Defenses dominate in ACC bowl wins

Do you want to know why the ACC finished with its first winning bowl record since 2005?

Defense, baby.

Headed into the postseason, we knew ACC defenses would have to step up big time. And the units for bowl winning teams Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, Clemson and Florida State did that in a major way. Here are a few of the highlights:

  • Each team held the opposition to under 260 yards of total offense.

  • Their opponents averaged 11 points on offense.

  • Georgia Tech held USC to a season-low seven points in a 21-7 win in the Hyundai Sun Bowl, and allowed a season-low 205 total yards for its best performance of the season. The Jackets held talented USC receivers Marqise Lee and Robert Woods to a combined nine catches for 74 yards and no scores. Cornerback Rod Sweeting was selected game MVP.

  • Virginia Tech held Rutgers to 196 yards total offense in a 13-10 overtime win in the Russell Athletic Bowl, and did not allow an offensive score. Cornerback Antone Exum, who had the game-changing interception, was selected game MVP.

  • Clemson held LSU to 219 total yards and nine first downs and recorded a season-high six sacks in a 25-24 win in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl. The sack total is tied for the second most in a bowl game by the Clemson defense.

  • And Florida State completely shut down dual-threat Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch in a 31-10 win in the Discover Orange Bowl, holding him to 176 yards passing, 44 yards rushing and one total touchdown. The Huskies had 83 yards rushing, the first time all season they were held below 100 yards on the ground.

While we all have seen how good the Seminoles can be on defense, it was refreshing to see Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech and Clemson step up in this area in their bowl games. Georgia Tech put together a complete effort for the first time all season. And while some may look at the game and say USC never showed up, the Jackets deserve credit for their part in the result. Remember, this is a team that fired its coordinator and went into the contest giving up nearly 30 points per game.

The Hokies have been maddeningly inconsistent as well. Remember how Boston College took them into overtime? How they gave up a last-second score to lose to Florida State? The talent has always been there, the execution has been lacking. Not in the bowl game.

"This is what Virginia Tech is all about," linebacker Jack Tyler told me after the game. "I think games like this is what Tech’s M.O. is and the defense going forward should be stout and I think that if we played like this all year we could be a No. 1 defense. We have the talent, we have the coaching staff. We just need to put it all together."

As for Clemson, Tajh Boyd was showered with accolades afterward for his incredible performance. But I thought what the defense did was just as impressive, if not more. Yes, we know LSU does not have much of an offense. But to see the way Clemson dominated up front? Well that was something we had rarely seen all year. In all, Clemson had 11 tackles for loss and Malliciah Goodman ended his career with a standout performance.

Finally, Florida State. Lynch provided all the bulletin board material earlier in the week when he told The Sporting News, "We plan on wearing them down. In the fourth quarter, we plan to have them on their knees -- and then just keep pounding away." He also said, "They haven't seen anything like our offense."

Well, clearly Lynch and his teammates had not seen anything like the Florida State defense in the MAC. The Huskies were held to 227 yards below their average, and a whopping 31 points below their scoring average. Florida State linebacker Vince Williams minced no words when he said after the game, according to The Orlando Sentinel, "He's terrible. I can't believe they tried us like that."

He later added: "We've been really, really good and nobody's ever said anything like that to us. So we were like, 'This man must have lost his mind.'"