Kragthorpe: BYU defense deserves title of school's best ever
Win over Georgia Tech gives Cougars' defense another game without allowing a touchdown.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Atlanta

Kyle Van Noy stared, squinted and strained, barely making out some of the numbers that jumped off a stat sheet suitable for framing.

The BYU linebacker eventually gave up, having experienced limited success in deciphering his defense's work Saturday.

"I don't have my glasses," Van Noy explained.

That's a valid excuse. As for the Yellow Jackets, well, coach Paul Johnson's analysis is sufficient. "We flat-out got our tails whipped," he said after BYU's 41-17 victory at Bobby Dodd Stadium.

In a broad sense, the Cougars' all-around performance came too late to make this a genuinely memorable season. Yet the usually dynamic Georgia Tech offense served an important purpose.

Tech's futility cemented this 2012 BYU defense as the best in school history.

The tragedy is that the defense's phenomenal work partly has been wasted by an offense that through some combination of inconsistency, injuries and inadequate coaching and quarterbacking simply could not match the defense's standards.

The offense was fine Saturday, overcoming Riley Nelson's interception that Tech returned for a touchdown by sustaining drives and taking advantage of excellent field position. It all came together for the Cougars in this game, which has not always been the case this season.

Don't be deceived by Tech's 17 points. Two touchdowns came via that interception and a kickoff return. This makes five games in which the BYU defense has not allowed a touchdown, and Georgia Tech's innovative option scheme makes this performance the most impressive of all.

"I haven't coached any [defense] like this yet," said BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall, in a statement that accounts for 20 years of working with college defenses.

In BYU history, this defense now tops the 1986 group led by linemen Jason Buck and Shawn Knight and the '98 unit headlined by linebacker Rob Morris. Those teams also had unfulfilling seasons because of the offenses' struggles.

Looking ahead, Mendenhall is eager to "see how good we can get" and "see how much potential we can squeeze out of this team." Yet the reality is that BYU (5-4) can prove only so much against its remaining opponents.

For that reason, the credibility earned against Georgia Tech's offense is vital to how this defense will be remembered. The Yellow Jackets were averaging 339 rushing yards and 497 total yards; BYU held them to 117 and 157.

Tech went 0 for 10 in third-down conversions and failed to score an offensive touchdown for only the second time in Johnson's five seasons. Time of possession is often meaningless, but not in Tech's case. With considerable help from BYU's offense, the Cougars allowed the home team to hold the ball for barely 21 minutes.

"We had a blast out there," safety Daniel Sorensen said. "We love when teams try to to run the ball and come after us."

After wearing down and allowing Notre Dame to run for 270 yards, BYU responded. "I think it came down to a lot of pride," Sorensen said. "That affected us a lot."

And with Sorensen's interception return to the 2-yard line and Van Noy's blocked punt at the Tech 13, BYU's defensive players basically can take credit for 14 points, while allowing three.

Summarizing the defense's season, Van Noy said, "It's been really good, but we're not finished yet."

Those words should be frightening to BYU's remaining opponents, undistinguished as they are.

kkragthorpe@sltrib.com

Twitter: @tribkurt