Provo • BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall often has said that game days are his least favorite day of the week, preferring instead to be away from the crowds, noise and added pressures that come with leading a Division I college football program.
Although Mendenhall said he came to the realization a few months ago that he loves his job, he rather would be conducting meetings and practices at the football facilities on campus than standing in front of 64,000 or so fans at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
But that will change, for one day at least, when the Cougars play host to Georgia Tech on Saturday (5 p.m., ESPNU). That’s because the Ramblin’ Wreck will roll into Provo with their famed triple-option offense, and the defensive-minded Mendenhall likes nothing more than the challenge of trying to slow down that particular style of attack.
“Coach [Paul] Tidwell told us this week, ‘This is kind of his baby, playing against the option offense,’ ” BYU linebacker Austen Jorgensen said. “So he loves it, man. He is up in your face, and if you are in the wrong spot, you are going to do it again until you get it right. He just loves it.”
In last year’s 41-17 win over the Yellow Jackets (3-2) in Atlanta, Mendenhall’s defense — he since has relegated the title of defensive coordinator to Nick Howell but still calls the plays — held Tech to just 157 yards, about 340 yards below its average. Coach Paul Johnson’s offense went 0 for 10 on third down, did not score an offensive touchdown and was so thoroughly dominated that the coaching veteran said BYU “took us to the woodshed probably as good as any time since I’ve been here.”
Several longtime college football observers said it was the most dominant defensive performance between two seemingly evenly matched teams that they ever had seen, given the circumstances.
“You know, it could be,” said Tidwell, BYU’s inside linebackers coach, a 37-year coaching veteran. “That was, I think, one of the best performances against an option football team that I’ve been associated with. It was really good.”
The Cougars were steam rolled 35-14 by Air Force in 2010 the last time they faced the spread-option, giving up 409 rushing yards, so many believed Georgia Tech would do the same thing. They perhaps had forgotten that Jaime Hill was the defensive coordinator at the time, and Mendenhall fired him three games later, partly due to the defense’s performance against the Falcons.
“I don’t know if [stopping the option] is a specialty,” Mendenhall said Monday, recounting the story of how Air Force whipped New Mexico 56-14 in 1998, his first year as the Lobos’ defensive coordinator.
“I had no idea what was going on with the option. So it became kind of a project. I had to learn more about it. But I like the challenge.”
Tidwell said Mendenhall just doesn’t know how to defend the option, he knows how to teach players to defend it.
“He does a good job teaching it, and teaches the coaches, and the coaches teach the players,” Tidwell said. “So with his experience and the way he comes across teaching the players, it is a good combination.”
Can he do it again, without graduated defensive stars Ziggy Ansah, Romney Fuga and Preston Hadley, injured cornerback Jordan Johnson and suspended linebacker Spencer Hadley?
“It will be hard to do again,” Mendenhall said. “Last year, they didn’t convert a third down, and so we only played like 48 plays. That hardly ever happens when you play an option offense. So we expect certainly a different style of game. Similar offense, but it will be hard to duplicate what we did a year ago.”
Georgia Tech against BYU’s defense in 2012
• Season lows in total yards (157), rushing yards (117), passing yards (40) and total points (17).
• Tech gained 340 yards below its season average.
• Went 0 for 10 on third down.
• Did not score an offensive touchdown in 41-17 loss.
• Kyle Van Noy blocked a punt and safety Daniel Sorensen returned an interception to the 1-yard line.