This week’s numerical nourishment is dedicated to game changers, particularly of the defensive variety. Because this year in college football, defense is the new offense.
Game changers are not always last second Hail Mary touchdown passes or questionable double overtime two-point conversion calls. No, sometimes things that shift momentum are simple – a seemingly innocuous first down, a satisfying solo tackle or even a paltry pass breakup. And sometimes the shift is just players who want to know right now, what will it be.
Of course, we at The Sports Fan Journal always have love for 69-yard touch down runs to start off games (looking at you Saquon Barkley), but we just want to point out that not all college football heroes wear capes. Or score touchdowns. Sometimes they just prevent them.
So enjoy this humble collection of unsung statistics. We know we did.
No. 1 in Passes Defended: Joshua Jackson, Iowa – 1.9 per game
If you aren’t humming the Dawson’s Creek theme song yet, then I have failed you as a writer. But Pacey Witter jokes aside, Iowa CB Joshua Jackson has your favorite college quarterback’s number. He leads the nation in passes defended, averaging 1.9 per game and has notched 13 total – 11 pass breakups and two interceptions in seven games so far. Jackson was crucial in the Hawkeyes’ victories over Wyoming and Iowa State, where he combined for 11 tackles and recorded a 41-yard interception against the Cowboys. Jackson also tallied five tackles against Penn State in the Hawkeyes’ 21-19 loss to the Nittany Lions. I’m convinced his success at corner stems somewhat from his time at wide receiver in high school.
Also, he blocks field goals. Hide your kickers! Hide your QBs! Because no one is safe.
No. 1 in Passes Intercepted: South Florida – 16
Ah South Florida, one of the eight unbeatens. They moved down one spot to No. 17 in this week’s AP poll but they remain the highest ranked Group of Five team in both the AP and Coaches poll. The Bulls are 7-0 for the first time in school history. And they lead the nation in passes intercepted with 16 out of the 250 thrown against them. USF has 285 interception return yards and two INT return touchdowns. Not a bad comeback for head coach Charlie Strong.
Fun fact: With USF’s 34-28 win over Tulane Saturday, the Bulls set the NCAA record for scoring 30 or more points in consecutive games in the AP Poll Era (since 1936) with 24 straight. 81 years of college football later and they are the lone Bull standing.
No. 1 in Solo Tackles: Frank Ginda, San Jose State – 65
This is actually a twofer, as Spartan junior linebacker Frank Ginda leads the nation not only in solo tackles but also in total tackles, with 115, which is tied with Buffalo’s Khalil Hodge. Ginda averages 8.1 solo tackles per game and 14.4 total tackles per game. Even though the Spartans are struggling this year, with their only victory coming against Cal poly in the second game of the season, Ginda continues to be a defensive force. He is literally Frank The Tank.
No. 1 in Scoring Defense: Penn State – 9.6 points per game
Ya’ll knew the Nittany Lions would be on here somehow, someway. They are the Miley Cyrus of the college football world, circa 2010 of course. Google it if you don’t get it. Or just click on the link.
Penn State’s defense has allowed only nine touchdowns, five extra points, one 2-point conversion and two field goals for a grand total of 67 points. On Saturday, the Nittany Lions destroyed Michigan 42-13, flexing their defensive muscles by sacking Michigan QB John O’Korn seven times.
It’s a pretty simple formula if you break it down: Heavy rotation of players + high production values = success for defensive coordinator Brent Pry and line coach Sean Spencer.
Fun fact: Penn State has outscored opponents 90-0 in the first quarter, making it the only FBS team that has not allowed a first-quarter point.
No. 1 in Interceptions per Game: Deshon Elliot, Texas & Justin Reid, Stanford – .7
This number may seem insignificantly small; it is a decimal after all. But .7 is almost 1, which means these two guys are close to averaging one interception per game. In just seven games, both Deshon Elliot and Justin Reid have recorded five interceptions. Elliot also has an 84-yard pick-six as well as 32 tackles, 1.5 sacks, three pass-breakups and two forced fumbles. Both have been named Jim Thorpe Award semifinalists.
But both players are part of very different seasons. Reid is a member of a staunch Stanford squad that is rising up in the polls and currently first in the Pac-12 North, ahead of both Washington and Washington State. The No. 20 ranked Cardinal faces a tough four-game final stretch though with the Cougars on the road and then the Huskies, the Cal Bears and Notre Dame all at home to finish the season.
Elliot, on the other hand, will be attempting to help his Longhorns bounce back from a pair of losses to Oklahoma and Oklahoma State when they visit Baylor on Saturday. Texas has been up and down this season, shutting out San Jose State but dropping a close overtime game to USC.
Longhorn or Cardinal, what these young men do is crucial to being a successful football program. And leading the nation in a category like this can only help the cause.
Sports writer. Avid fan, former player, once-upon-a-time coach, reluctant referee. I do digital media things with my friends. I also jinx kickers. Bay Area born & raised.