Rebuilding the Perfect Defense
Fourth and one. Early in the third quarter. Or, second and goal, on the one-yard line, down a score. First and ten, staring down a pair of lethal receivers and a good running back. Whatever the situation, the beginning of a defense's battle begins with the defensive linemen. An elite defensive front is a perfect weapon against three yards and a cloud of dust, up-temp offenses, air raid, spread-to-run, option attacks, two minute offenses, and more.
With the issue of leadership solved, Michigan now has new objectives to set on its path to more Big Ten championships. Offense will be more interesting to watch, but the foundation is on defense, and that foundation will have a new core without the likes of Jake Ryan, Frank Clark, and Brennen Beyer. How much havoc Harbaugh is able to produce from those positions will help decide if Michigan takes another step forward.
And havoc is now the name of the game. Before, stopping the run trumped all. Now, it's about getting into the backfield and breaking up both run and pass.
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This kind of pressure can turn quarterbacks into turnover machines, as happened last Thursday when Jameis Winston was rushed and uncomfortable most of the night. Tony Washington's 58-yard rumble to the endzone was one of three fumbles by the quarterback, the first two of which Florida State recovered. Oregon's defensive front also stopped the Seminoles on 3rd and goal and 4th and goal from the 1-yard line, in what was then an 8-3 game.
What stood out between Ohio State and Alabama - which are perhaps the two best-coached teams in the country - was how their quarterbacks responded in the pocket. Both were fairly mobile, accurate passers, but their greatest asset was calmness in the backfield. Eventually, though, that pressure got to Blake Sims (3 interceptions). It did not get to Cardale Jones (1 interception).
"This is what Ohio State's defensive front needs to do - get penetration and use their athleticism. Michael Bennett is the guy who got penetration. He didn't get the tackle, but he was able to force (Derrick) Henry to try to bounce it outside. They're not as big as the Alabama offensive line, but they're more athletic."
That athleticism also held Alabama's running backs to 3 yards or less on almost 40% of their running plays. As offenses try to complicate the lives of defenders, testing their decision-making and placement as much as their strength or athleticism, defenses are trying to re-solidify their players in comfort zones. But they're also trying to take the fight back to the opposing offensive coordinators.
Can Michigan implement something like this? That is still to be decided through winter workouts, injury adversity, spring ball, and fall camp. But what defense Jim Harbaugh fields will be fundamental for how far the team goes.
Hitting the Links Is Coming and Going
On a team full of playmakers, Darron Lee could be their fifth-most important player, after Michael Bennett, Joey Bosa, Ezekiel Elliott, and whatever shlub-turned-superstar they put in at quarterback.
This game was a classic. Also, does this basically say that no running back will ever win the Heisman again, when Melvin Gordon couldn't after getting 41 yards shy of Barry Sanders' record?
LSU has been running behind Alabama for a few years now, and losing John Chavis is just another blow.
But the beat goes on. Linebacker Kwon Alexander has announced he's going pro early, as has cornerback Jalen Collins. The team also loses La'El Collins off their offensive line and some running back depth. LSU will try to reload and win some more.
Oklahoma State finishes 7-6, but season-ending victories in their rivalry game and bowl might tide over some fans.
Iowa looked more than capable at times, with Beathard and Canzeri both looking athletic against that Tennessee defense. Ray Hamilton caught 3 passes for 51 yards, but for some reason that was it out of a reliable and fantastic group of tight ends.
The Treon Harris era begins. It was a rough year for Driskel, who drew the ire of Florida fans and even his teammate and star wide receiver, Demarcus Robinson. He'll have a chance to get Louisiana Tech a little more established in the Conference-USA, where they've been for just two years after a stint in the WAC.
There were times this year when OU seemed badly coached. A lot of fans are calling for the heads of various assistants, and even Bob Stoops, and it's fair to wonder why the Sooners were so firmly upper-middle-class despite a wealth of talented athletes.
They were definitely inexperienced at the skill positions, and they run a 3-4 defense that the coaches aren't deeply experienced in. But the offensive line was solid, there were great athletes all over the place and Trevor Knight had a lot more talent than a 56.6% / 2300 yards / 14-to-12 TD ratio stat line. On the outside, the coaches certainly seem to be the problem.
Maryland now has a difficult encore, with Diggs, Deon Long, and C.J. Brown all saying farewell.
If the offensive line grows and the position coaches do a good job, this will be a very good offense in 2015.
In some NFL news, Chip Kelly has become basically the most powerful head coach in the league by taking over the personnel department at Philadelphia. Now the final voice in the draft, Kelly will have a smoother time getting players that he feels fits the system.
Winning long enough and consistently enough gets your name attached to a lot of words.
Michigan State will miss Trae Waynes at corner, and the Spartans face both the Ducks and the Buckeyes again next year.
Oregon's 59 points broke a Rose Bowl record, one that Michigan shared with USC and Michigan again. However, Florida State didn't come close to the turnover record, which is held by Notre Dame. They had 12 in 1925.
It's a good thing the SEC West teams beat up on each other all season, because they sure aren't beating anyone else.— David O'Brien (@DOBrienAJC) January 1, 2015