Originally Published: September 23, 2012

As fall arrived, so did the nation's best defenses

By Ivan Maisel
ESPN.com

EUGENE, Ore. -- As the schedule moves from the rent-a-victims to more familiar opponents, points and yards are going to be harder to earn.

No. 3 Oregon doesn't play defense the way the other national contenders play it. No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 LSU pummel teams into submission.

Defense is not the Ducks' trademark, as is the case in Tuscaloosa and Baton Rouge. The Oregon defense is accustomed to living in the shadow of its flashy teammates on offense.

"I'm aware of that. I'm very much aware of that," Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti said, laughing.

The Ducks just make a play when they have to make it -- and on Saturday night, they made a lot of them. Oregon shut out No. 22 Arizona 49-0, stopping the Wildcats on 23 snaps in the red zone.

On a Saturday that featured four games between Top 25 teams, defense carried the day everywhere but Tallahassee. No. 4 Florida State, in a 49-37 comeback victory over No. 10 Clemson, treated the Tigers' defense the same way it treated the Murray States and Savannah States, shredding Clemson for 667 yards.

That game proved to be the outlier.

No. 11 Notre Dame forced six Michigan turnovers and a mea culpa from Wolverines senior quarterback Denard Robinson in a 13-6 victory that provided slobberknocking and tension in lieu of points. No. 15 Kansas State turned three turnovers into 14 points and stunned No. 6 Oklahoma 24-19 in Norman.

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Scott Olmos/US PresswireOregon's defense stepped up to the challenge against Arizona on Saturday.

Those defensive gems paled compared to what Oregon showed Saturday night. Arizona came into Autzen Stadium having scored 115 points in its past two games. The Wildcats' offense had produced 16 plays of 20-plus yards. The Oregon defense allowed Arizona one big play (a 23-yard fourth-quarter run after the score was 35-0) and no points. The Ducks also forced five turnovers, including a pair of pick-sixes in the fourth quarter.

The Oregon defense, which is used to playing as much as 35 minutes per game because of the Ducks' fast-paced, fast-scoring offense, will never win the statistical wars. But the Ducks are deep, they tackle well, and they complete their assignments.

"Stats, most of the time, you look at those because you're losing or you're trying to find a way to make you look better," Aliotti said. "The most important stat is shaped like a W."

The Wildcats went into the red zone four times in the first 18 minutes of the game and six times overall. Those drives ended with a mishandled field-goal snap, a blocked field goal, two interceptions and two good old-fashioned fourth-down stops.

"It's hard to get a shutout in modern football," Aliotti said. "In today's game, you can play unbelievable defense, and … you get a field goal blocked, and they run it in for a touchdown. Shutout? The first quarter, I had no idea what was going to happen. It was tough sledding there, early."

Oregon didn't physically dominate Arizona the way that LSU stuffed Auburn in a 12-10 road victory. The Tigers limited Auburn to 183 total yards and two third-down conversions. On 12 of its 13 possessions, Auburn had at least one play on which it lost yardage or turned it over.

The LSU offense, limited a year ago, didn't look much different Saturday night. Quarterback Zach Mettenberger played as if he had never started an SEC road game. But with that defense, LSU doesn't need much offense.

As fall arrived, so did the best defenses in the nation. Wouldn't you know it? They belong to the top-ranked teams.

Clemson loses control of Atlantic Division race

By Heather Dinich
ESPN.com

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Clemson coach Dabo Swinney called the Tigers' 49-37 loss to Florida State "a little bit of a step back."

As far as the overall health of the program goes? He's right. Clemson didn't "pull a Clemson." It didn't embarrass itself like it did in the Orange Bowl. It didn't lose to a struggling Maryland team. It played a thriller on the road against the No. 4 team in the country and lost to the better team. No shame there.

As far as the Atlantic Division standings go? Clemson took a Size 16 step back.

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Melina Vastola/US PresswireTajh Boyd and Clemson struggled against Florida State in the second half.

Considering the way the rest of the division has looked, Saturday's game in Tallahassee felt more like a November deal-breaker for the Tigers than it did a September scene-setter in the ACC.

This was a high-stakes game that put Florida State in the driver's seat and now has Clemson in a must-win situation while hoping the Noles trip up somewhere down the stretch -- twice.

"Obviously this is a tough loss because it is a division loss as well, so we don't control our own destiny anymore," said Swinney. "That's the difficult part of it, but it's far from over. We've got a lot of football left. We are still in the car, we just don't have our hands on the steering wheel anymore."

