ATLANTA - In addition to coming off a disappointing loss last week, a young Georgia Tech squad also had its poise tested Saturday against Mississippi State when starting quarterback Josh Nesbitt was injured on the game's first drive.
The Yellow Jackets passed that test with flying colors by turning in perhaps their most dominating performance not only this season, but in several seasons.
Flowery Branch native Jaybo Shaw came off the bench to direct an offense that rolled up 500 total yards - 438 of which came on the ground - as Tech overwhelmed the Bulldogs 38-7 before 48,402 fans at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
Jonathan Dwyer led the way with 141 yards and a touchdown on nine carries and Shaw finished with 104 yards of total offese as the Jackets (3-1) showed perhaps their best grasp of Paul Johnson's option-based spread offense, even without Nesbitt much of the game.
"I'm very proud of our football team," Tech coach Paul Johnson said. "Jaybo Shaw came in and did a great job for a freshman right out of high school to come in when Josh got injured ... Nothing much rattles (the players). They just go about their business and do what we ask them to do, and I think everyone has confidence in Jaybo ... Everybody just knew they had to do what they needed to do.
"We really got the option going a little bit. Maybe we're getting better at it. I hope we are."
It certain appeared that way as it took the Jackets only 5:02 to do what Auburn couldn't do in its entire game last week against Mississippi State (1-3) - score a touchdown.
Even after Nesbitt pulled up with a hamstring injury on a 21-yard option run after the opening kickoff.
Shaw was able to finish off the 11-play, 79-yard drive, capped by Embry Peeples' 7-yard run that put Tech up 7-0 with 9:55 left in the first quarter.
The freshman then remained poised under pressure during Tech's next chance after Michael Johnson gave the Jackets excellent field position by recovering a botched shotgun snap at the Mississippi State 40.
Facing a heavy backside rush on second and 15 from the 20, Shaw got the pass away in time for Demaryius Thomas to make a diving catch in the end zone, extending the lead to 14-0 with 6:06 left in the opening frame.
"Bay-Bay (Thomas) made a great catch," Shaw said of his first collegiate touchdown pass. "I didn't even see (the pass rusher) behind me ... and I got hit in the back. Fortunately, I got it there. With (Thomas), if you throw it close, he's going to catch it."
Momentum appeared to shift toward Mississippi State after Anthony Dixon busted off a 71-yard run on the next snap under center before being brought down at the Tech 9 on a touchdown-saving tackle by Morgan Burnett.
But the Jackets stopped the Bulldogs on three plays - including stuffing Dixon on third and goal from inside the 1 after Mississippi State declined a penalty that would have saved a down.
Tech fully seized momentum back when the 6-foot-7 Michael Johnson blocked Adam Carlson's 18-yard field goal attempt to keep the Jackets' lead at two touchdowns.
"I thought about taking the penalty and having two shots at (the touchdown)," Mississippi State coach Sylvester Croom said. "But with the ball on the 1-foot line and Dixon going over the top - we haven't ever not made that. But we lost yardage on it, and then we get the field goal blocked.
"Dixon going over the top from a foot - I'd bet a lot on that, but we didn't get it done."
The Jackets stuffed Dixon again on the Bulldogs' next drive, this time for a 7-yard loss on fourth and 1 at the Tech 38.
They then capitalized with an eight-play, 54-yard march, capped when Shaw converted on fourth and 3 for a 25-yard touchdown run to push Tech's lead to 21-0 with 4:26 left in the first half.
Morgan Burnett made sure the score stayed that way heading into intermission with his interception at the Tech 2 with 19 seconds left in the half, thwarting a 15-play, 65-yard drive that could have put Mississippi State back in the game.
Jonathan Dwyer then helped the Jackets put the game away with two big runs early in the third quarter. First was an 88-yard scoring dash on an option pitch as he directed traffic downfield, which not only pushed the lead to 28-0 with 11:27 left in the period but also set a new school record.
The second was a 37-yard run on his next carry that set up Scott Blair's 29-yard field goal, making the score 31-0 with 7:05 remaining in the period.
That was plenty for a Tech defense that bent a lot - Mississippi State gained 407 yards of their own on the day - but only broke once late in the game.
Included in that performance were big games by Michael Johnson, Burnett (5 tackles and a pass breakup) and Jahi Word-Daniels (4 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, interception).