Just in case Sunday night did not make it clear, defense rules the NFL in 2016. The best teams in overall DVOA all combine top-five defenses with below-average offenses. The Eagles now lead the league in both defense and special teams and are back to No. 1 overall.
05 Sep 2011
by Robert Weintraub
In 2005, I drove out to Athens to see Boise State. At the time, they were a mid-major with some juice, and I was hoping they'd come to Georgia and give the locals a whupping. Instead, Georgia crushed Boise 48-13. I left at halftime, virtually the only time I’ve ever done that.
Saturday night, I went to see another Boise team take on UGA in its home state. This time, I stayed throughout. At halftime, I went to the lavatory, and reveled in the muttering and grumbling from the partisan Dawgs crowd (they made up about 90 percent of the 74,000 in the house). Offensive coordinator Mike Bobo took the brunt of the abuse from fans that didn’t want to admit they were getting beat down by a squad that supposedly couldn’t hang with an SEC team.
The final was 35-21, and it wasn’t that close. The Broncs dominated along both lines, especially on defense, where they sacked Aaron Murray six times and harassed him all night long. By contrast, Kellen Moore of Boise was scarcely touched, and carved up UGA’s young defense like a kosher butcher with a sturgeon.
Mark Richt now faces a must-win against the fightin’ cocks of South Carolina. Drop to 0-2 and the Ray Goff treatment will be coming from the UGA faithful. It’s an easy schedule after that though, and Georgia’s young talent is likely to improve as the season goes along, setting up a redemptive storyline for Richt even as many call for his head.
Meanwhile, there is seemingly little stopping Boise from an unbeaten season. They toyed with Georgia despite getting in Dutch with the NCAA, losing three Netherlanders to eligibility questions before the game. Only back-to-back games in November against TCU and at San Diego State figure to trouble the Blue Turfers, so prepare for two months and change of debating their BCS worthiness. If you prefer the root canal, I can’t say I blame you.
As for the aforementioned Frogs, was that really Tank Carder looking around in bewilderment as Baylor hung half a hundred on his defense Friday night? That’s usually a month of Saturdays against a Gary Patterson D. I refuse to call Robert Griffin III “RG3,” so let’s say that the “Waco Wonder” put on a display not seen on the Brazos since local legend Ted Nugent bagged several bucks on a single hunt with his bow and arrow. Griffin and sensational wideout Kendall Wright humiliated the purple swarm, hooking up for 189 yards and two touchdowns (of five thrown by Griffin). But it was a pass Wright threw to Griffin, on the rare double pass that saw the quarterback go right up the seam rather than run a wheel route, that converted a late third-and-10 and enabled the field goal that gave Baylor the monumental 50-48 win.
Say goodbye to TCU’s 25-game regular season winning streak. Another streak, Auburn’s 15-gamer (counting bowls and conference championship games), was all but lost. The defending national champs may have lost Cam Newton and Nick Fairley, but some things remain the same, like the Tigers wiping out seemingly insurmountable deficits. Down ten to Utah State with 3:38 to play? Get pushed around by a WAC also-ran all day (four TD drives of 14 or more plays)? No sweat. Two scores in the waning moments, a late sack on the otherwise brilliant true freshman Chuckie Keeton, and War Eagle! Instead of the win streak going by the boards, the Charmin goes up the sick oaks of Toomer’s Corner. New Tigers quarterback Barrett Trotter is no Newton, and his mustache needs more commitment, but he made the plays when needed. He was helped mightily by Trevonte Stallworth’s 7,907 yards after the catch (stat may be approximated). While clearly this ain’t 2010 Auburn, remember that the Tigers pulled out numerous games like this (OK, maybe not quite like this) en route to winning all the Tostitos last season.
Auburn may be in the midst of a startling run of snatching victory at the last gasp, but LSU? They invented it, at least under The Lester. No need at JerryWorld against Oregon, however, as the Bengals blitzed the Mallards 40-27. Make that two straight struggles for Oregon’s spread against SEC defensive lines that shut down the run. Next week’s Miami-Ohio St. contest may be the Non-Compliance Bowl, but LSU-Oregon was the Felony Bowl. The Tigers missed their alleged lawbreaker, Jordan Jefferson, far less than the Ducks did theirs, cornerback-returner Cliff Harris. The sturm und drang over Jefferson’s suspension for his An Officer and a Gentleman-style attack on a Marine at Shady’s Wine Bar and Brie Tasting Club in Baton Rouge eluded me. Didn’t anyone see JJ play last season? Jarrett Lee isn’t any worse, certainly. More to the point, LSU’s 11 strong, fast men on defense and special teams (especially Tyrann Mathieu) are enough to beat most opponents. Which is fortunate, given their brutal schedule.
A schedule that will doubtlessly be thrown in Boise State’s face while they are busy burying Toledo and Wyoming. After all, everyone knows if Boise played an SEC schedule they’d blah blah blah...
2. Boise State
5. Florida State
6. Texas A&M
7. Oklahoma State
10. South Carolina
11. Virginia Tech
13. Mississippi State
15. Michigan State
16. West Virginia
18. South Florida
22. Arizona State
NOTE: Obviously, the rankings are volatile this early. I give far more credit to the teams that actually played and beat quality opposition than those that rolled cupcakes.
Welcome to the second season of this column’s coverage of the best performances by “non-skill” players every week. We give love to the linemen and the linebackers, the defensive backs and the punters, who affect the game greatly but are essentially ineligible for the Heisman Trophy. Last season, Patrick Peterson started out fast, and Gabe Carimi came on strong, but it was Nick Fairley who put the full season together to win the OFI Lowsman Trophy Award. Who will be the lucky one this year?
Here are this week’s five spotlight performances:
1. Shea McClellin, DE Boise State. First among equals on the Broncs pass rush.
2. Brandon Herren, LB, Michigan. Amazingly, no Wolverine defender had ever scored two touchdowns in a game before Herren took a pick and a fumble back for sixes. His 94-yard interception return was the longest in school history as well.
3. Tyrann Mathieu, CB, LSU. Game-changing strip six on punt coverage plus ten tackles and airtight coverage.
4. Jerrell Young, S, South Florida. Had the all-important strip on the goal line that teammate Kayvon Webster returned for a momentum-swinging 96-yard score, and then sealed the deal with a late pick to send Irish eyes frowning.
5. Chris Brooks, K, Auburn. How can you not reward that perfect onside kick?
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