NCF Nation: 2013 in review 011414

Big 12's best of 2013

January, 14, 2014
Jan 14
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The college football season is over, and what a season it was. Picked fifth in the preseason, Baylor won its first Big 12 championship. Oklahoma, left for dead in early November, rose out of the ashes to win 11 games. Oklahoma State had some of the most puzzling losses and most dominant wins, as well. And Texas, well, the soap opera is finally over.

Here’s a look back at the 2013 season with our Best of the Big 12:

[+] EnlargeBob Stoops
Chuck Cook/USA TODAY SportsBob Stoops and Trevor Knight delivered the Big 12 a signature BCS win in 2013.
Best coach: Art Briles, Baylor. Bob Stoops deserves a bunch of credit for how his Sooners surged late in the season, but Briles' leading Baylor to its first Big 12 championship was no small feat. The Bears led the nation in scoring, and beat Oklahoma and Texas convincingly. The bowl game was disappointing. The season overall was not.

Best player, offense: Even though he cooled off later in the year, Baylor’s Bryce Petty still finished fifth nationally in QBR in his first season as a starting quarterback. He threw 32 touchdown passes and did a masterful job taking care of the ball, tossing only three interceptions.

Best player, defense: There wasn’t really anyone who clearly stood out here. TCU cornerback Jason Verrett, Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State linebacker Caleb Lavey, Kansas State defensive end Ryan Mueller and Baylor linebacker Eddie Lackey all had their moments. Texas defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat, however, was the only defensive player from the league to win a national award. He was given the Ted Hendricks Award, which goes to the defensive end of the year in college football. Jeffcoat tied for third nationally with 13 sacks.

Best moment: The league has been waiting for a signature victory to hang its hat on. Oklahoma finally gave the Big 12 that victory in the Allstate Sugar Bowl with a stunning 45-31 win over Alabama. Behind freshman quarterback Trevor Knight, the Sooners controlled the game from the second quarter on. Defensively, linebacker Eric Striker and end Geneo Grissom were unblockable, combining for five sacks of Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron. Offensively, Knight carved up the Crimson Tide for 348 passing yards and four touchdowns. It wasn’t even that Alabama played poorly. It was that Oklahoma played terrifically.

Best rivalry game: Maybe new Texas coach Charlie Strong will bring some more juice to the Red River Rivalry. Lately, it’s been second fiddle to Bedlam. In quality. In drama. In impact. Once again, Bedlam carried major Big 12 title implications, and once again, the game delivered a thrilling ending. Backup quarterback Blake Bell found Jalen Saunders in the corner of the end zone with 19 seconds remaining for the Sooners’ first offensive touchdown of the game, lifting Oklahoma to a win and spoiling Oklahoma State’s shot at a Big 12 title.

Best play: Late in the third quarter of Kansas State’s game against Baylor, Mueller stripped Petty while simultaneously recovering the fumble near the sideline. The acrobatic play gave K-State good field position in Baylor territory, and the Wildcats would go on to take a 25-21 lead. Baylor ultimately outlasted the Wildcats, but Mueller, who also had two sacks in the game, was a big reason why the Bears' high-powered offense was held in check most of the afternoon.

[+] EnlargeTyler Lockett
Jasen VinloveUSA TODAY SportsKansas State's Tyler Lockett had seven 100-yard receiving games this season, including two games with more than 200 yards receiving.
Best performance in a loss: The Wildcats eventually lost, but K-State receiver Tyler Lockett could not be covered by the Sooners in their game in late November. Lockett kept the Wildcats in the game, reeling in 12 catches for 278 yards and three touchdowns, prompting Oklahoma defensive coordinator Mike Stoops to go ballistic on the sideline multiple times. Lockett was also a monster against Texas and Michigan. All told, he totaled 35 catches, 631 yards and six touchdowns against those three programs alone.

Best individual defensive performance: Mueller against Baylor, Verrett shutting down Baylor wideout Antwan Goodley, and Gilbert picking off Texas twice all deserve honorable mention. But Striker gets the nod for wreaking havoc on the two-time defending national champ in New Orleans. Striker had three sacks and forced a fumble after barreling around the edge to slam into McCarron’s blind side. The ball popped loose and Grissom returned the fumble for the game-winning touchdown.

