Last season, BYU went into Atlanta, running all over the Georgia Tech defense while holding its offense without a first down the entire game, cruising to a 41-17 win.
The Yellow Jackets come into Provo on Saturday with an obviously improved team as both teams enter the cusp of a game which could very well define their seasons. Both teams enter the game with a 3–2 record and have retooled different parts of their games to highlight their strengths.
In last season’s game, running back Jamaal Williams broke out on the national scene with a then-career high 107 yards rushing and 54 yards receiving and four total touchdowns. Williams has continued to excel, rushing for 457 yards so far this year, but hasn’t found the end zone yet. Williams is complemented in the rushing game by explosive dual threat quarterback Taysom Hill, who is ranked 14th in the nation in rushing yards, with 579, and leads the nation in rushing yards per attempt, with 7.7. Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson knows of the rushing talent the Cougars bring, having been gutted by it to the tune of 183 total yards on the ground last year.
“This year (the Cougars are) rushing the ball very well offensively; they’ve kind of committed to a different philosophy where they’re more option-oriented, more run-oriented, than the BYU teams in the past,” Johnson said. “They have a very talented quarterback, a good group of running backs and a veteran offensive line.”
Meanwhile, BYU has vastly improved its passing offense during the last two weeks, culminating in Hill’s 17–31, 278-yard, three touchdown performance in last week’s win over Utah State. All three scores went to giant sophomore receiver Mitch Mathews, as the passing game rose from dead last in the FBS standings to effectively complementing the rushing attack. Williams said the passing development opens up holes for him and the other backs to exploit.
“Having Taysom throw the ball like that gives our offense a double threat,” Williams said. “Now they need to watch out for passing, they don’t have to worry just about running. It opens it up for me, Taysom and all the other running backs.”
The Yellow Jackets come off losing its last two games to Virginia Tech and Miami after winning its first three. Sophomore quarterback Vad Lee, who was used sparingly in last year’s game against the Cougars, leads the triple option offense, which is ranked seventh in the nation in rushing yards per game. Lee has three touchdowns on the ground, while running back David Sims adds six. The Cougars held the Yellow Jackets to 0–10 on third down attempts last year, and head coach Bronco Mendenhall said defending the option became a project for him earlier in his career.
“Most of the things I’ve learned in this profession have come from really humble beginnings,” Mendenhall said. “In my first year at New Mexico, we got beat by Air Force and I had no idea what was going on with the option so it became a project. Last year, (Georgia Tech) didn’t convert a third down and we only played about 48 plays. That hardly ever happens when you’re playing against the option on defense. We certainly expect a different style of game, but it will be hard to duplicate what we did last year.”
The game will kick off at 5 p.m. and will be televised on ESPNU.