Five Defenses You Don't Want Your Team To Face Right Now
Right now, the trend in college football seems to be high-scoring offenses. Whether it's Baylor averaging 745 yards per game or Ole Miss dropping over 70 points in two consecutive games, college football has become all about offense, leaving the defense to be often overlooked and under appreciated.
Nowadays, gaudy offensive statistics are seemingly all that matter to fans and teams alike.
But, as the popular saying goes: "defense wins championships." With that being said, here are the top five defenses you don't want your favorite team to face right now:
After going 5-7 a year ago and firing their head coach, the Michigan Wolverines are starting to make some noise this season. The Wolverines, ranked No. 18, are 4-1, and defense is the name of the game for this squad.
The Wolverines are ranked second in total defense (behind Boston College) and have done a fantastic job at stopping both the run and the pass. They are ranked fifth in rushing defense, allowing only 71.4 yards per game, and are ranked third in passing defense, giving up only 112.6 yards per game. In addition, the Michigan defense has only given up four offensive touchdowns all season — two rushing touchdowns and two passing touchdowns.
This team does not force a lot of turnovers (seven total), but that doesn't matter. Every team they have faced (except for a very good Utah squad) has struggled to score on them. The Wolverines are ranked second in points allowed at 7.6 per game and have held their last two opponents scoreless — a 31-0 win over BYU in Week 4 and a 28-0 win against Maryland in Week 5.
Michigan’s defense has held opponents scoreless in 14 of the past 16 quarters, surrendering just 7 points over the last 15 quarters. #GoBlue— Michigan Football (@umichfootball) October 3, 2015
However, Michigan's most effective tool in its defensive arsenal remains its proficiency on third-down defense. The Wolverines are No. 1 in third-down conversion percentage, holding opposing offenses to a 19.4 completion percentage. In addition, the Wolverine defense forces a three-and-out 45.3 percent of the time.
In their blowout of Maryland alone, the Wolverines forced the Terrapins to punt 13 times. This effective third-down defense keeps opposing offenses out of scoring range, and usually sets up the Michigan offense with decent field position.
The reason the Northwestern Wildcats are ranked No. 13 and are 5-0 is because of their elite defense. The Wildcats boast the fifth-ranked defense in the nation due to a consistent rushing defense (26th overall) and a superior passing defense (seventh overall). From top to bottom, this Wildcats defense has a bevy of talented players. Lineman Dean Lowry has been solid up front with 4.5 tackles for loss and 22 total tackles.
Linebacker Anthony Walker has been excellent this season with 44 total tackles. In addition, the trio of corners Nick VanHoose and Matthew Harris and safety Godwin Igwebuike has been solid — the unit only gives up 130 passing yards per game and has surrendered just two passing touchdowns, accumulating an 83.35 passing efficiency rating (third in the country).
Amidst the terrible offensive performances during the Muschamp years, defense was always the mainstay in Gainesville. Now under first-year head coach Jim McElwain and first-year defensive coordinator Jeff Collins, defense still reigns supreme for the Gators.
Although the unit struggled in its 28-27 comeback win against Tennessee in Week 4, it was absolutely dominant in the Gators' 38-10 dismantling of Ole Miss in Week 5. The Rebels, a team that came into their game against the Gators averaging 53.25 points per game, were thoroughly dominated in all aspects of the game.
Quarterback Chad Kelly was under constant pressure from the Gators' defensive line all night, and was either getting hit, hurried, or sacked. As a result of that pressure, Kelly was sacked four times, lost two fumbles, and threw one interception. The Gators also did a fantastic job at stopping Ole Miss' rushing attack, holding them to a putrid 69 total yards.
The key to the Gators' success has been the excellent play of their defensive line and secondary. The D-Line, featuring stud linemen Jonathan Bullard, Caleb Brantley, Joey Ivie, Alex McCalister, and CeCe Jefferson, has created havoc all season for opposing quarterbacks and running backs.
Bullard and McCalister are ranked fourth and fifth in sacks in the SEC with 4.5 and four sacks, respectively, and Ivie is tied for seventh with three sacks.