Best true freshman: Texas Tech quarterback Davis Webb had to split time with fellow true freshman Baker Mayfield for most of the season. When Mayfield left unexpectedly in December, the job was finally Webb’s to run with. And run he did. Actually, he threw. Against No. 14 Arizona State in the National University Holiday Bowl, Webb completed 28 of 41 passes for 403 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions in one of this year’s best bowl performances from a quarterback. Webb had a solid freshman season, leading the Red Raiders to fourth-quarter wins over TCU and West Virginia. But if the bowl was any indication, the best is yet to come.

Best quote: “So much for the big bad wolf, huh?” -- Bob Stoops, after the Sooners defeated Alabama.

Pac-12's best of 2013

January, 14, 2014
Jan 14
10:00
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Today we put a bow on the 2013 season (almost -- a few more review posts are coming up, and then probably a few more after that). But today across the blogosphere, we’re categorizing some of the top moments and individuals from the Pac-12 season. These are set in stone and in no way open to argument or interpretation.

Best coach: Arizona State's Todd Graham was voted as the league’s coach of the year by his peers. And it’s hard to argue with that, given the fact that the Sun Devils had the best league record and won their division. But you can’t discount the job of the L.A. coaches (interim or otherwise). Ed Orgeron did a phenomenal job in relief at USC before Steve Sarkisian was hired, and Jim Mora shepherded his team through a difficult time early.

Best player, offense: Ka’Deem Carey was named the Pac-12 offensive player of the year. And the Pac-12 blog agrees. Certainly, cases can be made for Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, who was on the Heisman Trophy track before being derailed by a knee injury. And there is the debate between Carey and Washington running back Bishop Sankey, which will rage until the end of days.

Best player, defense: The coaches went with Arizona State defensive tackle Will Sutton. And there’s nothing wrong with that selection. But cases certainly can be made for outside linebackers Trent Murphy (Stanford) and Anthony Barr (UCLA).

Best moment: Lots of them. Shocking upsets (see below) and stellar individual performances dusted the landscape of the 2013 Pac-12 season. But in terms of moments that were seared into our memories, it’s tough not to think about UCLA’s come-from-behind win at Nebraska way back on Sept. 14, following the death of Nick Pasquale. Specifically, Anthony Jefferson recovering a red zone fumble and then sprinting off the field to give the ball to Mora, followed by a big hug. It was as authentic and genuine a moment as you’ll find in sports.

[+] EnlargeKodi Whitfield
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesStanford's Kodi Whitfield had a highlight touchdown grab against UCLA.
Biggest upset: Take your pick between Utah topping Stanford or Arizona topping Oregon. Both were road losses for the favorites and both shook up the national and league landscape. Granted, Utah’s win over Stanford came earlier in the season, and early-season losses are easier to rebound from. Oregon’s loss to Arizona came at the end and cost the Ducks all kinds of postseason possibilities.

Best workhorse performance: It’s a tie between Stanford’s Tyler Gaffney and Carey -- both of whom put in the work in their teams’ victories over Oregon. Carey rushed for 206 yards and four touchdowns on 48 carries; Gaffney carried 45 times for 157 yards and a touchdown.

Best play: One of the most subjective categories, for sure, but Kodi Whitfield’s one-handed touchdown catch against UCLA was nothing short of spectacular. He elevated between two Bruins defenders and backhanded the ball out of the air for a 30-yard touchdown. Something about UCLA-Stanford brings out the one-handed catches. Recall in 2011, Andrew Luck hauled in a one-handed catch against the Bruins, and a few plays later, Coby Fleener snagged a one-handed dart from Luck for a touchdown.

Best performance, offense: Again, wildly subjective. Take your pick from Ty Montgomery’s five-touchdown day against Cal, Marion Grice’s four touchdowns against USC or Wisconsin, or Myles Jack’s four touchdowns against Washington. Brandin Cooks had a pretty nice day against Cal with his 232 receiving yards. There were games with seven touchdown tosses from Mariota and Taylor Kelly. Connor Halliday’s losing effort against Colorado State was spectacular. In terms of impact, it’s hard not to go back to Carey’s effort against Oregon.

