PROVO — Just when it seemed that BYU was playing its best football and building momentum — with the offense, defense and special teams making an impact — the Cougars are taking a break.
BYU (5-4) pummeled Georgia Tech, 41-17, in Atlanta last Saturday and will take a bye week before resuming the season Nov. 10 at home against lowly Idaho.
Coach Bronco Mendenhall welcomes the respite after nine consecutive weeks of wear and tear, not to mention a few close, heartbreaking losses. The Cougars have been decimated at some positions, especially on the offensive and defensive lines, due to injuries, although Mendenhall said there were no significant injuries against Georgia Tech.
"We could hardly practice in terms of physically going out against each other," Mendenhall said of last week's practices. "We worked really hard, but there's no players left. We need to get a few guys back."
The Cougars plan on savoring this win, especially since they hadn't tasted victory since Oct. 5 against Utah State. For Riley Nelson, it was the first time he had won a game as a starting quarterback since way back on Sept. 8 against Weber State.
"We have a bye week, so we don’t have to immediately move on to the next opponent," Nelson said. "We're going to let this sink in and enjoy it for a little while."
Mendenhall is confident his team will continue to improve as the season moves forward.
"I don't think (the bye) will dampen the momentum," he said. "I think it will add to it. That's the way I'll present it and try to structure it in that manner."
While BYU did surrender a pick-six and a 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against the Yellow Jackets, the Cougars dominated the game, rolling up 411 yards of total offense.
The BYU defense stymied Georgia Tech's triple-option attack, limiting the Yellow Jackets to their season-low of 157 yards of total offense, and a season-low of 117 yards rushing. The Ramblin' Wreck offense scored only a field goal, marking the first time the Yellow Jackets failed to score an offensive touchdown since 2008.
"You have to give BYU credit. They've got a good football team," said Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson. "They did what they needed to do all game, and what they didn't do was give up big plays. Every time it looked like we were going to get back into the game, they made the big plays they needed. Their kicking game was really a killer. They kept putting our defense in bad positions and really limited us from making good plays."
It was the fifth game this season that the Cougars have not allowed an offensive touchdown.
Asked to assess his defense this season, Mendenhall said, "I haven't coached one like this yet. I'm very proud of them. Of all the things I do as a head coach, I look forward to going into that room every day as kind of a sanctuary to be with guys I consider friends, united in what we're trying to accomplish. There's a high level of trust in there. It's a fun place for me to be."
At Georgia Tech, Nelson completed 20-of-29 passes for 228 yards with one touchdown and one interception. He also ran for one TD.
For Nelson, beating the Yellow Jackets was gratifying.
"To come down to ACC country and play a great opponent like Georgia Tech with all the history and tradition that they have, and really the talent they have on this team, I feel for them because we're right there along with them," Nelson said. "Their season hasn't gone how they thought it would go and they're battling every day. We consider ourselves fortunate to come away with a win."
Freshman running back Jamaal Williams became the first Cougar to score four touchdowns in a game since former receiver Luke Ashworth did it in 2010 against Colorado State. Williams rushed 28 times for 107 yards and caught three passes for 54 yards. He now has a team-high eight rushing touchdowns, third most among FBS freshman running backs.
Slot receiver/kick returner JD Falslev is looking forward to the bye week, but he's also eager to play another game.
"It will be nice to get the bye and recover a little here and there," he said. "We're banged up, but every other team in the country is banged up. It will be nice to have a bye week to collectively regroup and get some guys that haven't had as many reps some quality reps that they need. But you look forward to every game you can get because they fly by."
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