Game grades: BYU vs. Georgia Tech

After losing to No. 5 Notre Dame by three points in South Bend a week ago, the Cougars come out firing on all cylinders against ACC foe Georgia Tech, winning 41-17. BYU freshman running back Jamaal Williams gave the Yellow Jackets (the nation's third-ranked rushing team prior to Saturday) a lesson on how to run the football.

The Cougars got it done on both sides of the ball, and it's harder to decipher with side of the ball had the bigger game. The Cougar defense, which was ranked eighth in the nation in rush defense going into Saturday, faced the nation's third ranked rushing offense.

As for the other side of the ball, the Cougar offense has struggled to find its groove due to injuries and inconsistent play. The offense seemed to be on the crest of breaking through against Notre Dame, and on Saturday it broke through.

Offense

Quarterback: B

Riley Nelson faced a tough Yellow Jacket defense and did a very good job of managing the game. While he did throw an interception that went for Yellow Jacket touchdown, Nelson was able to come back and lead the offense to a resounding victory on the road in Bobby Dodd Stadium. Nelson missed a few easy throws, one of which could have been a touchdown, but he made up for it with his decision making and drive-extending plays that kept the Cougar offense on the field. In a game in which Nelson needed to sustain drives, he did so. This was one of Nelson's better performances of the season.

Running backs: A+

Halfback Jamaal Williams turned in one of his better performances of his young career, and it occurred against a very good ACC defense. He ran the ball 28 times for 108 yards and three touchdowns, and also had a receiving touchdown. His vision between the tackle has grown leaps and bounds. His ability to read the flow of the front seven and attack the lanes made it very difficult for the Yellow Jacket defenders to stop him at the line of scrimmage. Although only a true freshman, Williams is playing way beyond his years and is an offensive weapon that defenses must account for. His ability to rush the ball made it much easier for Nelson to find his receivers downfield against safeties keying in on the run. The running of Williams allows the Cougar offense to open up and made it much more difficult for Yellow Jacket defensive coordinator Charlie Kelly to predict BYU's play-calling.

Wide receivers: A

BYU was able to take advantage of the outside and deep middle of the field against a defense that used its safeties to double team the outside. Credit BYU's rushing attack and blocking up front for that. The outside receivers, led by Cody Hoffman, turned in a very good performance in attacking the soft spots of the defense, blocking on the edge in the quick outlet passes, and taking advantage of lanes vacated by safeties looking to give run support. Ross Apo was able to get deep behind the safeties in man coverage for his longest catch of the year.

Tight ends: B

It was a modest day for the Cougar tight ends, who were primarily used in the blocking scheme up front against a very big Georgia Tech defensive line. Kanekua Friel made a difficult catch over the middle for a third down conversion and could have had a touchdown if it weren't for an errant throw by Nelson. The biggest impact the Cougar tight ends had on the day was their sound blocking up front against the Yellow Jacket linebackers to help open up run lanes for Williams.

Offensive line: B+

Heading into the game, offensive line play was the biggest concern. With senior Braden Hansen out, and Georgia Tech boasting some of the biggest defensive linemen in the ACC, there were some questions about how well the Cougars would play. Would they be able to manipulate Georgia Tech's front three, pick up the blitz, open up holes in the run game and provide Nelson with enough time to make downfield passes?

The Cougar offensive line executed its double team blocks well, shedded blocks at the right time, and was able to get into the second level of the Yellow Jacket defense to create rush lanes for Williams. The offensive game ball has to go to center Blair Tushaus, who not only did a very good job of targeting, but he also had to do so while blocking 6-foot-7-inch, 345-pound T.J. Barnes. It was a solid performance by the interior Cougar offensive line against some of the better defensive linemen in the ACC.

Defense

The Cougar defense allowed Notre Dame to reach the end zone only twice last week. This week against a triple option offense boasting the third-ranked rushing attack nationally, the Cougars allowed zero touchdowns. Last week, the Cougars lost the battle up front against the rushing attack of Notre Dame. This week the Cougars cleaned up their assignments and played their rushing lanes with greater precision, holding the Yellow Jacket offense to a total of only 157 yards. It was an outstanding performance by the Cougar defense against an offense known for capitalizing on execution breakdowns and confusion.

Defensive line: A

Once again the Cougar defensive line played a very good game, and, given the nature of the offense they faced, the Cougar front three held their gaps with discipline, pursued on the backside once their keys were had, and made plays behind the line of scrimmage. All three starters in Ziggy Ansah, Romney Fuga and Russell Tialavea, along with backups Bronson Kaufusi and Remington Peck, helped the linebackers to find their keys quickly and pursue to the ball.

Once again, Fuga was dominant in the middle closing down the fullback for most of the night, and Ansah played with the right mixture of sound gap assignment and pass rush from the outside. The play of the defensive line allowed the linebackers to read their keys quickly and attack the correct rush lanes, whether it was the fullback, quarterback or pitch-back.

Linebackers: A

The linebackers turned in one of their better run-stopping performances of the season. This was a clinic by the Cougar linebackers on how to play against the triple option offense. It was an outstanding performance by the Cougar linebackers in reading the play early and individually attacking the correct assignment with sound execution. The Cougar front seven held one of the nation's best rushing attacks to only 117 yards on the ground and an average of 3.3 yards per rush.

Defensive backs: A+

Against the triple option, if there is one position that can get caught napping, it's the secondary. However, that never happened on Saturday. BYU's cornerbacks played their passing assignments and contested every pass while reading the option quickly for run support. The Cougar secondary was well prepared and very quick to read their keys both in determining run and pass plays. Georgia Tech normally throws for more than 180 yards per game, but against the Cougar secondary, the Yellow Jackets only managed a measly 40 yards.

As far as safety play is concerned, their performance against Georgia Tech was a night-and-day difference from what it was against Notre Dame. The safeties, led by Daniel Sorensen and Craig Bills, did a much better job of containing the rushing lanes in what was a much more disciplined attack. The safety run support was much cleaner this week than it was last week, and it showed in the overall defensive performance.

Special teams: B-

Justin Sorensen missed a field goal that in the past would have normally been a chip shot for him. However, J.D. Falslev turned in one of the better kick return performances of the season. He returned three kickoffs for 129 yards, an average of 43 yards per return. The special teams needed to become an asset for the offense, and that is what happened. BYU's offense was able to play on a shorter field thanks to outstanding blocking lanes that allowed for big returns by Falslev. The kickoff team did give up a 97-yard touchdown return, the first of the season, on a coverage breakdown.


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