Grades aren't needed; the only grade you need to know is A+.
Midnight was rapidly approaching as the minutes dwindled away in the 2014 Orange Bowl. I didn't care. Maybe I didn't want 2014 to end.
2014 saw a Georgia Tech team struggle to beat Wofford at home to open the season. One fan beside me left the stadium midway through the game as he announced he would refuse to come back as long as Paul Johnson was the head coach. I wonder what he's saying now.
2014 saw a Georgia Tech team that was a controversial fumble call away from losing to first-year FBS program Georgia Southern. The team blew a massive halftime lead to need a game-winning drive by first-year starter Justin Thomas. Three games had passed, and three unimpressive wins were in the books. Expectations for the conference schedule were low, but this team just couldn't care less about an expectation.
2014 saw a Georgia Tech team regress back to old ways in the middle of the season as they stumbled to losses against Duke and North Carolina in consecutive games. The defense was downright incompetent to stop anything against UNC, and the offense looked as bad as it had all season against the Blue Devils. They could've very easily fallen right down and bled out for the rest of the season. But as Derrick Moore and all of us know, this team was going to get right back up.
2014 saw a Georgia Tech team with very little promise leading up to the season beat Virginia Tech, Miami, Clemson, Georgia, and Mississippi State in the same season. Each win had its own flavor.
The Virginia Tech game showed the grit and toughness from the Yellow Jackets as it may have been an ugly game, but the team fought to stay within striking distance as they took advantage of turnovers and once again scored late to seal another win.
The Miami game showed what the Yellow Jackets could do when putting together a complete game as they rattled freshman QB Brad Kaaya and death-marched down the field time and time again to get an easy victory in front of a pumped up crowd who were finally starting to believe.
The Clemson game showed what an opportunistic defense can do to an indecisive quarterback as the defense completely shut down the Clemson attack, while the offense held their own and moved the ball against the top defense in the nation.
The Georgia game showed the indestructible resilience from the Jackets as every single call seemed to go UGA's way, but they continued to fight back and made every single big play to pull out an unforgettable victory that fans will remember for the rest of their lives.
This Mississippi State game - This Mississippi State game showed the dominance.
It showed the dominance of what Paul Johnson's option attack can do when a team fully invests themselves into executing each facet of the offense as perfectly as possible. It showed that an undersized offensive line can still completely obliterate an SEC defensive line that's supposed to be bigger and faster than everyone else. It showed that even when one star wide receiver who has a future in the NFL goes down, another one steps right up and advertises that Georgia Tech's run-heavy offense can still be considered Wide-Receiver-U. It showed that there's some guy who wears number five for the Yellow Jackets that is currently turning himself into a household name due to his spectacular play on the big stage.
Justin Thomas was electrifying. In the final game of the season where most players have been worn down and are fighting their bodies to get one last good performance, Thomas looked like he was just getting started. The quarterback was on a whole other level as he bolted by MSU defenders just trying to get their hands on the former track star. When he wasn't turning it up to top gear, he was shaking the Bulldog secondary out of their shoes with moves that would've made the USC version of Reggie Bush proud. From the deep throws, to the flawless reads, to the highlight reel runs, Thomas put viewers all across the nation in awe as he diced up a Mississippi State defense that was considered to be top-notch and supported a team that was hailed as the best in the nation earlier in the year.
He's just a first-year starter; he's just a sophomore.
Synjyn Days finished his storied collegiate career in memorable fashion as he bulldozed and eluded the Bulldogs over and over in the second half. His 69-yard touchdown run at the start of the second half was one of the best we've seen in a long time at Tech, and he finished the night with 171 yards and three touchdowns. In his third different position at Tech, Days exemplifies the resilience and willingness of this team to do whatever it takes to provide positive results on the field.
The defense had its hands full against an extremely talented MSU offense with a legitimate Hesiman candidate at quarterback. Dak Prescott sports all of the qualities that Tech has had problems with this year. He was able to move the ball, but the opportunistic unit once again forced two more turnovers and fought hard in the redzone to do more than enough for the victory. The read option that tore the defense apart just months ago when the Duke Blue Devils visited Atlanta was keyed on and limited as much as anyone could've hoped for going into the game. Second-team All-SEC running back Josh Robinson was held to just 13 carries for 75 yards. Mississippi State was forced to throw much more than they hoped for due to a building deficit in the second half, and that's exactly what Tech needed.
The individual grades aren't necessary. Everyone gets an A+, and Paul Johnson gets an A++. The pressure and the doubters were as strong as ever, but Johnson has proven why he deserves to be here. His halftime adjustments have been phenomenal. His ability to put guys at the right spot to succeed has been unrivaled. On a night when many were talking about the job Dan Mullen has done this season, Paul Johnson took the MSU coaching staff to school. We were worried about the extension being announced before seeing the team's performance against Georgia; I couldn't be happier about it now.
2014 was the best year of Georgia Tech football I've seen in my lifetime. It was a journey that I couldn't be happier to have been given a chance to cover and witness. Right when we were all expecting mediocrity to make its way to Atlanta for yet another year, we were blessed with a season we'll never forget.
It's only getting started. Buckle up. Because 2015 may only be better.