Possibly the closest Super Bowl matchup in history also poses the question: how much does it mean when certain aspects of an NFL team improve dramatically in the second half of the season?
04 Nov 2013
by Matt Hinton
For sheer statistical absurdity, clearly, 2013 belongs to the offenses. Baylor is averaging upwards of 700 yards and 60 points per game, sums of such fire and brimstone the Bears have risen from out of the polls entirely in the preseason and into the top five despite a marquee win over Buffalo. Oregon and Florida State are averaging well over 50 points apiece, and winning by nearly 40. Through ten weeks, 15 FBS teams are putting up at least 40 points per game, up from eight teams in 2012, nine in both 2011 and 2010 and just two in 2009. If you're generating 400 yards per game in total offense right now, you're slightly below average.
Then there's Michigan State, a team that came into the weekend barely ranked in any of the major polls, boasting a lo-fi, retrograde offense even by the standards of the Big Ten. But why would anyone judge the Spartans by any standard as pedestrian as that? After Saturday's start-to-finish, 29–6 bludgeoning of Michigan, it's clear the MSU defense is emerging as its own standard, one of the gold variety. If there is a defensive equivalent of Baylor's offense in college football, this is it.
And if that sounds like hyperbole, it's only because you missed the carnage unfolding in real time. Even the box score makes me cringe: Michigan QB Devin Gardner was sacked seven times, leaving the Wolverines with fewer net rushing yards for the game (–48) than any FBS offense in the past three seasons, and leaving Gardner so "beat up," in his coach's words, that he had to be pulled in the fourth quarter even without reporting a specific injury. Combined with the weather, the division standings and the grim reality of being humiliated by an in-state rival, it was as miserable an afternoon as an offense in 2013 could conceivably endure. The thing is, almost every offense that's faced Michigan State has limped away muttering the same thing:
Aside from Michigan and Notre Dame, that's hardly a blue-chip schedule, but it's certainly better to date than Baylor's, and the Spartans have not shown a crack in the facade. For the season, they lead the nation in total defense, rushing defense and pass efficiency defense, and as of Saturday have not allowed a touchdown in 12 consecutive quarters. Since the turn of the century, the only defense that allowed fewer yards per game or per play over a full season than Michigan State has allowed through nine games is Alabama in 2011, en route to the national championship.
If the offense hadn't fallen into a well at Notre Dame, MSU's only loss, the Spartans might be viable players in that conversation, convoluted as it is at this time of year. As it is, they're head-and-shoulders above the rest of the Legends Division, and the only B1G contender still within sight of Ohio State's rocket to the Rose Bowl. For the first time in a long time, the Buckeyes may have share this stratosphere.
1. ALABAMA (8–0).
2. FLORIDA STATE (8–0).
3. OREGON (8–0).
4. OHIO STATE (9–0).
5. STANFORD (7–1).
6. BAYLOR (7–0).
7. MISSOURI (8–1).
8. CLEMSON (8–1).
9. OKLAHOMA (7–1).
10. AUBURN (8–1).
11. MIAMI (7–1).
12. LSU (7–2).
13. SOUTH CAROLINA (7–2).
14. TEXAS A&M (7–2).
15. OKLAHOMA STATE (7–1).
16. MICHIGAN STATE (8–1).
17. ARIZONA STATE (6–2).
18. CENTRAL FLORIDA (6–1).
19. BYU (6–2).
20. UCLA (6–2).
21. NOTRE DAME (7–2).
22. OLE MISS (5–3).
23. TEXAS (6–2).
24. LOUISVILLE (7–1).
25. FRESNO STATE (7–0).
– – –
In: Louisville, Fresno State.
Out: Texas Tech, Michigan.
Waiting: Wisconsin, Northern Illinois, Georgia, Washington, Arizona.
The weekend's most outstanding linemen, defenders and other darkhorses.
1. SHILIQUE CALHOUN • DE, Michigan State.
Calhoun led the Spartans' assault on Gardner, crashing the Wolverine backfield for three sacks of the team's seven sacks and a pair of QB hurries to boot in one of the most dominating defensive turns by any team this season. He also came away with the Big Ten lead for sacks on the season, with 6.5.
2. AARON DONALD • DT, Pittsburgh
Even in a losing effort, Donald was a nightmare against Georgia Tech's triple-option attack, turning in the defensive stat line of the year with 11 solo tackles, six tackles for loss and a pair of forced fumbles in a 21–10 defeat. (Fittingly, Donald reclaimed the national lead in TFLs by a comfortable margin.) Meanwhile, on the other side, the Panther offense finished with a grand total of –5 yards rushing, losing yardage on ten of its 21 carries (including five sacks) with a long gain of seven. Good effort, bros.
3. LB KEVIN PIERRE-LOUIS, CB MANUEL ASPRILLA and DE KASIM EDEBALI • Boston College
Pierre-Louis, Asprilla and Edebali combined for 22 tackles and four turnovers against Virginia Tech, leading directly to 17 points in a 34–27 upset for the Eagles. Asprilla came up with the first takeaway of the day in the third quarter, returning an interception 49 yards to set up a short B.C. field goal; a few series later, Edebali made his mark on a sack-and-strip that put the offense at close range for a 17-yard touchdown "drive." From there, Pierre-Louis extended the lead on a 33-yard pick-six in the fourth quarter, and Edebali drove the nail in the coffin with his second sack/forced fumble on the Hokies' final possession. Going back to last week's debacle against Duke, Va. Tech quarterback Logan Thomas has eight giveaways to his credit (six interceptions, two fumbles) in two games.
4. NAVY'S OFFENSIVE LINE.
The Midshipmen ran 70 times for 331 yards at Notre Dame, methodically piling up the yards and points behind Bradyn Heap, E.K. Binns, Tanner Fleming, Jake Zuzek and Brandon Green despite failing to produce a single carry longer than 20 yards in a close, 38–34 loss. Altogether, the Midshipmen scored touchdowns on five of nine offensive possessions, four of them covering at least 70 yards, and racked up a 16-minute advantage in time of possession before a last-gasp fourth-down attempt came up short in Irish territory.
5. D'JHOUN SMITH • CB, Florida Atlantic.
Tulane led FAU at end of the first half, 17–7, but failed to earn a first down in the second, at one point throwing four interceptions on four consecutive passes – three of the picks by Smith – en route to a 34–17 loss. Between them, Green Wave quarterbacks Nick Montana (yes, that Montana) and Devin Powell finished 11-of-31 for 105 yards and zero touchdowns to balance the four picks, good for an astounding pass efficiency rating of 38.1. The only FBS offenses with a worse number to their credit this season are Arkansas, which turned in a 34.8 against South Carolina; Syracuse, which finished with a 35.3 against Clemson; and South Florida, which put up a 36.7 against Michigan State and still ranks dead last nationally in the category.
6. MARCUS TROTTER • LB, Wisconsin.
Filling in for injured starter/Lowsman regular Chris Borland, Trotter made good on the opportunity with a team-high nine tackles against Iowa, including two for loss, helping hold the Hawkeyes out of the end zone in a 28–9 win. Iowa finished with 115 yards rushing on 3.6 perry carry, its worst output of the season on the ground against any defense that isn't Michigan State's, and 43 of those yards came on one play.
6 comments, Last at 10 Nov 2013, 7:42am by bucko