ATLANTA — Paul Johnson says Georgia Tech's powerful running game, which was dominant in last week's lopsided win over Boston College, will face a different challenge on Saturday against Brigham Young's stout run defense.
The Yellow Jackets ended a three-game losing streak by running 91 plays — the team's high mark in five years under Johnson — and running for almost 400 yards in the 37-17 win over Boston College.
Georgia Tech (3-4) boasts the nation's No. 3 running game in Johnson's spread-option attack.
BYU (4-4) ranks eighth in the nation against the run. The Cougars' defense has taken some hits in back-to-back losses to two undefeated teams, Oregon State and Notre Dame.
BYU gave up 270 yards rushing in last week's 17-14 loss to No. 5 Notre Dame. The Cougars gave up 450 yards in a 42-24 loss to Oregon State the previous week.
Johnson noted BYU also has a loss to a third Top 25 team, No. 21 Boise State.
Johnson opened his weekly news conference on Tuesday by saying BYU is "a really, really good football team."
"I don't think their record indicates how good a team they are," Johnson said. "They've lost three games to ranked teams, two in the top 10. They are top 10 in about every defensive category and they're always a big, physical team, and this year is no exception.
"They are well-coached and playing very well, especially defensively."
Georgia Tech's struggles on defense have led to Johnson's midseason switch of defensive coordinators. Johnson replaced Al Groh in a bye week before the Boston College game and named secondary coach Charles Kelly the interim coordinator for the remainder of the season.
The defense, which had allowed more than 40 points in three straight losses, seemed to respond to Kelly's efforts to simply the scheme.
No changes have been needed on offense. Quarterbacks Tevin Washington and Vad Lee combined for 125 yards rushing and three touchdowns, and running back Zach Laskey added 101 yards rushing.
The Yellow Jackets are averaging 37.7 points per game.
BYU, playing its second season as an independent, regularly played Air Force's option offense in the Western Athletic Conference. Coach Bronco Mendenhall said the challenge from Georgia Tech will be different.
"Parts are similar. But parts are not," Mendenhall said, adding Georgia Tech is averaging "about 500 yards a game and 37 points."
"They are very good," Mendenhall said. "They run it really well. They do some unique things with the option and they throw it better than you'd think. So yeah, quite a challenge coming up."
Mendenhall said facing the unusual spread option attack, which includes triple-option plays and a more potent passing punch this season, is a challenge he savors.
"I am passionate about it," Mendenhall said of the challenge of devising a scheme against the attack. "I like it a lot. I have good and bad days with defending the option. More good than bad, but when you're playing well it's very gratifying. When you're not, you're helpless. So there is an extra sense of urgency but I like the challenge."
Washington, a senior, has 15 rushing touchdowns and ranks second in the nation with his average of 12.86 points per game.
Washington doesn't throw often, but he has been more accurate than other recent Georgia Tech quarterbacks. He has completed 61.6 percent of his passes (53 of 86) for 887 yards and four touchdowns.
Washington is the established starter, but still Johnson has been finding more time for Lee, who has rushed for four touchdowns and passed for two scores in his backup role.
Lee passed for 89 yards with a touchdown and run for 62 yards with another touchdown against Boston College.
"Clearly he's a good athlete and capable of making big plays," Johnson said.
Still, Johnson is looking for improvement from the freshman. He noted Lee has to guard against fumbles and make better reads at times on option plays.
"But he's an exciting player and he kind of gives you a boost when he's out there, no question about it," Johnson said.
NOTES: Johnson said there is an "open competition" between kickers David Scully and Justin Moore. Scully was replaced by Moore after missing field goals from 22 and 28 yards against Boston College. The 22-yard attempt was blocked. Scully was held out of practices on Monday and Tuesday with a hip injury. Johnson said Tuesday he didn't know Scully was hurt until he pulled him out of Saturday's game.