Best performance, defense: As in every other category here, plenty to go around. But think way back to Washington State’s win over USC. Damante Horton had a 70-yard interception return that tied the game at 7-7 in the second quarter. Then, after Andrew Furney’s 41-yard field goal put the Cougars ahead 10-7 with 3:15 left in the game, Horton picked off Max Wittek, which allowed WSU to run out the clock.

Big Ten's best of 2013

January, 14, 2014
Jan 14
10:00
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We're starting to wrap up the 2013 Big Ten season, which included the rise of Michigan State to elite status, more accolades for Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller, Iowa's mini-renaissance, Northwestern's backslide, Jerry Kill's health-related absence and Minnesota's impressive response, up-and-down seasons from Michigan and Nebraska and much more. The league's national title drought reached its 11th year, but Michigan State brought home a Rose Bowl championship to the frosty Midwest.

To put a bow on the season, here are some Big Ten superlatives:

[+] EnlargeMark Dantonio and Connor Cook
Harry How/Getty ImagesMark Dantonio made seemingly all of the right moves in 2013, including sticking with Connor Cook at QB.
Best coach: Mark Dantonio, Michigan State. Dantonio helped the Spartans find the inches that separated them in 2012, when they lost five Big Ten games by a total of 13 points. He made the right calls on offense after a shaky start, and the Spartans ended up winning their final nine games, including their first outright Big Ten title and first Rose Bowl championship in 26 years.

Best player, offense: Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller. No player dominates the scouting report for opposing defenses like the Buckeyes signal-caller, who complemented premier rushing skills with a more accurate arm, despite some late struggles. He won Big Ten MVP honors and league offensive player of the year honors for the second consecutive season, had 3,162 yards of offense and 36 touchdowns (24 pass, 12 rush). Miller led Ohio State to a second straight undefeated regular season and will be back as a senior in 2014.

Best player, defense: Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard. The nation's No. 1 defense had several standouts, but Dennard tops the list after leading the "No Fly Zone" secondary and earning the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation's top defensive back. A first-team All-American, Dennard recorded four interceptions and 10 pass deflections, and repeatedly shut down opposing wide receivers. He was a finalist for the Nagurski Trophy.

Best moment: Many wondered how Michigan State would fare in the Rose Bowl without star middle linebacker and co-captain Max Bullough, suspended a week before the game. Turns out the Spartans were just fine as Kyler Elsworth and Darien Harris filled in well. Fittingly, MSU sealed its victory on a fourth-down stop of Stanford, where Elsworth leaped over the pile to stuff Ryan Hewitt. The play epitomized a team that overcame every obstacle and a defense that slammed the door on the opposition all year long. Elsworth was named Rose Bowl defensive player of the game.

Best rivalry game: Ohio State at Michigan. We haven't been able to say this very often about The Game in recent years, but the Wolverines and Buckeyes provided plenty of drama on Nov. 30 at the Big House. Neither defense had answers for the opposing offense and the teams combined for 83 points, 74 first downs and 1,129 total yards. Michigan went for the win with 32 seconds left, but its 2-point conversion attempt failed and Ohio State survived.

Best play: Nebraska's season hung in the balance Nov. 2 as the Huskers, coming off of a road loss to Minnesota, trailed Northwestern 24-21 with four seconds left at the Wildcats' 49-yard line. Huskers quarterback Ron Kellogg III, the team's third-stringer entering the season, evaded the rush and launched a Hail Mary to the end zone, which freshman wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp caught following a deflection for the winning touchdown. It saved Nebraska's season and possibly coach Bo Pelini's job.

Best coaching decision: Connor Cook didn't do much in a loss to Notre Dame to separate himself from the other Spartans quarterbacks. But after going to Andrew Maxwell for the final drive against the Irish, Dantonio and the staff decided to stick with Cook for the Big Ten season. It gave Cook the confidence he needed to lead MSU's offense to a Big Ten title.