As a team, the Gators rank seventh nationally in total sacks. In addition, Bullard is tied for the lead in tackles for loss in the SEC with 9.5.
Already with the ability to stop the run, the amount of pressure Florida puts on opposing quarterbacks does not bode well for the opposing team, considering they have to throw against a secondary that includes All-American cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III, promising sophomores Jalen Tabor and Quincy Wilson, and hard-hitting safeties Marcus Maye and Keanu Neal. Hargreaves already has three picks in five games, and both Tabor and Wilson have one interception apiece.
The combination of intense pressure and elite coverage has allowed the Gators to take advantage of their opponents' mistakes and create turnovers; Florida ranks 12th nationally in turnovers gained with 11, and creating turnovers has been key to this team's success, especially in the Ole Miss game. Creating turnovers has been key to the Gators this season, as it has continuously set up its young offense with great field position.
Although this Missouri team, at 4-1, does not come close to resembling the back-to-back SEC East Championship teams from 2013 and 2014, it at least has a formidable defense.
Mizzou has had a very solid rushing defense, allowing 109.4 yards per game on the ground, and a very good passing defense, surrendering only 154.2 yards per game through the air. These two exceptional numbers have vaulted the Tigers to eighth in the country in total defense.
What makes Missouri's defense so formidable is the solid play of its defensive line and linebackers. The Tigers' line has done a great job at getting into the backfield, resulting in 48 tackles for loss, which ranks first in the SEC, and second in all of college football.
Freshman lineman Walter Brady and sophomore lineman Charles Harris have been particularly spectacular this year. Brady, through five games, has racked up five sacks (tied for second in the SEC) and 7 .5 tackles for loss. Meanwhile, Harris has accumulated three sacks (tied for seventh in the SEC), and is tied for the SEC lead in tackles for loss with 9.5.
In addition, senior linebacker Kentrell Brothers is arguably the best defender for the Tigers. Brothers has built on a 2014 season in which he registered 122 tackles, making him the top returning tackler in the SEC. Brothers registered double-digit tackles in four of Mizzou's five games, including a 16-tackle effort in a Week 1 34-3 win against Southeast Missouri State. He also had 16 tackles and two interceptions in a Week 2 win against Arkansas State.
#SEC Tackles:1) Kentrell Brothers -592) Skai Moore -523) Jalen Reeves-Maybin -514) Richie Brown -505) Johnathan Ford, Josh Forrest -49— SEC Country (@SEC_Country_) October 8, 2015
Gary Pinkel, the head coach of the Tigers, recently said that Brothers is on a whole different level now with his instinctive approach to the game. "He can see everything and, certainly, he's a really good athlete," he said. "He has the potential to be really, really good."
Kentrell Brothers (and Donavin Newsom) is coming for you pic.twitter.com/qwkfdizklB— W.E.B. BLOGGER (@oscargambler) October 3, 2015
I think Alabama's Week 3 loss against Ole Miss was a fluke. The Crimson Tide lost that game 43-37, and gave up 341 yards and three touchdowns through the air to Mississippi's Chad Kelly. However, for the year, the Tide's defense has been solid, and they made a statement in their 38-10 demolition of Georgia in Week 5.
However, this Crimson Tide team is not great against the pass. They rank 37th nationally, giving up 189.4 passing yards per game. The strength of their defensive unit lies in their ability to stuff the run. The vaunted rushing defense, headed by A'Shawn Robinson, Jonathan Allen, Jarran Reed, and Reggie Ragland, only give up 84 yards per game on the ground, ranking them 10th nationally, and first in the SEC.
By stopping the run, Alabama has been able to force its opponents into third-and-longs — Alabama has held opposing offenses to only a 26.2 completion percentage on third down. This, coupled with the Tide's proficiency in forcing turnovers (11 total), has been Alabama's reason for success.
The Ole Miss game was a real statistical oddity. Other than the 43 points it surrendered to the Rebels, Alabama has held opponents to a lowly average of 9.25 points per game.
Alabama should fair well against teams that favor running the football — as seen with the Georgia game.