BYU will look to get back on track after losses to two of the nation’s top 10 teams as it heads to Atlanta to face the 3-4 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets.
Playing in his second game since coming back from a back injury, senior quarterback Riley Nelson moved the ball well in the first half, throwing for two touchdowns but also threw two interceptions. Despite Nelson’s struggle, BYU Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall believes the quarterback is helping the program progress the right way.
“We’re really close,” Mendenhall said. “I still think we’re gaining momentum and making progress, and Riley is leading us while we do it. It might not be the prolific breakthrough that people want, but I still see us inching really close to breaking through.”
Nelson will have a chance to improve against a Georgia Tech team that has struggled to a 3-4 record. Prior to last week’s game, the Yellow Jackets fired their defensive coordinator after the team allowed its opponents to score 40 points three weeks in a row. The change at defensive coordinator should make things simpler for the Cougar offense since Georgia Tech will not be throwing in any elaborate defensive tactics.
“They’re just trying to play good, solid defense,” Nelson said when asked to describe Georgia Tech’s defense. “They’re going to trust their offense to chew up the clock and then play a bend-don’t-break style of defense. We just have to sustain drives and keep executing against them.”
Georgia Tech runs a unique style of offense similar to the offense BYU faced when it played the Air Force Academy in the Mountain West Conference. The Cougars have had success against the triple-option, and the defense will need to be ready for a team that put up 563 yards of total offense last week in a win over Boston College.
Despite BYU’s two most recent losses, Georgia Tech Head Coach Paul Johnson is not looking past the Cougars.
“They’re pretty good on defense,” Johnson said. “Three of BYU’s losses are to ranked teams. It will be a challenge for us, and we have to be better than we were last week.”
BYU will be without starting center Braden Hansen. The senior will be out 2–4 weeks after injuring his groin during the loss to Notre Dame. Depth at offensive line has become an issue as injuries have taken their toll.
“We felt really good about the depth at offensive line going into the fall,” Mendenhall said. “We’ve now lost six players at that position. We plug in the next player as best we can and keep going.”
The Cougars have faced the Yellow Jackets twice before. The Cougars lost in Atlanta in 2002 and won in Provo in 2003. The win in 2003 was only BYU’s second win against an ACC team in school history. If the Cougars can get the win on Saturday it would be a big momentum builder going into the bye week. The win would also leave the Cougars one win away from qualifying for a bowl game.