[+] EnlargeJeremy Gallon
AP Photo/Lon HorwedelMichigan WR Jeremy Gallon had a game for the ages against Indiana.
Best individual performance: Michigan wide receiver Jeremy Gallon against Indiana. Sure, the Hoosiers' defense has been abysmal forever, but you just don't see too many wide receivers rack up 369 receiving yards, much less in a league game. Gallon set a Big Ten record for receiving yards and recorded the second-highest total for a receiver in FBS history. He had 14 receptions, two for touchdowns. Quarterback Devin Gardner had a team-record 503 passing yards. Ohio State's Miller had big performances against both Penn State and Iowa, Christian Hackenberg lit up Wisconsin's defense, and Cook recorded his first two career 300-yard passing performances in the Big Ten title game and Rose Bowl.

Best freshman: Penn State's Hackenberg. New Lions coach James Franklin inherits a future superstar under center, as Hackenberg backed up his recruiting hype in his first season. Hackenberg finished third in the Big Ten in passing (246.2 YPG) and threw 20 touchdown passes against 10 interceptions. He completed the season by connecting on 70 percent of his passes for 339 yards and four touchdowns against Wisconsin.

Best newcomer: Nebraska defensive end Randy Gregory. The junior-college transfer excited Nebraska fans when he came to Lincoln and left them even happier after his first season. Gregory led the Big Ten with 10.5 sacks and tied for second in tackles for loss with 17. He earned first-team All-Big Ten honors and triggered Nebraska's improvement on defense down the stretch.

Best new coaching hire: Illinois offensive coordinator Bill Cubit. The Illini improved their win total from two to four this season, but things would have been worse if not for Cubit, who helped Illinois improve from 119th in 2012 to 46th this year. Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase was the Big Ten's only 3,000-yard passer. Cubit might have saved head coach Tim Beckman's job for another year, as the Illini now look for a similar jump on defense.

ACC's best of 2013

January, 14, 2014
Jan 14
10:00
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The ACC spoiled us with great stories in 2013, from Boston College running back Andre Williams’ run at the Heisman, to Duke’s magical season and ending with Florida State’s national title. There were plenty of great games and individual performances, but a few stood out above the rest. Here’s a quick look back at the best of the 2013 season in the ACC:

Best coach: David Cutcliffe, Duke. Cutcliffe, the AFCA’s National Coach of the Year, led the Blue Devils to a 10-4 record, including the ACC Coastal Division title and an appearance in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, where Duke and Texas A&M played in the most-watched non-BCS game of the bowl season. He guided Duke to final national rankings in the BCS standings (24th), USA Today/Coaches poll (22nd) and Associated Press poll (23rd). Duke’s 10 wins are the most in school history.

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
Kelvin Kuo/USA TODAY SportsHeisman-winning quarterback Jameis Winston led Florida State to a 14-0 record and a national title.
Best player, offense: Jameis Winston, Florida State. In his first season as a starter, Winston won the Heisman Trophy and led Florida State to its first national title since 1999. He finished his season with 4,077 passing yards and 40 touchdowns, becoming the first freshman in FBS history to reach both marks. It is the second-highest single-season passing yardage total in school history, trailing only Chris Weinke (4,167 yards, 2000).

Best player, defense: Aaron Donald, Pitt. He became the Panthers’ first unanimous All-American since wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald in 2003, and the program’s first defensive player to earn unanimous status since legendary defensive end Hugh Green in 1980. Donald led the nation in tackles for loss (2.2 per game), while ranking 10th in forced fumbles (0.33 per game) and 13th in sacks (0.83 per game). Of his 54 total tackles, nearly half have been behind the line of scrimmage (26.5).

Best moment: Winston threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to Kelvin Benjamin with 13 seconds left, leading Florida State to a 34-31 win over No. 2 Auburn in the VIZIO BCS National Championship.

Best quote: "We’re the first team from South Carolina to ever win a BCS bowl." -- Clemson coach Dabo Swinney after the 40-35 win over Ohio State in the Discover Orange Bowl, stirring the pot with rival South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier.

