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2012 Rewind: The best defensive performances of the season

By Matt Hinton | Blogger


Jarvis Jones' big night at Missouri was one of the most dominating performances of the year, but not his best. (AP)

10. Nov. 17: Shayne Skov (Stanford) vs. Oregon.
As with most games this season, the honor could rightfully go to Stanford's entire defense, which held the nation's most prolific attack to fewer points (14) than it had scored in any game since the Ducks' 2009 opener at Boise State -- Chip Kelly's first game as a head coach -- en route to seizing command of the Pac-12 North. If anyone stood out for the Cardinal, it was Skov, who led the charge with 10 total tackles, one coming behind the line of scrimmage. In large part because of that effort, Skov finished the regular season as the leading tackler for the best defense in the conference, one year after having his 2011 season cut short by a major knee injury.

9. Nov. 3: Allen Chapman (Kansas State) vs. Oklahoma State.
In 2011, Chapman took his first career interception back for a touchdown against Oklahoma State. In November, he bit the Cowboys again with another pick-six that extended K-State's lead to 31-17 just before the half -- then proceeded to pick off two more passes as the Wildcats cruised to a double-digit win over the defending Big 12 champs. With five takeaways for the night, and zero giveaways from the offense, the win epitomized the efficiency that left Kansas State with the best turnover margin in the nation for the season, and its first conference championship in nearly a decade.

8. Nov. 24: Jordan Hill (Penn State) vs. Wisconsin.
Badger tailback Montee Ball set an NCAA record in this game with his 79th career touchdown, but the line of scrimmage ultimately belonged to Hill, who went out with 12 tackles, two sacks and two additional tackles for loss in his final college game. Ball managed just 27 yards rushing in the second half, and the Nittany Lions kept the Badgers off the scoreboard in overtime for a tough, 24-21 win to cap a very long year.

7. Sept. 22: Manti Te'o (Notre Dame) vs. Michigan.
Te'o was no secret in September, having arrived in South Bend as a five-star recruit and guaranteed his spot on preseason All-America lists when he passed up the NFL for a senior season. The previous week, he'd won national honors for his performance in Notre Dame's 20-3 win at Michigan State. But it was his eight-tackle, two-interception night against the Wolverines that cemented his name in the Heisman conversation for the rest of the season, and confirmed the Irish defense as an emerging force to be reckoned with. For the game, ND forced six turnovers and held Michigan out of the end zone in a tight, 13-6 win, and Te'o woke up a few days later to find himself gracing the cover of Sports Illustrated.

6. Oct. 27: Ryan Shazier (Ohio State) vs. Penn State.
By midseason, the Buckeyes were so banged up and shorthanded at linebacker that they were compelled to convert the starting fullback, Zach Boren, into a full-time starter on defense, and the attrition was on full display in too-close-for-comfort wins over Indiana and Purdue. The only constant was Shazier, who turned in his best game against the Nittany Lions with seven tackles, two sacks, and a pick-six at the start of the third quarter that turned a 7-7 tie at the half into a 35-23 cruise for Ohio State. Including negative yardage on sacks, Penn State finished with just 32 yards rushing on 1.1 per carry.

5. Sept. 8: Jarvis Jones (Georgia) vs. Missouri.
UGA was down three defensive starters at Missouri due to suspension, but in the span of a few minutes in the fourth quarter, the Bulldogs' resident All-American effectively throttled Mizzou's offense all by himself. First: Georgia leads 27-20 midway through the fourth when Jones steps in front of an ill-advised throw by Missouri quarterback James Franklin, returning the pick to the goal line; the Bulldogs punch it in on the next play to extend the lead to 34-20. Next: Three plays into Missouri's ensuing possession, Jones tracks Franklin down for his second sack of the night, knocking the ball loose in the process; a teammate pounces on the fumble at the Mizzou 5 yard line, and two plays later Georgia leads 41-20.

That's how it ended, presumably because Jarvis decided there was no need to run up the score. Altogether, Jones accounted for nine tackles, one tackle for loss, an interception and two forced fumbles in the Bulldogs' first conference win.

4. Nov. 17: Joe Williams (Baylor) vs. Kansas State.
Statistically, Baylor entered this game as the worst defense in the nation, and proceeded to play like one of the best against the nation's No. 1 team. On the ground, Kansas State managed just 76 yards, barely a third of its season average. It was Baylor's best effort against the run this season by far. With the game increasingly on his shoulders as the margin mounted, Heisman frontrunner Collin Klein was picked off three times in 50 attempts, matching his interception total over the first 10 games combined. In those games, Klein was averaging just 20.8 passes, with a high of 28.

Two of the Bears' three interceptions belonged to Williams (who also led the team with 11 tackles) including a fourth-down pick in the end zone that slammed the door on a K-State comeback in the third quarter. Baylor's Lache Seastrunk went 80 yards for an icing touchdown on the next play, extending the lead to 52-24 and formally alerting the nation that all prevailing BCS assumptions had been rendered invalid.

3. Nov. 24: Jadeveon Clowney (South Carolina) vs. Clemson.
Whatever doubts still existed re: Clowney's actual production relative to the blue-chip hype that's surrounded his brief career, they were permanently buried in Death Valley alongside Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd, the victim on all five of Clowney's sacks in a 27-17 Carolina win. In the face of such a relentless rush, Boyd served up two interceptions and the Tigers were held to just 328 total yards –- more than 200 yards below their season average at kickoff.

2. Oct. 6: Kevin Minter (LSU) vs. Florida.
Arguably the least heralded member of LSU's starting defense coming into the year, Minter was credited with an astounding (and career-high) 20 tackles in the Tigers' 14-6 loss at Florida, on top of two sacks and a forced fumble in a standard-issue SEC slugfest. His 17 solo tackles against the Gators matched the best single-game total by any FBS player since 2005.

And yet his impact may have been felt most powerfully when Minter wasn't on the field: The first of Florida's two touchdowns came with Minter briefly out of the game in the third quarter, receiving treatment for dehydration.

1. Oct. 27: Jarvis Jones (Georgia) vs. Florida.
Before this game, Georgia had lost nine of its last 10 against top10 opponents, including a 35-7 wipeout at the hands of South Carolina just a few weeks before, and had spent most of the week preceding its season-defining date with Florida bickering amongst itself over which members of the defense were too "soft." Answer: Not Jarvis Jones. The Bulldogs' star spent the afternoon rampaging through the Gator offense like a fantastic, dreadlocked beast out of a quarterback's worst nightmares. Even ignoring his intangible influence as a pass rusher, Jones' final stat line in Jacksonville included 13 tackles, five tackles for loss, three sacks, and two forced fumbles, including the game-saving strip on Gator tight end Jordan Reed just before Reed crossed the goal line for the tying touchdown in the fourth quarter.

For the game, Florida turned the ball over six times and did not reach the end zone in a 17-9 loss that salvaged Georgia's season and ultimately sent them to the SEC title game.

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