20th Annual Sugar Bowl Classic ~ January 1, 1954
#8 Georgia Tech 42 (9-2-1)
#10 West Virginia 19 (8-2-0)
How Georgia Tech and West Virginia Met in the 1954 Sugar Bowl
Be careful what you plan for is a paraphrase of an old maxim, but in this case it truly applied to West Virginia coach Art “Pappy” Lewis.
Lewis put in an 8-3 defense in order to shut off Georgia Tech’s wide plays, and hopefully force the Yellow Jackets into the Mountaineer line, which averaged a mammoth for the day 228 pounds.
And Tech coach Bobby Dodd seized on what turned into a golden opportunity.
Lewis was a good coach. Dodd was one of the great ones – and especially in bowl games. He coached the Yellow Jackets to a 165-64-8 record, and to nine victories in 13 postseason games. The unorthodox Dodd simply didn’t believe in working his squad very hard, which made him popular with his athletes. “During the fall we did not scrimmage once the season began,” Dodd once explained, “You get your players hurt, tired out, and mentally depressed. So I didn’t do it, and if it worked during the season, it should work in a bowl game…the players had confidence in our system. I convinced them that they could have fun and (still) win.”
And Dodd was expert at deciphering opponents. All-American linebacker George Morris said succinctly, “We just knew Coach Dodd was smarter than the other coach.”
Not any particular coach, mind you. Any opposing coach is what Morris meant.
It sort of worked out that way in the Sugar Bowl, where Dodd’s teams would have fun three times in a four-year span – and never lose.
As it turned out, the Mountaineers’ defense did shut down Tech’s running game but opened the airways for quarterback Franklin “Pepper” Rodgers, who hit on passes of 20, 15, 9, 11, and 24 yards and a touchdown on Tech’s first possession.
That’s pretty much the way the rest of the afternoon went, too.
On Tech’s second series, Rodgers threw another touchdown pass, two-yards to Jimmy Durham.
Despite its dismal start, West Virginia didn’t run up a white flag. Tommy Allman took a pitch-out sweep and went 60 yards for an apparent TD. The Mountaineers, though, were called for holding, and the touchdown was brought back. Danny Williams did get in the end zone with a five-yard run following a 70-yard drive, though Larry Morris blocked Jack Stone’s PAT.
And back came the Mountaineers right afterward, recovering a fumble on the Tech 25 and inching 20 yards. But end Cecil Turner threw quarterback Freddie Wyant for a 16-yard loss, and an opportunity to climb within a point of Georgia Tech was lost on fourth down when Joe Marconi dropped a Wyant pass in the end zone.
“Won’t say it demoralized them,” Lewis said of Allman’s called back run and Marconi’s drop, “but it got them off to a bad start.”
Rodgers again passed the Yellow jackets downfield, and Henry Hair caught a 2-yard throw to inflate the halftime score to 20-6. At intermission Tech had a record 233 yards passing to 13 for West Virginia, and the Sugar Bowl was sealed.
Rodgers, who finished with 16 completions in 26 attempts for 195 yards, was clearly the dominant player and was named recipient of the Miller Memorial Trophy.
The West Virginia locker room was numb. Lewis said, with eyes glistening, “We thought we’d get beat, but not by that much.” Guard Sam Huff couldn’t express himself, at least not with the emotion of Wyant who spat out, “They ain’t so good!”
But Tech was now 2-0 in Sugar Bowls.
Recap excerpted from the book “Sugar Bowl Classic: A History” by Marty Mulé, who covered the game and the organization for decades for the New Orleans Times-Picayune.