Atlanta • Two weeks after playing host to then-No. 8 Oregon State, and a week after going toe-to-toe with the No. 5-ranked Fighting Irish at Notre Dame Stadium, BYU’s football team takes on the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Georgia Tech here Saturday afternoon.
For the Cougars, independence never felt so good — even if their 4-4 record doesn’t quite leave their fans tingling inside.
“It’s a cool place to play — against a good team,” coach Bronco Mendenhall said of the 1 p.m. MT kickoff at Bobby Dodd Stadium against the 3-4 Yellow Jackets. “I think [teams] feel the same way [when they visit LaVell Edwards Stadium].”
This is the new normal for BYU football — another cross-country trip to a place it has only visited once before — and is pretty close to what athletic director Tom Holmoe envisioned way back on Sept. 1, 2010, when he said the independent Cougars would play games all around the country against many of the “storied football programs in their legendary stadiums.”
This is the last game this season against a relatively high-profile opponent, and BYU’s last chance to make a statement, minor as it may be, after falling just short against ranked foes Boise State, OSU and Notre Dame.
“Yeah, no question,” said BYU quarterback Riley Nelson. “They are an ACC team … a quality opponent, and it is on the road. So we want to go and put a good showing in. We feel like we have been on a gentle uphill climb, that we have been getting better. We hope to do that through the Georgia Tech [game], and on through the rest of the season.”
November is filled with a bye next week and then Western Athletic Conference foes Idaho, New Mexico State and San Jose State as the two-year scheduling agreement with the WAC that enabled BYU’s move out of the Mountain West Conference concludes.
Next year, Holmoe has maintained, will provide the best example yet of what BYU’s schedule as an independent will look like going forward. It includes trips to Houston, Wisconsin, Notre Dame, Hawaii and Utah State and home games against Boise State, Utah, Texas, Georgia Tech, Middle Tennessee State and two other opponents that have not yet been announced.
Single-game ticket sales for Saturday are higher than normal for a Georgia Tech home game, and school officials have attributed that to BYU fans in the Southeast jumping at a rare opportunity to see the Cougars play in this part of the United States, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Some have estimated that more than 5,000 BYU fans will be at the 60,000-seat venue under sunny skies and temperatures in the high 60s.
Mendenhall said the feedback he’s received from BYU fans and LDS Church members in areas where the Cougars are scheduled to play “has been overwhelming” and he wouldn’t be surprised to see a good chunk of the stadium in Cougar blue.
Oddly, however, the coach has not been using the trips to provide unique cultural experiences for his players. Last week, the team did nothing out of the ordinary on its visit to South Bend, and nothing special is planned this weekend.
“It’s a business trip,” Nelson said. “We are there focusing in the hotel on the game plan, and putting the finishing touches on that. Then we go to the stadium and play, and then leave. I can go see Atlanta, or I can go see South Bend, another time.”
Sea to shining sea
BYU’s future football road trips:
2012 • at New Mexico State, at San Jose State
2013 • at Houston, at Wisconsin, at Notre Dame, at Hawaii, at Utah State
2014 • at Central Florida, at Texas, at Boise State, at Middle Tennessee State
2015 • at Nebraska, at Hawaii, at Southern Miss
BYU at Georgia Tech
P At Bobby Dodd Stadium (Atlanta, Ga.)
Kickoff • 1 p.m. MDT
TV • ROOT
Radio • 1160 AM, 102.7 FM
Records • BYU 4-4; Georgia Tech 3-4
Series history • Tied 1-1
Last meeting • BYU 24, Georgia Tech 13 (Aug. 28, 2003)
About the Yellow Jackets • They own the nation’s third-leading rushing attack this season at 339.6 yards per game. … Senior QB Tevin Washington has rushed for 15 touchdowns, including four in a 49-28 loss to Middle Tennessee State. … They have not allowed a sack since Sept. 29 against MTSU. … They are coming off a 37-17 win over Boston College that snapped a four-game losing skid.
About the Cougars • Coach Bronco Mendenhall is 0-4 against Atlantic Coast Conference opponents in his eight-year tenure. … They have lost two straight, but have not lost three in a row since they started 1-4 in 2010. … They are No. 8 in the nation in run defense, allowing 93.1 yards per game. … Junior WR Cody Hoffman has caught a pass in 27 straight games, tied for the 10th-longest streak in the nation.