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Defenses and Situational Play Point To 'Unders'

   by Bryan Leonard - 10/30/2007

We are at that point in the season where games are meaningful for some teams and meaningless for others. Nebraska dropped 3 straight in the Big 12, getting blown out badly, which sinks any hopes they might have had for a Big 12 title game shot. The defense is certainly playing with little life or intensity.

Kansas, on the other hand, has a strong defense and loads of motivation, with a 7-0 start and all kinds of BCS and Big 12 title hopes. Notice their defensive effort of late: allowing 24, 10 and 14 points in three straight conference games (2-1 under the total). The effort on defense has been intense.

We saw a monster defensive effort last month when Oklahoma headed to Colorado. The Buffaloes were on a mission after a 2-10 season while playing well. Into town comes unbeaten Oklahoma, dreaming of a national title. That game sailed under the total in a strong defensive effort by both sides.

It’s easy to tell when teams are out of it and likely to give a less than stellar effort. And you can tell when teams are hungry. I used this handicapping angle when Boston College and Virginia Tech hooked up on national TV. Virginia Tech was home, with only one defeat, and riding a 5-game streak. You knew their always-great defense was going to show up.

Boston College had even more to play for, with a perfect 7-0 record, a No. 2 national ranking and a defense allowing 16 ppg. In my analysis of the game I noted, “Quarterback Matt Ryan is a major contender for the Heisman Trophy. While Ryan has gotten the majority of the press this year it’s the Eagle defense that deserves the kudos. Boston College ranks 29th in the country in scoring defense and is #1 against the run. They held Georgia Tech’s and RB Tashard Choice to just 2.3 yards per carry. Virginia Tech enters this game ranked #90 in the country in running the football, so we don’t see the Hokies doing too much damage on the ground. Especially when you consider that freshman QB Tyrod Taylor has a high ankle sprain and may not play. His mobility has been a major reason for the VT offensive resurgence.

The likely starter will be Sean Glennon who owns a career touchdown to interception ratio of 16 to 13. Glennon isn’t known for his mobility with a negative 104 career rushing yards. BC has padded their numbers offensively against bad defenses. The only quality stop unit they faced was Georgia Tech. The Eagles were held to 24 points in that 10 point victory. The last two meetings were dominated by the defenses. Boston College won last year 22-3 in a game with a combined yardage total of 445.

“The previous season the Hokies won 30-10 right here in Blacksburg. Both teams enter this game off of bye weeks, so the extra preparation time should benefit the defenses. In Virginia Tech’s last eight home games they have held the opposition to a combined 40 points, just 5 points per game. While Matt Ryan and company will surely surpass that mark, scoring touchdowns on this defense will be a major task. With so much at stake between these top ten ranked teams and with upsets all over the national rankings, we expect a very conservative game plan from both coaches.â€쳌

The under came in with ease, even with BC scoring 14 points in the final two minutes, a 14-10 game. See what was happening? Great defenses and intense motivation on both sides, not to mention a Hokie offense with QB problems. It can also happen in the NFL. Last week the Colts and Jaguars hooked up in a Monday night showcase and the defenses dominated, sailing under the total. Both teams had plenty to play for, locked in a battle for the division title. You will see plenty more opportunities this time of the year with strong defenses with a lot at stake. And as is often the case, great defenses can trump great offenses when the intensity is high.

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