Just a hunch but expect Reggie Herring to get some votes for the Broyles Award given to the nation's top assistant coach.
The first-year NC State defensive coordinator is presiding over a devastating Wolfpack crew. They blitz. They chase. They swarm. And they don't stop. State went into Lane Stadium last weekend and abused the Virginia Tech offense, recording 18 tackles behind the line, including 10 sacks of the Hokies heady QB Bryan Randall. (Tech managed just 35 net yards through three quarters.) Through the first month of the season NC State leads the nation in defense, allowing just 165.3 yards a game -- 68 yards on the ground and 97 passing. It's a huge step up from a group that ranked 89th overall last season. So why the big change?
Yes, State is indeed blitzing more, but as Wolfpack coaches are quick to point out, they aren't running any blitzes that everyone doesn't on a weekly basis. Manny Diaz, State's bright young safeties coach, says the keys are that they have everyone back, all those guys are really fast, and everyone's play more together than last year, "so now those fast guys are playing fast."
Having one voice to run the defense, the fiery Herring, explains just why they are able to play more together. (Last year, coach Chuck Amato relied on a coordinators-by-committee approach.) Now, instead of four separate factions, there is one way to follow. Herring's way.
Consider Manny Lawson Exhibit A. The freakish 6-foot-5, 230-pound (5 sacks) shifted from OLB to DE this season and now has Amato evoking comparisons to one of his former FSU greats, Peter Boulware, after Lawson came up with three sacks against Tech. Lawson and bookend DE Mario Williams also are faster than most OLBs in the country so dropping them into coverage on some zone blitzes gives the Pack even more bite. Adding a horse like DT John McCargo causing havoc inside helps even more, so does the improved play of cover corner Lamont Reid, and safeties Marcus Hudson, Andre Maddox and Troy Graham.
Best of all, though, there is a feeding frenzy mentality that has taken hold. Players believe in what they're doing. That makes them relentless. But apparently, it's going to get even nastier.
"We're nowhere near, nowhere near, where we want to be," Herring told reporters this week. "This defense is just scratching the surface. Somebody said, 'Well, you got 10 sacks last week, that's pretty impressive.' You want to know the truth? We should have had about 15 or 16."
Yes, Razorback fans you were right about Matt Jones. He is definitely one of the 100 biggest impact players in the country. We admit we weren't sold on his passing skills, thinking WR Carlos Ousley was probably a more polished passer (yes, Ousley can chuck it), but Jones has been spectacular this season. He now has amassed an Arkansas record 64 career TDs. Better still, a career 54.2 percent passer entering the season, he is connecting on 61.4 percent of his throws. Jones also is averaging a gaudy 10.1 yards per attempt, and is second in the SEC to former Florida quarterback Danny Wuerffel (7.75) with a career average of 7.48.
Biggest challenge for defenses facing Purdue and its high-powered passing attack? Protecting the middle of the field, an area most QBs are reluctant to attack when facing blitzes. Not Boiler QB Kyle Orton. "He's sharp enough to know what he can take and he's cocky. He wants to make you pay," says one Big Ten D-coordinator. "That tells me he's not only well coached and well prepared, but that he and (Boiler coordinator Jim) Chaney are on the same page."
Erasmus James has gone from a guy who didn't play football until his senior year of high school to becoming perhaps the Midwest's most feared pass rusher. Wisconsin's 6-4, 262-pound senior DE has added almost 50 pounds during his college career and transformed himself from being a guy who could barely bench press 225 pounds once to a guy who can now do 25 reps. In the Badgers' victory over Penn State, he notched his sixth sack.
Miami's had four linebackers become first-round picks in the last nine years and scouts say UM has a good chance to make it five in 10 if junior OLB Rocky McIntosh opts to leave after this year. "He's probably an even better athlete than Vilma or D.J. Williams," says one scout of the 6-3, 238-pounder. "He's faster than both of them and even though both could cover, I'd take this guy."
After marveling at the athleticism of Evan Moore, Stanford's 6-7, 235-pound wideout/power forward, one has to believe Pete Carroll must shake his head every time he passes USC hoops coach Henry Bibby in the halls around campus. See, Moore was all set to visit USC but didn't hear back from Bibby, while then-Cardinal basketball coach Mike Montgomery quickly let the big two-sport star know he was welcome on The Farm. Last week Moore not only dazzled Trojan coaches with a great one-hand grab while being interfered with, he also showed surprising speed running down CB Kevin Arbet. "He could be Plaxico Burress, only with a better head on his shoulders," says one NFL scout, "and bigger too."
When Arizona State landed Chris McKenzie, the Sun Devils got more than just a speedy corner. Turns out, they also got a pretty good recruiter. McKenzie helped lured one of his former pals from Queens, N.Y. to ASU in Dale Robinson, a punishing tackler who won the starting strong-side linebacker job in the new 4-3 scheme, and has brought a much-needed toughness to the defense. Robinson leads ASU in tackles with 39 and also has 7.5 TFLs and 3.5 sacks.
Quick update on Noel Devine, the kid from No. Fort Myers, Fla, who became something of a Internet cult hero when his dazzling highlight reel was forwarded onto virtually every school's fan site around the country last spring: In his third game, the 5-7, 180-pound prep sophomore ran for 358 yards and six touchdowns on nine carries. Devine is merely averaging 20 yards per carry this fall.
Bruce Feldman is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. His first book Cane Mutiny: How the Miami Hurricanes Overturned the Football Establishment is out in bookstores. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.