ATLANTA — Jamaal Williams hardly played his age, and it couldn’t have come at a better time for Brigham Young.
“I really don’t think of myself as 17,” the freshman running back said. “I think of myself as a college football player. I’m trying to make it as far as I can.”
Williams scored four touchdowns, quarterback Riley Nelson helped account for two TDs and BYU snapped a two-game losing streak with a 41-17 victory over Georgia Tech on Saturday.
The Cougars (5-4) recovered from last week’s three-point loss at No. 5 Notre Dame by holding Georgia Tech’s triple-option attack without a rushing touchdown for the first time in two years and without an offensive touchdown for the first time since 2008.
Georgia Tech (3-5) has lost four of five. The Yellow Jackets’ offense failed on all 10 of its third-down attempts while their defense was gouged for 411 yards.
“I was really encouraged, starting last Monday, with the way that our team’s mindset was,” BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said.
“I could tell in our team meeting that they were really determined. We asked a lot of them.”
BYU, which began the day with the nation’s fourth-ranked defense, had lost its past three road games by a combined seven points.
The Jackets finished with just 117 yards rushing, nearly 223 under their average.
The Yellow Jackets also struggled on special teams.
Justin Moore missed a 35-yard field goal wide left that would’ve cut the lead to four, and Ryan Rodwell had a punt blocked by Kyle Van Noy that set up Nelson’s 10-yard TD run and gave the Cougars a 21-7 lead.
The Jackets’ kickoff coverage was porous, allowing 148 yards on four returns, thanks mostly to the work of specialist JD Falslev.
“Every time it looked like we were going to get back in the game, they made the big plays they needed,” Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said.
“Their kicking game was really a killer. They kept putting our defense in bad positions and really limited us from making good plays.”
Williams ran 28 times for 107 yards. Nelson completed 19 of 28 passes for 204 yards and helped BYU’s offense convert nine of 16 third-down attempts.
The Cougars held the ball almost 18 minutes more than Georgia Tech, which began the game with nation’s No. 3 rushing attack.
David Sims led Georgia Tech with 32 yards on 11 carries. Quarterback Tevin Washington, who was benched late in the second half as Johnson sent in Vad Lee, was just 1-for-5 passing for nine yards.
Washington was picked off by Daniel Sorensen late in the third, and Williams scored from the 1 two snaps later to make it 31-14.
“Going into the game I intended to get Vad play some,” Johnson said. “It then became apparent that it wasn’t working the other way, so we put him in to try and get something going.”
Johnson wasn’t sure if Washington, a fifth-year senior, will keep his job. The Jackets return to Atlantic Coast Conference play next week at Maryland.
“I’m going to take a look at it,” Johnson said, “and we’ll see.”
Georgia Tech’s best highlight on defense came when safety Isaiah Johnson picked off Nelson midway through the first and ran back the interception 22 yards down the left sideline to make it 7-7.
Otherwise, the Cougars did pretty much what they wanted to do in casting Georgia Tech aside.
“It was fun,” Sorensen said. “We had a blast out there. I think that’s one of the most fun games I’ve played in. We prepared a lot for this team and we executed well.”
Williams likes BYU’s chances to keep its momentum going, particularly with a bye week approaching. The Cougars are off until Nov. 10 when they host Idaho.
Williams is ready to take a handoff any time BYU calls his number.
“I love working hard,” Williams said. “I’m just grateful to be getting the ball and having to do what I have to do.”