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, when the Yellow Jackets stung Syracuse 51-14 at the Champs Sports Bowl.
USC (7-6), playing its second straight game without injured senior quarterback Matt Barkley, dropped a third consecutive game to close a disappointing season.
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.
The touchdown 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.
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, the Tech defense truly ruled the day, limiting the explosive Trojan pass attack to just 107 yards, with three interceptions.
Lee, on his second first-half 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.
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 Tech defensive back Rod Sweeting, who returned it 22 yards before stepping out along the left sideline.