Provo • This would seemingly be the most demanding week of BYU’s 2012 football season for coach Bronco Mendenhall, who doubles as the program’s defensive coordinator.
The Cougars travel to Atlanta on Saturday (1 p.m. MDT, ROOT) to face the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets and coach Paul Johnson’s renowned spread option offense at Bobby Dodd Stadium. It is one of the most prolific rushing offenses in college football again this season, averaging 339.5 yards per game on the ground, third-most in the country.
Unlike most defensive coordinators who dread having to face what some call the triple option, or the flexbone formation, Mendenhall has talked like he has waited for this week to get here all season.
“I am passionate about [defending it],” he said. “I like it a lot. I have [had] good and bad days defending the option. More good than bad. But when you are playing well, it is very gratifying. But when you are not, you feel helpless. So there is an extra sense of urgency. But I like the challenge. And hopefully the players will understand that. It is really hard [to defend].”
The last time BYU faced an offensive attack similar to Georgia Tech’s, it was one of those bad days.
On Sept. 11, 2010, Air Force rushed for 409 yards in a 35-14 win over BYU in Colorado Springs, breaking open a tight game late in the third quarter with a 46-yard touchdown run out of the option on 4th-and-2.
Mendenhall quickly pointed out Tuesday that he wasn’t the defensive coordinator — yet — that day and wasn’t involved in the defensive game plan. He had left that up to Jaime Hill, and the results were disastrous. After three more losses in which the Cougars gave up 307 rushing yards to Florida State, 239 rushing yards to Nevada and 242 rushing yards to Utah State, Mendenhall fired Hill and made himself the defensive coordinator.
Now he gets the chance to see if he can stop what he called “the most potent offensive team we’ve played yet in terms of scoring, yardage, diversity of plays and athletes. ... And it’s not close.”
Mendenhall said this is the 15th or 16th time he has prepared to defend the option, although not all are similar. For instance, Georgia Tech throws it better than most option teams, with quarterback Tevin Washington having improved significantly in that department since facing Utah in the Sun Bowl last December.
“So, yeah, quite a challenge coming up,” Mendenhall said.
Only four BYU defenders have faced the option in their college careers. Defensive end Russell Tialavea said the week has been spent focusing on individual assignments.
“Every single player on the defense has a big role, man,” he said. “Everybody has a specific job. If we do our jobs, play hard and aggressively, I feel like we are going to have a great game. It is going to be fun. We just have to play very soundly, and then we will be OK.”
Mendenhall said quick and shifty redshirt freshman Alex Kuresa has been the scout team quarterback this week, but past experience has shown that replicating the speed in which teams such as Air Force and Georgia Tech run the offense is impossible.
“Once you see it [on film], and are preparing for it [specifically], then you see additional things that are kind of intricacies that come with it,” Mendenhall said. “It is really good.”
Georgia Tech’s spread option offense
• 3rd in the country in rushing, averaging 340 ypg.
• 15th in the nation in total offense, averaging 497 ypg.
• Averaging 37.1 points per game, 24th-best in the country
• Quarterback Tevin Washington is the No. 2 scorer in the nation, averaging 13.1 ppg.
BYU at Ga. Tech
P Saturday, 1 p.m.
TV • ROOT Sports