By Danny Holmgren
Coming into the game with a record of 4-4 with the final three games being “should win” contests against WAC opponents, BYU’s game against Georgia Tech was really made out to be a defining game for the Cougars, one that would really establish its identity. Finishing the season at 8-4 is a heckuva lot better than 7-5. BYU’s victory over Georgia Tech on Saturday was their most complete and dominating performances of the season and will hopefully provide a springboard to finishing the season on the highest note, considering the heartbreaking losses this season that have come at the hands of Utah, Boise State, and last week’s tough loss to Notre Dame.
Once again, BYU was led by its defense and this performance was perhaps the most impressive of the season. Georgia Tech head Coach Paul Johnson has run impressive triple option attacks throughout his career. Johnson previously coached at Georgia Southern and the United States Naval Academy where his triple option attack made him famous. Since becoming head coach in 2008 the Yellow Jackets have never had lower than the 4th ranked rushing attack in the nation.
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2012 had been no different for Georgia Tech as they came into the game with the third ranked rushing offense in the nation. Coming off a slaughter of Boston College in which they rolled up 217 rushing yard by halftime. Coming into this week, they would be facing a Cougar defense that had uncharacteristically allowed 270 rushing yards against Notre Dame the week before, there was no way anyone would have predicted the dominating performance that BYU’s defense presented on Saturday, holding Georgia Tech to season lows in total yards (157), rushing yards (117), passing yards (40) and total points (17) with the offense only allowed a field goal, as Tech’s two TD’s came from a pick six by BYU QB Riley Nelson and a 97 yard kickoff return for TD.
One of the toughest challenges when facing a triple option attack is preventing long drives which shift momentum, eat up game clock, and tire the defense. BYU was impressive in preventing such long drives by holding Georgia Tech to zero 3rd down conversions for the game (0 for 10). This allowed BYU to dominate the time of possession battle nearly 2 to 1. Defensive highlights for BYU included an athletic interception by Daniel Sorensen that was nearly returned for a TD, a blocked punt by Kyle Van Noy, and impressive pressure by Ezekial Ansah. Just as impressive was the play throughout the game in stopping the triple option attack of Georgia Tech. A well executed triple option attack can be nearly impossible to stop because it leaves the defensive end to have to commit to the quarterback or play up on the pitchman while the outside linebacker is taken out of the play. The key is the outside linebackers being able to shed blocks and get into the backfield to take the pitchman so that the defensive end can key on the quarterback. Quarterback Tevin Washington was frustrated all day long as the normally efficient option was bottled up and shut down.
Jamaal Williams continues to impress as a true freshman. He gets stronger and more confident each game and seems to thrive on the big stage. Saturday was his best game of the season as he broke the century mark for the second time, finishing with 107 yards on 28 carries with 3 TDs. Williams added a 4th touchdown on a nifty 39 yard scamper on a perfectly executed shuffle pass by Riley Nelson. If there is one exciting aspect of BYU’s offense to look forward to in the future, it has to be Williams!
Quarterback Riley Nelson had a solid game behind center, though there are still obvious flaws with his game that we’ll just have to deal with. In the first quarter he threw a bad pass late and over the middle while under duress that was intercepted and returned 22 yards for a Georgia Tech TD which tied the game at 7-7. Had the defense not been so dominant, that play could have shifted some early momentum away from BYU and come back to haunt them, but fortunately, it was relatively inconsequential. Later, Nelson shifted in the pocket and launched one of the few deep balls of the season to a wide open Ross Apo. Had Nelson had a stronger arm he would have hit Apo in stride and he could have walked into the end zone for the easiest touchdown of his career. Instead he hung on for a great possession catch and a gain of 43 yards despite getting pummeled by two Georgia Tech defenders. All in all, Nelson had a solid game. He didn’t put himself into harm’s way often and was able to help BYU sustain long drives which ate up the clock, put points on the board, and ultimately led to a dominating performance.
After a bye this week, BYU finishes with three WAC games, including a matchup against a tough 6-2 San Jose State squad. Bronco Mendenhall said after the win, “Even though I think we’ve been improving, I’m not sure others have acknowledged that (because) the outcomes might not have shown that, but I felt in my heart we were. … It’ll be fun to see how much potential we can squeeze out of this team.” If BYU can continue to play to the potential they squeezed out on Saturday in Atlanta, the season will end on a high note for the Cougars.