EL PASO, Texas -- Their opening moments of the 79th Sun Bowl might not have gone exactly as planned, but Georgia Tech seniors Tevin Washington and Orwin Smith definitely finished better than they started.
While each played sparingly in a dead-even first half, both also became key over the final two quarters. Washington ran for one touchdown and threw to Smith for another as the Yellow Jackets pulled away to a 21-7 victory over USC on Monday.
The win snapped a seven-game losing streak in bowl games for Georgia Tech (7-7), which was the only sub-.500 team this bowl season. Tech's last postseason victory came in 2004 in Orlando, Fla., when the Yellow Jackets stung Syracuse 51-14 at the Champs Sports Bowl.
"I'm really proud of our football team. I thought they played with a lot of heart and determination," Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said. "It was a hard-fought football game."
USC (7-6), playing its second straight game without injured senior quarterback Matt Barkley, dropped a third consecutive game to close a disappointing season.
"It was a very surprising day, turning the ball over and with third-down efficiency. We really found no rhythm," USC coach Lane Kiffin said. "I thought our defense did a very good job. They played hard."
Washington, replaced by freshman backup QB Vad Lee after just two first-half possessions, found himself in the end zone on his second snap after re-taking the reins to begin the third quarter.
Jamal Golden's 50-yard punt return had given Tech the ball at the USC 1-yard line. Once Washington followed all-ACC right guard Omoregie Uzzi into the end zone for the score, the Jackets had a 14-7 lead they did not relinquish.
It was the 20th rushing score this season for Washington, which broke Robert Lavette's 30-year-old Georgia Tech record.
After GT defensive end Izaan Cross batted down USC quarterback Matt Wittek's fourth-down pass in Tech's end of the field, Washington led a final 62-yard putaway drive early in the fourth quarter. He found junior wide receiver Jeremy Moore for a 26-yard pitch to start the offensive and then handed the wheel over to running backs David Sims and Zach Laskey, who combined for 27 yards through the gut of the Trojan defense.
That set the stage for Smith, whose 17-yard touchdown on a throwback to the right side of the formation handed Tech the two-score cushion with 13:11 left.
"The defense kind of flowed with me, ... and Orwin made a good play and made him miss," Washington said.
Smith said, "It was a great throw by Tevin and (I) was one-on-one. You can't ask for much more."
Smith, who led his club with 673 rushing yards this season, had to sit out the first half after bruising his shoulder on his second carry, a 9-yard run.
But, it was the Tech defense which truly ruled the day, limiting the explosive Trojan pass attack, now piloted by Wittek (15 of 38 for 108 yards) to just over 100 yards. USC wideout Marquise Lee, who finished fourth in Heisman voting after setting a Pac-12 record with 112 catches this year, caught seven passes for just 42 yards.
Inside linebacker Quayshawn Nealy's end zone interception held off a comeback attempt late. Nealy, who had a 74-yard pick six in last year's Sun Bowl loss to Utah, joined cornerback Rod Sweeting and Golden with pickoffs.
Lee, on his second drive after taking over for Washington, keyed a 14-play, 74-yard drive to give Georgia Tech the day's first points. His quarterback draw on third-and-7 was just long enough for a first down, important because it immediately preceded a 23-yard hookup with senior wideout Chris Jackson on a roll pass left.
Receiver B.J. Bostic swept left for four yards and another third down conversion, setting up Sims' 4-yard scoring reception on another roll pass left from Lee with 10:25 left in the second quarter.
The USC defense produced its second turnover in successive possessions to help the Trojans finally get on the board late in the first half. Defensive lineman Morgan Breslin chased down Lee from behind on option left and stripped him of the ball, with teammate Wes Horton falling on the ball at the 46. Three plays later, Randall Woods caught a 23-yard crossing route to finally ignite the SC offense.
"I think we did a good job of staying away from the big play and we did okay on third down," Smith said. "We created some turnovers, too. We played pretty consistently."
Running back Silas Redd found the left sideline for 20 yards and converted a third-and-goal three plays later with a juggling catch in the right flat and diving just inside the pylon with only 49 seconds left in the half.
On USC's previous defensive possession, linebacker Lamar Dawson's deep zone drop produced a Lee interception, handing his club the ball in GT territory. But, two plays later, Wittek was picked off by Sweeting, who returned it 22 yards before stepping out along the left sideline.
"All season, they never gave us a chance," Sweeting said of Georgia Tech getting little respect. "So, to go out there and perform the way we did was a great feeling."
"They played a great game," Wittek said. "They got pressure when they needed to get pressure. They played well."
NOTES: Georgia Tech defensive end Jeremiah Attaochu, who entered the Sun Bowl on a roll with eight sacks over four games, hyperextended his elbow during the first quarter and did not return. ... Tech, the nation's fourth-ranked rush team coming in, compiled 296 yards and, in typical fashion, had no one over 100 yards. Sims led the way with 99 yards on 17 carries. ... Tech improved to 2-1 in the Sun Bowl (GT beat Texas Tech 17-9 in 1970), and USC dropped to 0-3 with a 28-19 loss to Texas Christian in 1998 and a 17-16 loss to Michigan State in 1990.