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Cougars sure-footed in Georgia Tech preparation

Cougars sure-footed in Georgia Tech preparation

Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes

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Two wins, two losses, two wins, two losses. Such has been life for BYU football so far this season. If that pattern continues to dictate the Cougars' schedule, then things are looking good for this weekend's game at Georgia Tech.

Coming off its second of two consecutive losses against top 10 teams, BYU is all but desperate to prove itself.

The thing is, so is Georgia Tech.

Things haven't turned out as well as they could have this season for the Yellow Jackets, who hold a 3-4 record — numbers not expected after four straight weeks as a bubble team in the top 25 rankings.

Regardless of who wants a win more, the two teams will face off in Atlanta on Saturday, where the Cougars will claw for their first road-game win of the season.

Once again, BYU flies in as the underdog — a feat not so worrisome after coming three points shy of beating 5th-ranked Notre Dame.

Georgia Tech quarterback Tevin Washington, center, celebrates with teammates Robert Godhigh, left, and Zach Laskey, right, after scoring a touchdown (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Georgia Tech quarterback Tevin Washington, center, celebrates with teammates Robert Godhigh, left, and Zach Laskey, right, after scoring a touchdown (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Even with the close call against the Fighting Irish, though, many experts are still calling the game a Yellow Jacket win.

"(Riley) Nelson's lack of discretion throwing the football and the clock-chewing Yellow Jacket offense will be enough for the home team to squeak by," writes Matt Fitzgerald of Bleacher Report. "BYU will remain winless on the road and hope that a home game against Idaho can get the team back on track."

For BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall, getting back on track is an invitation he's happy to accept.

"Our program intends to keep grinding out," Mendenhall said. "There have been four really close games and tough losses. I still think we’re gaining momentum and making progress, and Riley (Nelson) is leading us while we do it. It might not be the prolific breakthrough that people want, but I still see us inching really close to breaking through."

To fans wary of BYU's saddening record, Mendenhall offers encouragement.

"(Lost games) hurt more, knowing you’re right there -- one, two or three plays are the difference. But we’re playing good teams and we’re playing them on the road. When I started this job to where it is now, expectations are even higher, schedules more demanding. We’re playing better football against better teams. That’s what’s coming next and I welcome it."

The prime showdown during Saturday's game will be between Georgia Tech's offense, which is third in rushing passes, against BYU's defense, which ranked eighth in rushing defense.

But Samuel Benson, a featured reporter for Bleacher Report, sees BYU's defense on a decline, while quarterback Nelson is on a roll.

Speaking of the senior from Logan, Utah, Nelson is handling last week's loss with poise, particularly concerning the could've-been plays of which many have blamed on him.

"The play to Cody (Hoffman) we overcame because that was on a first down and we ended up getting a first down off of that, so I mean you could say, 'Oh, we could've scored a touchdown,'" he said. "Well, you can say that about any hand-off to Jamaal (Williams) -- 'If only we would've blocked this guy with that tackle.' So it was a big play at a big time, but we ended up getting the first down and the drive continued."

Though Nelson may have moved on, some still peg the Nelson-Hoffman missed opportunity as what could've been Nelson's defining moment.

Where others lag in the past, Nelson is already visualizing the three areas that'll grant BYU success against Georgia Tech: scoring touchdowns, mounting and sustaining drives and focusing on each play of the game.

"(The Yellow Jackets are) probably not playing with as much swagger or confidence as Notre Dame because their season hasn't gone the way they thought it would go, but they're definitely capable of playing hard and taking us behind the woodshed, if we don't prepare," said Nelson.

A unique angle Georgia Tech has taken in mental preparation for BYU is the age gap between many of the football players on the opposing teams, claiming the additional two years many Cougars have will show literally with size, as well as in the play-making decisions on the field.

"It makes a big difference," said Mike Sewak, Georgia Tech offensive line coach. "It’s guys that are bigger, more mature, their bodies have already gone through the adolescent stage and they’ve gotten themselves up in there."

To those hesitant about how many tough teams at away locations the Cougar team can handle, Nelson offers solace.

"We can handle it. We're a veteran team. We're doing everything we can to make sure our bodies are prepared for the trip and to be in good shape when we step out on the field on Saturday," Nelson said.

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Alex Hoeft


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