ATLANTA — There might be some nervous coaches on each sideline today if Georgia Tech and Brigham Young have to rely on late field goals.
The teams’ kickers have struggled in recent weeks.
Brigham Young (4-4) has made only one of its past five field goals, including a missed 46-yarder by Justin Sorensen in last week’s 17-14 loss to No. 5 Notre Dame.
Georgia Tech (3-4) has made only two of its past seven, including three misses in its 37-17 win over Boston College last week.
Justin Moore hopes he has a chance to end Georgia Tech’s kicking woes. Moore, who made 11 of 17 field goals last season, was beaten out by David Scully this year. Scully could miss today’s game with a hip injury, creating a possible opening for Moore.
“I’ve been waiting for an opportunity and it’s finally here so I’ve just got to make the best of it,” Moore said before adding with a laugh “which basically means don’t miss.”
Moore took over for Scully last week and made one of two tries. He said the game against BYU could be close, so he knows better than 50-percent success is expected.
“Last season I didn’t have the greatest season, making 65 percent or so,” said Moore, a junior. “I set my goals higher this year. I’ve already missed one. Right now, given this opportunity, I want to show I’ve grown a lot since last season, physically and mentally. Having a high percentage would show that.”
When asked to describe the depth chart at placekicker with Moore and Scully, coach Paul Johnson said “That’s an open competition.”
Senior Riley Stephenson, also BYU’s punter, made four of six field goals before Sorensen reclaimed the job only to miss four of his first five tries.
The Cougars will try to end a two-game losing streak. Three of BYU’s four losses have come to ranked teams, including the past two losses to No. 7 Oregon State (42-24) and Notre Dame.
BYU played close in a 24-21 loss at Utah and a 7-6 loss to No. 21 Boise State. Last week’s narrow loss to undefeated Notre Dame added more heartbreak.
“They hurt more, knowing you’re right there — one, two or three plays are the difference,” said BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall. “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, schedule more demanding. We’re playing better football against better teams. That’s what’s coming next and I welcome it, but we have to execute at an even higher level.”
Georgia Tech ended a three-game losing streak by beating Boston College. The Yellow Jackets gave up more than 40 points in each of the three losses, and Johnson fired defensive coordinator Al Groh in a bye week before the Boston College game.
Johnson gave Charles Kelly, the secondary coach, control of the defense for the remainder of the season.
Johnson’s spread-option offense made things easy for Kelly’s defense by running 91 plays and holding the ball almost 44 minutes. Johnson also had a good review for the defense.
“We played better on third down,” Johnson said. “That was the big thing. Offensively we held the ball. That will help too. But I thought our defensive coaches did a good job keeping things simple and letting guys play.”
Johnson said it will be more difficult for his offense, which had 391 yards rushing last week, to dominate against a strong BYU defense. The Cougars rank fourth in the nation in total defense and eighth against the run.
The only teams to gain 300 yards against BYU are undefeated Oregon State and Notre Dame.
“They’re very physical,” Johnson said. “They run to the ball. They’re well-coached. They play well together as a team, and they’ve been really good against the run.”
Mendenhall said he enjoys the challenge of devising a defense to stop Georgia Tech, the first option offense to play the Cougars since Air Force in 2010.
“I have good and bad days with defending the option,” he said. “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.”
BYU senior quarterback Riley Nelson has eight interceptions with three touchdown passes in his last three games. Overall, Nelson has passed for 1,236 yards with eight touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
“I still think we’re gaining momentum and making progress, and Riley is leading us while we do it,” Mendenhall said. “It might not be the prolific breakthrough that people want. But I still see us inching really close to breaking through.”
Georgia Tech quarterback Tevin Washington has been a more effective passer this season, but the senior is still more likely to run than pass. He has 111 carries for 471 yards and 15 touchdowns and has completed 53 of 86 passes for 887 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions.