Atlanta • When BYU football coach Bronco Mendenhall said earlier this week that he had a passion for defending the spread-option offense, perhaps the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets should have listened and learned.
Because what happened Saturday afternoon to Tech’s famed rushing attack simply does not happen, especially not at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
BYU’s Mendenhall-directed defense happened.
And this time, the offense got out of the way, even contributed, as the Cougars walloped the Atlantic Coast Conference foe 41-17 in front of 50,103 fans, including an estimated 7,500 or so who pulled for BYU and stayed long after the game to celebrate a rare win in the Eastern time zone for the Cougars.
“I couldn’t have scripted it any better,” said Mendenhall, after BYU snapped a two-game losing streak, and a seven-game losing skid in the East by overpowering its hosts on both sides of the ball.
Freshman Jamaal Williams nearly scored a touchdown for each of his six family members who attended the game — getting three short rushing TDs and a 39-yard TD reception that sealed the win — and picked up a career-high 107 yards on 28 bruising carries.
“Jamaal is a special dude,” said JD Falsev, who had three kick returns for a combined 129 yards, which led to 17 BYU points.
Quarterback Riley Nelson bounced back with some stellar playmaking — and decision-making, finally — after throwing his third pick-six of the season. He finished 19 of 28 for 204 yards and the shovel-pass that Williams took for a TD.
But the big stars were BYU’s defenders and the head coach/defensive coordinator who designed the scheme that held Tech to just 117 rushing yards. That’s the same Tech that entered the game averaging 339 rushing yards and 37 points per game.
The numbers were mind-boggling: BYU ran off 75 plays to Tech’s 47, which is about what the Cougars said they prepared to see in each half. The Cougars (5-4) held the ball for a second short of 39 minutes; Tech had it the other 21.
“I haven’t coached [a defense] like this yet,” Mendenhall said. “I’m very proud of them.”
Tech was 0 for 10 on third down, while BYU played keepaway itself, going 9 for 16 on third down.
Unbelievably, it is a defense that has now kept four of the so-called offensive coaching geniuses in the game — Washington State’s Mike Leach, Boise State’s Chris Petersen, Hawaii’s Norm Chow and now GT’s Paul Johnson — from scoring an offensive touchdown this season.
“There’s been 15 or 16 years of defending Air Force,” Mendenhall said. “It’s kind of a passion I have to defend the option. … We presented it very clearly to our players, but they took their assignments and just ran with it. They liked the challenge.”
There were some tense moments, however. After Mendenhall elected to receive the opening kickoff to give the offense a boost of confidence, and Nelson drove the Cougars 55 yards on 12 plays for a 7-0 lead, the senior lefthander threw an ill-advised pass into traffic. Tech’s Isaiah Johnson took it back 22 yards to knot the score.
But BYU and Nelson recovered nicely, and a 43-yard throw to Ross Apo set up Williams’ second short TD run. Kyle Van Noy blocked a punt to set up BYU’s third touchdown, Nelson’s 10-yard, tackle-breaking run, only to watch the Cougars give up their first kickoff return for a touchdown since 2009 — Jamal Golden’s 97-yarder.
The Cougars just got stingier in the second half, however, with Tech’s only score — a field goal — coming after three personal fouls on BYU defenders accounting for 36 yards of a 70-yard drive. It could have been more lopsided, but BYU got just three points out of two second-half drives inside the Tech 10.
“I’m really happy for our players after some really close setbacks, three games by a total of seven points,” Mendenhall said. “I was [eager] to see them smile and see a victory come out of their efforts.”
His work — as well as his smile — was noticeable as well.
Storylines BYU shuts down spread-option offense
R In Short • BYU uses another dominant performance from its defense, and gets some help from the offense this time, to wallop Georgia Tech.
Key Moment • Kyle Van Noy blocks a Georgia Tech punt, giving BYU the ball at the Jackets’ 13-yard-line. Two plays later, Riley Nelson’s 10-yard run gives the Cougars a 21-7 lead.
Key Stat • Georgia Tech was averaging 339 rushing yards per game, third-best in the country, but had just 117 against the Cougars.