STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP)—Georgia Tech quarterback Josh Nesbitt liked what he saw all night long.
It seemed as if each time he peeked over at Demaryius Thomas, the 6-foot-3 wide receiver was lined up in man-to-man coverage on a Mississippi State defensive back who was 5 inches shorter.
So Nesbitt focused on Thomas and threw for a career-high 266 yards—a week after beating North Carolina by running the ball 32 times—in Georgia Tech’s 42-31 win Saturday night.
“The defense was playing man,” Nesbitt said. “It was a quarterback’s dream and it just made my job even easier.”
Nesbitt and Thomas connected eight times for 174 yards and a 23-yard touchdown. The Yellow Jackets also got tons of help from the Bulldogs, converting five turnovers into 21 points in an exciting game that featured a little bit of everything.
The Yellow Jackets (4-1) and Bulldogs (2-3) both scored on reverses and converted a combined six fourth downs, including once on a Mississippi State fake field goal. Leon Berry returned a kickoff 89 yards for a score for the Bulldogs and Tech’s Jerrard Tarrant returned a fumble 40 yards for a touchdown.
The Nesbitt-to-Thomas connection generated the most excitement, though. The pair connected on a 65-yard pass and it seemed as if Nesbitt found Thomas each time he was alone with a disadvantaged defensive back.
And if the coaches had the nerve to call a run on those plays when Thomas was alone with his man, the receiver made sure coach Paul Johnson was aware of the opportunities they were missing.
“Josh is just a great athlete,” Thomas said. “He can run and throw and he just kept putting it in the right spots. The defense was in man to man and there were a couple of times I had to go tell Coach so he would give me some looks.”
The Yellow Jackets also got 83 yards and a touchdown from Jonathan Dwyer, the Atlantic Coast Conference’s No. 2 rusher, and three other running backs scored.
The Mississippi State offense gets a big assist on several of those scores, though. Poorly timed turnovers killed the Bulldogs’ chances for upsets of Top 25 teams two weeks in a row. The Bulldogs had four turnovers in a 30-26 loss to LSU. Against Tech, they lost four fumbles in a game for the first time since 2001 and tacked on Tyson Lee’s interception late.
“Turnovers are something we preach and obviously I’m doing a real poor job as a head coach in doing that,” Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen said. “We turned the ball over (nine) times in two weeks and that’s coaching.”
Mississippi State’s Anthony Dixon rushed for 106 yards, but fumbled twice after going 329 carries without losing the ball, a streak of 16 games that stretched back to 2007. Lee and backup quarterback Chris Relf also fumbled.
Lee’s fumble on the Bulldogs’ opening drive set up Stephen Hill’s 24-yard score on a reverse. Another Lee fumble that Mississippi State recovered killed the Bulldogs’ second drive, and Dwyer answered with a 2-yard scoring run to make it 14-0.
Berry’s kickoff return, the first for Mississippi State since 2003, put the Bulldogs back in the game, but Relf’s fumble on the Bulldogs’ next series led to Roddy Jones’ 5-yard scoring run.
Mississippi State had another chance to turn things around late in the second quarter when Jamar Chaney forced Dwyer to fumble at the goal line. But Dixon couldn’t hold on to the ball when hit deep in the backfield and Tarrant scooped up the ball and scored to help Georgia Tech lead 28-17 at halftime.
Nesbitt put the game away on the first drive of the second half, hitting all four passes for 80 yards, including a 23-yard strike to Thomas for a 35-17 lead. He completed passes of 65 and 53 yards in the game as well and was 11 for 14.
Nesbitt also had 53 yards rushing on 23 carries a week after carrying the ball for 92 yards and two touchdowns in a win over North Carolina that pushed the Yellow Jackets back into the Top 25.
“I know Josh can throw,” Johnson said. “I’ve never said Josh can’t throw. He played his tail off tonight.”