The defending ACC champs took a wrong turn when they allowed FSU to go on a 35-3 run over a span of about 20 minutes. Clemson had a 28-14 lead at the half and quarterback Tajh Boyd was giving FSU's defense fits with his mobility, but the Noles made adjustments in the second half and got better pressure on him. They also realized they've got a Heisman contender of their own.

Clemson's season isn't over, but its chances of repeating as ACC champs now depend in part on Florida State's success or lack thereof. "We still have an opportunity to have a really good football team," Swinney said. "We have an opportunity to have a great season. Anything can happen."

As long as it happens to Florida State, too.

Auburn displays toughness in close loss to LSU

By Edward Aschoff
ESPN.com

AUBURN, Ala. -- All week, Auburn coach Gene Chizik preached toughness.

If his Tigers were going to have a chance against No. 2 LSU, they had to play tough -- much tougher than they had in the first three weeks of the season.

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AP Photo/Dave MartinIn a losing effort, Gene Chizik's Tigers showed a lot of mettle and toughness against LSU.

Well, Chizik's team didn't get the win, and it will head into October with three losses for the first time in school history, but the Tigers should do so with a little more fire and a little more confidence after a hard-fought 12-10 loss to LSU.

"We just kept telling each other we have to come out and play hard every play," defensive back Josh Holsey said. "We all bought into the mentality that we're just going to just bust them in the mouth as soon as possible."

Unlike Auburn's previous two losses, these Tigers showed a lot of mettle and toughness. For a team that entered the night possessing the SEC's second-worst defense, Auburn shut down LSU's offense when it had to. Sure, there was some bend in the rush defense, but LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger never looked comfortable, thanks to an Auburn pass rush that took the pass threat away.

Mettenberger fumbled twice, was sacked twice (by Corey Lemonier) and hurried seven times. That harassment led to some poor throws by Mettenberger and some miscues by LSU's offense.

Even with how bad Auburn's offense played (183 total yards), with 39 seconds left, Auburn had a chance to win.

Auburn now has two weeks to build off this effort. There aren't moral victories, but it should feel much better now than it did after the first three weeks.

"We played against our second top-10 team and had chances to win the game, but we didn't finish, and it is disappointing, but our goal every week is to improve," Chizik said. "I saw a lot of improvement out of our football team tonight in a lot of different ways.

"I'm very proud of the effort they gave, and the improvement they made."

Assessing the BCS title race through Week 4

By Travis Haney
ESPN Insider

At the season's quarter pole, and after two consecutive Saturday night shakeups, what have we learned about the national championship picture and the storylines we touched on leading into the fall?

Some have panned out, just as expected; others have been complete surprises. Here are my takeaways from Week 4.

1. Alabama is good. Really good.

You simply cannot begin this discussion with any other team than the defending champs.

We knew in August that the Tide would again be solid, despite replacing nearly a dozen starters on both sides of the ball. But this level of domination, regardless of the competition, has been remarkable.

The defense went from the third quarter of the opener against Michigan to the fourth quarter Saturday against Florida Atlantic without giving up a point, a span of more than 12 quarters -- more specifically, 205 minutes, 25 seconds.

Right now, there's Bama and everyone else. That includes LSU, which was shaky on the road Saturday at Auburn. There's still plenty of time, though, for steam to build before the teams' Nov. 3 meeting in Baton Rouge.

To read the rest of Travis Haney's story, click here Insider.

Landry Jones takes the fall for Oklahoma

By Jake Trotter
SoonerNation

NORMAN, Okla. -- Landry Jones' fumble against Kansas State sure looked like his fumble in the Cotton Bowl two years ago.

A polished player in so many ways, Jones continues to make the same mindless mistakes he did as a young quarterback. And Saturday night, it cost Oklahoma big, as Kansas State stunned the sixth-ranked Sooners, 24-19.

"I played pretty terrible," Jones said. "We played really dumb football, especially me.

"This one is on me."

Dumb football is not what you'd expect from a fifth-year player in his fourth season as the starting quarterback. But that's what the Sooners got from Jones, whose two costly turnovers led to a pair of K-State touchdowns.

Jones also overthrew tight end Brannon Green, who was wide open in the end zone, on OU's opening drive, which forced the Sooners to settle for a field goal -- and set the tone for the night.

But the turnovers were the difference.

To read the rest of Jake Trotter's story, click here.

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