win against North Carolina, when Nesbitt was 7-of-11 for 89 yards. And he said it again Saturday night.
"I've got no problems with Josh Nesbitt," Johnson said. "I thought he played his tail off."
But this performance was better than even Nesbitt could imagine.
"I'm just grateful for the win," said Nesbitt, who also rushed 23 times for 81 yards. "I think I took care of the ball very well and placed it where I needed to place it and helped the team come out with the victory."
The win improves Tech to 4-1. The Jackets will play another night game, their fourth of the season, next week against struggling Florida State (2-3) in Tallahassee.
Nesbitt wasn't the whole story. For the second consecutive week the Jackets held the advantage in three key categories: rushing: 213-209; time of possession: 36:03-23:57; third-down conversions: 8 of 13 compared with 4 of 10.
Perhaps most important, Tech took advantage of almost every Mississippi State error, turning three of the Bulldogs' four fumbles into 21 points.
But Nesbitt had everything working against the Bulldogs.
Mississippi State repeatedly had man-to-man coverage on Tech's wide receivers, and Nesbitt made them pay in a variety of ways. He hit Thomas several times on simple quick throws to the sideline where Thomas would beat his man and go. Other times Nesbitt would roll out of the pocket and hit either Thomas or Hill coming back to him.
"Josh did a good job putting it in the right spots," said Thomas, who has 24 catches for 536 yards this season. "I just made plays on it."
Tech's defense made plays of its own, creating four takeaways.
The first one led to Tech's first score. The Jackets took a 7-0 lead on a reverse pitch to wide receiver Stephen Hill, who ran untouched around right end for 24 yards for a touchdown. It was the first touchdown of Hill's career.
The drive started after defensive end Anthony Egbuniwe sacked Tyson Lee, stripped him of the ball and recovered the fumble to give Tech possession on Mississippi State's 47-yard line.
The Jackets stretched the lead to 14-0 on a 2-yard touchdown leap by Jonathan Dwyer with 34 seconds remaining in the first quarter. That drive stretched 11 plays and took 5 minutes, 57 seconds off the clock.
Mississippi State cut the gap to 14-7 on an 89-yard kickoff return by Leon Berry. It was the first return for a score allowed by Tech since N.C. State's Darrell Blackman ran one back from 95 yards in 1996.
Tech took a 21-7 lead on a 5-yard run around left end by Roddy Jones. The score capped an eight-play, 39-yard drive that started after middle linebacker Brad Jefferson forced a fumble by quarterback Chris Relf that defensive end Derrick Morgan recovered at Mississippi State's 39.
The Bulldogs came back with their own reverse for a touchdown on a 10-yard scamper around left end by Chad Bumphis. That cut Tech's lead to 21-14 with 6:09 remaining in the second quarter.
Tech stretched its lead back to 14 points, 28-14, when cornerback Jerrard Tarrant scooped up a fumble by Chris Relf and returned it 40 yards for a touchdown. MSU had the ball because Dwyer fumbled it into the end zone as he tried to plow through the pile on Tech's previous possession. That lost fumble ended a 158-minute turnover-less streak that stretched back to the Clemson game for Tech.
Of concern, however, is that Mississippi State totaled 487 yards of offense, and that Tech's special teams, particularly the kickoff game, were subpar.
But, for this game, Johnson summed it up best:
"We had some guys make some plays and 42 is more than 31," Johnson said.
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