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Early Preview: BYU vs. Georgia Tech

23 July 2013 Brett Richins
Jamaal Williams scored four touchdowns against Georgia Tech in 2012. BYU PHOTO

Freshman Jamaal Williams scored four touchdowns against Georgia Tech in 2012. BYU PHOTO

This is the sixth article in a series of game-by-game early previews of the BYU football season. This edition focuses on BYU’s game against ACC opponent Georgia Tech on October 12th in Provo.

BYU leads the overall series with Georgia Tech 2-1 after going into Bobby Dodd Stadium last year and pasting the Ramblin’ Wreck 41-17.

In the lopsided win, the Cougar defense held the nation’s No. 3 rushing offense to just 117 yards on the ground and no offensive touchdowns.

Meanwhile, BYU freshman running back Jamaal Williams had a career day, accounting for 161 total yards of offense–more than the entire Georgia Tech team–and scoring four touchdowns on the day.

Despite being whipped by a relatively mediocre Cougar team on their home field, the Yellow Jackets ended up playing in the ACC championship game because of the fact that division champ Miami was ineligible to play in a bowl due to NCAA violations.

Although they lost the title game 21-15 to Florida State and finished the regular season with a 6-7 record, the Jackets were granted a waiver to play in the Sun Bowl where they defeated USC 21-7 and ended the 2012 campaign with a .500 mark.

In 2013, Georgia Tech is considered to be a factor once again in a tough ACC Coastal Division that also includes Miami, Virginia Tech, North Carolina and new conference addition Pittsburgh.

Yellow Jacket Offense Expected to Continue to Produce

Head coach Paul Johnson returns 16 starters on a senior-laden team, including all five starters from last year’s offensive line that helped Tech finish fourth in the country in rushing at 311 yards per game.

The standout player up front is center Jay Finch (6-3, 285 Sr.) who begins his third season as a starter for Johnson. He was recently tabbed as a preseason candidate for the Rimington Trophy for the nation’s best center.

A long-time advocate of the option game, Johnson reportedly has plans to incorporate the pistol formation into his attack this season in order to take advantage of the talents of his new starting quarterback Vad Lee (6-2, 215 So.). The coach has specifically been studying up on how the San Francisco 49ers utilize the abilities of Colin Kaepernick.

Lee is a dangerous athlete and has the reputation of being a better passer than his predecessor Tevin Washington, who completed just one of his five passing attempts against BYU last season and threw and interception that was returned 26 yards by Cougar strong safety Daniel Sorensen.

As a freshman, Lee was 3-of-7 passing for 31 yards against BYU and rushed five times for 14 yards. He finished the season averaging 5.7 yards per rushing attempt and was second on the team with nine touchdowns. As the back up, he completed just 48 percent of his passes, a number that is expected to improve with increased reps and opportunity.

Expect Lee and Johnson to lean heavily on senior running back David Sims (6-0, 225 Sr.), who is on the preseason watch list for the Doak Walker Award. Sims started seven games and was second on the team in rushing in 2012 with 612 yards from his “B” back position. Against the Cougars, however, he had just 32 yards on 11 carries.

Sims will have to carry more of the load in the ground game with the graduation of the talented Orwin Smith, who rushed for 682 yards and led the team in receiving yards with 288.

Though the Jackets don’t throw the football a lot, they do have some experience coming back at the wide receiver spot in big Darren Waller (6-5, 228 Jr.). Waller only caught eight passes last year as a sophomore, but averaged over 20 yards per reception.

As a team, Georgia Tech averaged just 130 yards per game through the air, which was 115th in the country. But the Yellow Jackets were tops in the country in yards per completion at 17.8–so when they did throw the ball it often went for big yardage.

Again, the BYU defense did a stellar job of limiting the big play in last year’s match-up, giving up just 40 yards through the air and holding the Tech quarterbacks to just four completions on the day.

Tech Looking for Answers on Defense

The weak spot for Georgia Tech last season was on the defensive side of the ball, where Johnson let go defensive coordinator Al Groh midstream last year and then hired Tech alum and former Penn State assistant Ted Roof.