Best play: Florida State’s fake punt: It changed the national championship entirely. Trailing by 18 points, Florida State faced a third-and-4 when receiver Rashad Greene dropped a pass from Winston and the punt unit came onto the field. The Noles caught Auburn snoozing. Karlos Williams took a pitch and ran it for the first down, sustaining a touchdown drive and giving FSU new life.

"We lost momentum in the game, it was 21-3," coach Jimbo Fisher said after the game. "I knew with five minutes to go if they got it back and scored, the game could be over right there before half. I knew we had the ball coming out the second half and we're here to win this thing. We weren't here just to show up and play well. And I thought that's what we had to do to gain the momentum of the game back, and it worked and we got it, went down, got the drive and then got back in the ballgame, and hopefully that's what changed the momentum of the game and got our confidence back.”

[+] EnlargeSammy Watkins
Cal Sport Media/AP ImagesOhio State couldn't stop Clemson wideout Sammy Watkins in the Discover Orange Bowl.
Best individual performance: Sammy Watkins in the Orange Bowl. He set a school and Orange Bowl record with 227 yards receiving -- tops among all players during bowl season. Ohio State's defensive backs had no answer for him. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Watkins gained 202 yards after the catch, eclipsing his previous career high of 137 yards after catch against Auburn in 2011.

Best game: The VIZIO BCS National Championship. Florida State’s rally from 18 points was the largest in BCS National Championship history, as the Noles battled back from a 21-3 deficit with 5:01 left in the second quarter). The game wasn’t over until FSU scored the game winner with 13 seconds left.

Best regular-season game: Clemson 38, Georgia 35. At the time, this game packed a punch, not only because of the on-field thriller, but also because of what it meant for the league. The ACC finally had the upper hand against the SEC on the big stage in a season opener, and it set the stage for Clemson’s run at the national title. Not only was it a win for the ACC, but the seesaw game lived up to all of the preseason hype and was an instant classic.

Best ACC game: Duke vs. UNC. Cutcliffe was hoisted onto his players’ shoulders and carried off the field in celebration of the Blue Devils’ first Coastal Division title. It was a 27-25 win against their in-state rivals -- on the road -- and was highlighted by DeVon Edwards’ game-sealing interception with 13 seconds left.

Best awards: The ACC won more national individual awards than the other BCS conferences combined. The ACC is the first conference in history to sweep the Heisman, Doak Walker, Davey O’Brien, Outland, Lombardi, Bednarik and Nagurski awards in the same season.

Best stat: The ACC had three victories over nonconference opponents ranked in the AP top 10, as many as the Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC combined.

SEC's best of 2013

January, 14, 2014
Jan 14
10:00
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The SEC’s national championship streak is over, but the memories from the 2013 season will endure.

It was a wild ride, for sure.

No team in the league finished unbeaten. The team that won the SEC championship and played for the national championship (Auburn) didn’t win a single SEC game in 2012. Nine of the league's 14 teams averaged 30 or more points per game, and there were 11 SEC matchups in which both teams scored 30 or more points.

And for the third consecutive season, at least four SEC teams finished in the top 10 of the final polls.

Here’s a look back at the 2013 season with our annual Best of the SEC:

[+] EnlargeTre Mason
Mike Ehrmann/Getty ImagesTre Mason saved his best games for last, including a record 304-yard outburst in the SEC championship game.
Best offensive player: Offense stole the show this season in the SEC, and Auburn junior running back Tre Mason was in a class by himself, particularly when it counted. The Tigers’ Heisman Trophy finalist finished with an SEC-best 1,816 rushing yards, breaking Bo Jackson’s school record, and also scored a league-high 25 touchdowns. In his last three games, against Alabama, Missouri and Florida State, Mason rushed for 663 yards and scored seven touchdowns.

Best defensive player: Of all the great players Alabama has had on defense under Nick Saban, senior linebacker C.J. Mosley is the only one to record 100 tackles in back-to-back seasons. He finished with 108 this season, including nine for loss, and also led the Crimson Tide with 10 quarterback hurries. What set Mosley apart was his ability to do a little bit of everything. He was one of the surest tacklers in the league, equally outstanding in coverage and as a blitzer and cleaned up the mistakes of those around him.

