College Football: D the key in ACC

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 24, 2011

Associated Press
GREENSBORO ó There may not be a more telling statistic in the Atlantic Coast Conference than total defense.
Every ACC school that gives up an average of 392 yards or fewer either is going to a bowl game or could be going to one. And the three teams that allow more than that will be staying home.
There is a direct correlation in the conference between a solid D and a winning record.
Last year, every team that allowed an average of 372 total yards or less wound up going to a bowl game. Every team worse than that didn’t.
“You’re never a great team unless you’re great on defense,” Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said. “Any time an upset happens … very rarely are they high scoring. It’s harder to be good consistently when a ball is involved, in any sport, on offense. Defense is what (gets) you there and keeps you stable, for your program. I’m a believer in that, and I’m an offensive guy wholeheartedly.”
His Seminoles lead the league in total defense, allowing 283 yards per game, and they’re assured of playing somewhere during the holidays. The schools with the ACC’s second- and third-best defenses ó Virginia Tech and Virginia ó meet this weekend with the Coastal Division title on the line.
At the other end of the spectrum, the defenses at Boston College, Duke and Maryland have been leaky all season, and that’s a major reason why they will miss the postseason.
“I think this: If you play good defense, then you’re always going to be in the ballgame,” Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer said. “It gives you a chance to be there in the fourth quarter, and that’s what we’ve tried to do around here for a number of years.”
Nationally, 19 schools already are bowl-eligible or have a chance to be, despite allowing at least 400 yards per game.
Seven of those, including No. 5 Oklahoma State and No. 21 Baylor, are in the Big 12 ó home of some of the nation’s most explosive offenses. Another four are in the Mid-American Conference, where defense has been optional with at least one team rolling up 40 or more points in 21 conference games.
In previous years in the ACC, it was common for some of the league’s worst defenses to belong to bowl-bound teams.
The 2009 Florida State defense was the league’s worst, giving up 434.6 yards per game ó yet it wasn’t bad enough to keep the Seminoles from winning the Gator Bowl. A year earlier, North Carolina State and North Carolina reached bowl games despite having the league’s two worst defenses.
This season has gone generally according to form ó with the exception of Clemson.
The Tigers, historically one of the league’s strongest defensive teams, instead have offset an eighth-place defense that allows 380 yards per game with an explosive offense that outscores opponents, rolling up averages of 465 yards and 35 points.
“Defense does win championships,” Wake Forest offensive lineman Michael Hoag said. “It’s amazing what Clemson’s done, being eighth, but their offense is No. 2, so there’s a direct correlation. You look at a lot of these schools ó that’s a really good question. It’s hard to answer, other than if you don’t finish in the top eight or nine in the conference (in defense), it’s going to be hard to win more than you lose.”
Miami made itself eligible for a bowl last week by beating South Florida in ó what else? ó a defense-dominated 6-3 game in which the Hurricanes allowed 249 total yards. A day later, though, school officials said they would self-impose a bowl ban in response to an ongoing NCAA investigation into the university’s compliance practices.
N.C. State needs to beat Maryland this week to clinch its second bowl berth, and the Wolfpack put themselves in that position by routing Clemson and keeping the Tigers out of the end zone until the final two minutes. Early in the season, a multitude of injuries to key defensive players dropped N.C. State near the bottom of the league in that stat category and, not coincidentally, placed its bowl hopes in serious jeopardy.
But with that Clemson victory ó and before that, a surprising shutout of rival North Carolina ó the Wolfpack now have the ACC’s fourth-best total D and a clear path back to the postseason.
“I’ve known since early preseason camp that that was how we were capable of playing ó the same way we played against Chapel Hill,” N.C. State safety Brandan Bishop said.