ATLANTA — BYU has ventured into Atlantic Coast Conference territory looking to snap a two-game losing streak.
Only once in eight seasons has coach Bronco Mendenhall's team lost three consecutive games — and that was part of a four-game losing streak in 2010.
The Cougars, whose last two setbacks have been at the hands of top-10 teams, are also seeking their first road victory of the season when they visit Georgia Tech on Saturday (1 p.m. MT, ROOT Sports).
For BYU to halt its losing skid, it will need to score points — something that has not come easily for the Cougars this season.
Because the Yellow Jackets' option offense has a penchant for holding on to the ball for prolonged stretches, BYU will have to capitalize on its scoring opportunities by converting trips to the red zone into touchdowns.
"We need to mount drives. We can't have any three-and-outs," said quarterback Riley Nelson. "We can't have any short drives because that will allow (Georgia Tech) to chew the clock and wear our defense out. We can help our defense out by sustaining drives. Hopefully that will put us in a position to win the game."
Nelson said this week in practice the offense has "put in some different wrinkles" to give him time to throw the ball downfield to receivers Cody Hoffman and Ross Apo.
While Nelson added that the goal in every game is to score at least 24 points, the Cougars are averaging just 15.6 points in their last three games, including six points against Utah State and 17 points a week ago at Notre Dame.
Georgia Tech, on the other hand, has had defensive issues this season, surrendering 42 points to Miami (Fla.), 49 to Middle Tennessee and 47 to Clemson.
Is Saturday's game an opportunity for the BYU offense to turn in one of its better games?
A couple weeks ago, Yellow Jacket coach Paul Johnson fired defensive coordinator Al Groh. In the first game under interim defensive coordinator Charles Kelly, Georgia Tech held Boston College to 17 points and allowed the Eagles to convert on only 1-of-9 third-down attempts last week. Kelly simplified the defensive scheme and allowed his players to use their athleticism to rely on their instincts. The Yellow Jackets forced two Boston College turnovers.
"Typically, with a midseason coordinator change, they don't come in and try to get fancy because there's not enough time to install a bunch of bells and whistles," Nelson said. "So we'll probably see some base defense, mostly zone defense. Other than that, they're just trying to play good defense, relying on their offense to chew the clock. They play a bend-don't-break style."
Johnson said he would like to see his defense put pressure on Nelson.
"With some (quarterbacks) you'd like to keep them in the pocket and see them throw it instead of pulling it down and running with it. He is pretty good at both and will kill you if you don't contain him. He's got great speed, is a great athlete and really hurts people when he gets out of the pocket."
Coach Bronco Mendenhall said he saw improvement from BYU's offense against Notre Dame. Nelson wasn't so sure.
"I’m not one to take moral victories," he said. "We didn't do what we had to do to get the win. In my mind, that wasn't a good enough effort. It may have been a good effort, but it wasn't good enough. We're looking to be good enough this week."
After playing Georgia Tech, BYU has a bye. The Cougars then close out the season with three games against Western Athletic Conference foes. So Saturday marks BYU's last chance for a victory over a high-profile program.
"They're an ACC team and they're battling the same thing we're battling as far as injuries," Nelson said. "They're a good, quality opponent. It's on the road. So we want to put a good showing in. We feel like through Oregon State and Notre Dame we have been on a gentle uphill climb. But it has been an uphill climb. We have been getting better and hope to continue to do that through Georgia Tech and on through the rest of the season."
Cougars and Yellow Jackets on the air
BYU (4-4) at Georgia Tech (3-4)
Saturday, 1 p.m. MT
Bobby Dodd Stadium, Atlanta, Ga.
TV: ROOT Sports
Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM
Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company