PROVO — BYU will look to rebound on the road against Georgia Tech following a tough loss to Notre Dame. The Yellowjackets present a very prolific offense and a defense that has been gashed consistently by opponents this season.
So what can fans expect to happen come Saturday? We talked to coaches, players and looked over the match-ups to give our best glimpse regarding what to expect.
BYU rushing attack vs. Georgia Tech
The Cougars ran the ball well in the first half against the Irish before bogging down in the second. True freshman Jamaal Williams saw the grand majority of reps at running back and finished the game with 14 rushes for 64 yards.
The run-game sustained a blow when starting center Braden Hansen suffered a groin injury against Notre Dame and will likely miss the rest of the regular season as a result.
Georgia Tech presents a 3-4 base defense that yields 145.3 yards per game on a 4.3 yards per carry average. It’s coming off a very promising game against Boston College where it gave up just 32 yards on the ground, however.
The defense is led by its outside linebackers Brandon Watts (6-2, 238, junior) and Jeremiah Attaochu (6-3, 240, junior) Its defensive front is anchored by senior TJ Barnes, who stands at a mere 6-foot-7 and weighs a whopping 345 pounds.
Cougar question mark
How will the offensive front adjust to the loss of Braden Hansen? Hansen is the latest casualty to the BYU offensive front, and he’ll be replaced by Blair Tushaus, who started the year but was replaced in his starting role by Hansen prior to the Hawaii game.
Tushaus has struggled with his consistency and presents a sub-270 frame and will have his work cut out for him going against Barnes. How Tushaus responds to gaining his starting spot back will play a huge role in how effective the Cougar ground game is against the Yellowjackets.
“We need to focus on our plays and our own strategies,” said tight end Kaneakua Friel. “They’ve given up a lot of points this year, but they’re also capable of playing some great defense, so we need to play our best game, and I don’t think we’ve played our best game yet this year.”
The run-game saw a drop-off in production during the second half against the Irish, and it’s not a coincidence that it had to make due without Hansen for most of that half. Tushaus has a great opportunity to re-establish himself as the starter, and Manaaki Vaitai and Solomone Kafu have both provided consistent play at the two starting guard positions.
Georgia Tech is coming off a very good game against Boston College, however, and its overall size up front should hold BYU to under 150 yards rushing for the game. BYU should see better overall gains than it did against a very good Notre Dame front, however.
BYU passing attack vs. Georgia Tech
The BYU air attack wasn’t all that productive last week against the Irish, with Riley Nelson providing a bevy of short passes to the flat and across the middle. Overall, the Cougars threw for just 177 yards and were unable to beat an aggressive Notre Dame defense down the field.
Georgia Tech can be had through the air as evidenced by its giving up 267.9 yards per game to opponents. The Yellowjackets present an experienced secondary that is led by senior cornerback Rod Sweeting (6-0, 187) and junior safety Jamea Thomas (5-10, 195.)
Georgia Tech turns into a 4-3 defense during most passing situations, with junior defensive end Euclid Cummings (6-4, 275) working as its primary pass rusher off the edge.
Cougar question mark
Can BYU mount an effective intermediate and long passing threat? BYU used a dink-and-dunk passing attack against the Irish, but that may not be enough to keep up with a Georgia Tech offense that averages just short of 500 yards per game and 37.7 points.
“Other teams have seen success against their defense, but we can’t take them for granted,” said Friel. “We need to find holes in their zone, and we all need to be better prepared and just play better than we did last week — especially me.”
BYU didn’t lack opportunities down the field last week against the Irish so much as it was unable to cash in those opportunities. Look for Nelson to right a lot of what went wrong last week and approach 300 yards passing and account for his best game of the year against a rather porous Georgia Tech pass defense.
BYU rush defense vs. Georgia Tech
The BYU rush defense has been good all year but was somewhat exposed last week against Notre Dame. The Irish were able to run for 270 yards, which presents some cause for concern in defending against a very good Georgia Tech rushing attack.
The Yellowjackets present a triple-option offense that has averaged 339.6 yards per game this season. Quarterback Tevin Washington (6-0, 205) is the team’s leading rusher and averages 67.3 yards per game.
There is no primary running back for Georgia Tech, and it’ll rotate rushing opportunities between five rushers who have gained over 170 yards this season — three of whom average more than seven yards per carry.
It’s a big and physical offensive front that will present a lot of challenges.
“They’re like Air Force with how they run their offense, but their linemen are a lot bigger,” noted defensive end Russell Tialavea. “They’re quick like an Air Force lineman, but they’re a lot more physical, so it’s going to be a huge challenge for us.”
Cougar question mark
The BYU defensive front is a bit thin after the losses of Eathyn Manumaleuna and Ian Dulan. This lack of depth was somewhat exposed last week against Notre Dame as the line wore down in the second half. Will a thin BYU defensive front be able to withstand the constant barrage of runs Georgia Tech throws its way?
“We have to play very sound and we’ll be okay,” said Tialavea. “We’re going to have to be more physical this game because they’re big upfront. It’s going to be a fun game, and we love this type of a challenge.”
BYU was gashed by the last triple-option team it faced with Air Force running all over it back in 2010. That game was largely an aberration, however, and coach Bronco Mendenhall was quick this week to point out that he didn’t coordinate that defensive effort — Jaime Hill did.
Mendenhall historically has done well against an option attack, and look for BYU to hold Georgia Tech under its season averages as a result. Depth is a huge concern, and the Yellowjackets should be able to wear down the Cougar front and account for good yardage in the second half.
BYU pass defense vs. Georgia Tech
BYU’s pass defense was very good last week against Notre Dame but wasn't tested all that much after showing some weakness the week before against Oregon State. BYU gave up just 117 yards through the air last week but will likely receive a unique test this week against Georgia Tech.
The Yellowjackets throw more than most traditional triple-option offenses. They average 158.1 yards per game and a somewhat scary 18.1 yards per reception — relying on surprise with play-action.
Its primary play-maker in the passing game is sophomore Jeff Greene (6-4, 210) who has just 12 receptions on the year for 233 yards and two touchdowns.
Cougar question mark
BYU’s safeties play aggressive and will need to stay aggressive in helping defend Georgia Tech’s rushing attack, but will they prove susceptible to play-action? Joe Sampson and Daniel Sorensen both need to be on their toes throughout the game as the Yellowjackets most certainly will be testing them deep on occasion off of play-action.
“We need to be ready for everything, and everyone needs to focus on their assignments,” said Tialavea. “It takes a complete team effort to defend an offense like this, and we need to give it our all. We have a bye week after this game, so we’ll be sure to go all out.”
Georgia Tech should convert on a few long opportunities and take advantage of an aggressive BYU secondary. The Yellowjackets won’t try many passes, but the passes they do try will likely go deep.
This is likely to be a relatively high-scoring affair. Look for BYU to find its best production of the year on offense and for it to give up similar yardage as it did against Oregon State. Turnovers will be key, and BYU simply needs to win the turnover battle if it hopes to secure a win on the road against a somewhat average Georgia Tech team. This isn’t an easy prospect with Riley Nelson at the helm, but look for the embattled BYU quarterback to be more composed and accurate than he was last week against Notre Dame.
Score: BYU 27 Georgia Tech 24