Best coach: There's no question that Auburn's Gus Malzahn deserves this honor. He helped take a team that went a humiliating 3-9 in 2012 to 12 wins, an SEC championship and berth in the VIZIO BCS National Championship. The Tigers beat five ranked teams, including their final three opponents leading up to their 34-31 loss to Florida State in Pasadena, Calif. Malzahn also was named the AP Coach of the Year.

Best freshman: There was some stiff competition for this one, but the nod goes to Florida cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III. All the talk coming into the season was about the Gators' veteran cornerbacks, Loucheiz Purifoy and Marcus Roberson, but Hargreaves wound up leading the Gators with three interceptions and was fourth in the SEC with 11 pass breakups. He was a first-team All-SEC selection by The Associated Press, becoming the first Florida true freshman to earn first-team All-SEC honors from the AP since Emmitt Smith in 1987.

Best performance in a win: Was anyone better than Mason in a win this year? In the SEC championship game victory over Missouri, Mason rushed for an SEC championship record 304 yards and four touchdowns on 46 carries. He carved up a Mizzou rush defense that entered the game ranked second in the league and made punishing runs in Auburn's 59-42 victory.

Best performance in a loss: Johnny Manziel wasn't perfect in Texas A&M's 49-42 loss to Alabama on Sept. 14. He had a couple of costly interceptions. But he also put the Aggies on his shoulders in the second half and nearly pulled off an improbable comeback. Manziel finished with 562 yards of total offense (464 yards passing and 98 yards rushing) and threw five touchdown passes. He threw three TD passes in the fourth quarter to rally Texas A&M from a 42-21 deficit.

Best comeback: An ailing Connor Shaw came off the bench in the third quarter to bring South Carolina back from the dead in a 27-24 double-overtime victory on the road against Missouri. The Gamecocks trailed 17-0 when Shaw entered the game. He was 20-of-29 passing for 201 yards and three touchdowns and led South Carolina to points on five of the six possessions he was on the field.

[+] EnlargeMarquez North
Charles Mitchell/Icon SMIMarquez North's incredible catch set up the winning field goal in Tennessee's upset of South Carolina.
Best catch: Alabama's Kevin Norwood had two or three sick catches this season, and South Carolina's Bruce Ellington had a one-handed, bobbling gem in the bowl game. Auburn's Ricardo Louis had the most-talked-about catch with his Hail Mary to beat Georgia, but top prize goes to Tennessee freshman Marquez North. His 39-yard catch on a third-and-10 play with less than three minutes remaining set up the game-winning field goal in the Vols' 23-21 victory over South Carolina. North, with the defender draped all over him, somehow managed to pull the ball between his face mask and shoulder pads with his left hand.

Best block: Easily the most talked about block of the year came when Florida wide receiver Quinton Dunbar and Florida center Jon Harrison blocked each other during a play in Florida's embarrassing home loss to Georgia Southern. The block drew laughs from plenty of folks inside and outside of Gainesville and pretty much summed up Florida's disastrous 4-8 season.

Best moment: Auburn's Immaculate Deflection against Georgia was amazing, but Chris Davis' Kick Six -- an improbable 109-yard touchdown return on a missed Alabama field goal to close out the Iron Bowl -- was simply divine. Who would have ever thought that a Nick Saban-coached team would give up such a crazy play with one second (which Saban asked for) remaining? The play, in which Davis was barely touched, catapulted Auburn into the SEC championship game and eliminated Alabama from contention for its third consecutive national championship.

Best finish: How about the way the Mississippi State Bulldogs ended the 2013 season? With all due respect to Missouri's bounce back after that loss to Auburn, the Bulldogs were on the brink of postseason elimination before winning their last two regular-season games in overtime, including a victory over archrival Ole Miss, to become bowl eligible. The Bulldogs then pummeled Rice 44-7 in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl.

Best under-the-radar star: Missouri defensive end Michael Sam came out of nowhere to steal the defensive spotlight for most of the season. He was a terror off the edge, had three games in which he recorded three sacks and led the SEC with 11.5 sacks and 19 tackles for loss. Pretty good replacement for Sheldon Richardson.

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