Roof has installed a 4-3 defensive scheme in the hopes of improving a squad that surrendered 28 points per game, and gave up 40 or more points six times. In the three successive weeks prior to Roof’s arrival last season, the Yellow Jackets gave up 42 points to Miami, 49 to Middle Tennessee State, and 47 to Clemson.

Although the defense still had its struggles after Groh departed, it showed improvement by the end of the season, giving up just 28 total points in the final two games against the Seminoles and Trojans.

Roof does have talent at his disposal this season, with at least three players projected as potential NFL draft picks for next April and a total of eight starters returning.

The headliner is Jeremiah Attaochu (6-3, 242 Sr.) who will make the transition from outside linebacker to defensive end this season and has the chance to be one of the premier players in the country off the edge. Attaochu is a preseason candidate for four of the nation’s major post-season awards and is considered one of the top defensive talents in the ACC.

Both of Tech’s corners are seniors and both have a chance of being drafted next year as well.

Louis Young (6-1, 196 Sr.) has good size and is a physical player who has the reputation for having a nose for the ball. He’s likely to draw the assignment opposite Cody Hoffman in this year’s contest. Cody had just 69 yards against Tech last season, his fourth lowest output of the year.

Jamea Thomas (5-10, 195 Sr.) led the Ramblin’ Wreck with four interceptions in 2012 and was second on the team with 86 tackles. Having experience at both safety and corner, he’ll move full-time to cornerback in 2013. His best attribute may be his footwork, which allows him to be effective in one-on-one coverage. His drawback against BYU will be his lack of height against the Cougars’ towering wideouts that will range from 6-3 to 6-6.

Also back is safety Isaiah Johnson (6-2, 208 Sr.), who returned a Riley Nelson interception 22 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter last year.

BYU fans will also want to keep an eye on middle linebacker Jabari Hunt-Days (6-3, 252 So.), who is a rising star in the ACC. As a freshman he started all 14 games and garnered first-team freshman All-American honors, finishing third on the team in tackles with 84. He also had four pass breaks ups, one interception, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.

Hunt-Days leads a linebacking corps that returns three starters, including Brandon Watts (6-2, 238 Sr.) and Quayshawn Nealy (6-1, 232 Jr.). The two outside backers combined for at total of 26 starts last season.

Special Teams Questions

On special teams Georgia Tech returns Jamal Golden, who was the only player in the country to rank in the top 10 in both kick and punt returns in 2012. He returned two kickoffs for touchdowns last season, including a 97-yarder against the Cougars.

The Yellow Jackets need to find an answer at place kicker. At this point it looks like the job could fall to incoming freshman Harrison Butker. Much like BYU, Tech has struggled in the kicking game in recent years.

Senior punter Sean Poole returns after averaging just 39.7 yard per punt last year.

The Bottom Line

For the most part, the BYU defense has been nails against option teams over the years. The many seasons of facing Air Force’s option attack played into BYU’s hands in last year’s match-up between these two inter-sectional opponents as the Cougars smothered Georgia Tech’s vaunted offense.

Can Johnson devise some wrinkles to give Bronco Mendenhall’s defense some problems in Provo this time around? Probably not. Although Ziggy Ansah will be gone, there is plenty of talent for Bronco to employ, and plenty of speed to get to the edge. If anything, the Cougars will be better prepared, having already experienced first hand what the Yellow Jackets have to offer on offense.

Defensively, Tech should be improved over the team that BYU saw in 2012, however there will probably still be some bumps in the road this coming season as Roof works toward improvement.

A brutal schedule, that includes a three-game stretch against Coastal Division contenders North Carolina, Virginia Tech and Miami, has the potential to knock the stuffing out of this team prior to traveling across country and playing at elevation in Provo.

BYU played perhaps its best offensive game of the season in Atlanta last year, rolling up 411 yards and 41 points on the road. The bad news for Tech is that the Cougars should be much improved offensively, pending some solutions being found along the offensive line. This game is not likely to be quite as lopsided as last year, but BYU will still control the game while playing on its home field.

Early Prediction: BYU 30 Georgia Tech 10

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