Mackensie Alexander made headlines this summer when he pronounced himself the nation’s top cornerback. It was a suggestion that many observers dismissed at the moment, but after Notre Dame’s star wideout Will Fuller was held to just two catches — one vs. Alexander — for 37 yards in Clemson’s 24-22 win Saturday, Alexander reiterated his belief, and it became a lot harder to dismiss.
“This was perfect because I think my play did the talking,” Alexander said after the game before doing a good bit more talking. “I saw it on ESPN, people telling me this was a great matchup. And he did a good job by killing everybody else every week. Tonight, he had  yards, had one catch on me. It was fun, man.”
So if Alexander’s play is going to do the talking, where exactly does he stack up?
Comparing his stats to the other elite corners in the country since the start of 2014 — numbers courtesy of STATS, LLC — his argument as the nation’s best has plenty of merit.
Among the elite corners in the country, Alexander has the lowest rate of completions allowed and only Florida’s Vernon Hargreaves III has allowed a markedly lower yards-per-target. What’s more, as a percentage of opponents’ total passes, no corner has been avoided more than Alexander, who has been on the receiving end of just 12.5 percent of pass attempts against Clemson.
Pitt’s pass rush flourishes
Pitt’s defense looks dramatically better than it did a year ago, and even if this year’s early opponents haven’t been the best test, there’s some clear progression, starting at the line of scrimmage.
Through four games, Pitt has 17 sacks. The Panthers had just 19 sacks all of last season. They’ve doubled their tackles-for-loss per game (8.25 from 4.15 last year) and 36.2 percent of opponents’ rushing plays are going for a loss or no gain, up from 22 percent in 2014. Meanwhile, the only two defenses putting opposing QBs under pressure more often than Pitt are Virginia Tech and Missouri.
Jackson has moves
In his first five games, Louisville’s Lamar Jackson has racked up 100 pass yards, 100 rush yards and a touchdown three times. In the last decade, only two other ACC quarterbacks have had more in an entire season: Maryland’s C.J. Brown in 2013 and Georgia Tech’s Justin Thomas last year. Both did it four times.
So far this season, Jackson’s 435 rush yards are the third-most in the country for a QB (trailing Navy’s Keenan Reynolds and Houston’s Greg Ward Jr.) and the fourth-most overall in the ACC. The problem for Louisville, however, is while Jackson is flourishing on the ground, its running backs are averaging just 3.31 yards-per-carry, last in the ACC and 125th nationally. Only Central Michigan and UCF have been worse.
Everett Golson’s yards-per-attempt in the last three weeks aren’t particularly encouraging for Florida State fans: 6.27, 4.96 and 6.52. The last time a Jimbo Fisher-coached QB averaged fewer than 7 yards per attempt in three straight regular-season games was Christian Ponder in 2008.
North Carolina’s Marquise Williams is the only quarterback in the last decade to record a passing, rushing and receiving touchdown in three straight seasons.
Duke’s Jeremy Cash is second in the ACC in tackles (42), fourth in solo tackles (24), first in tackles for loss (9.5) and first in forced fumbles (3). Meanwhile, the Blue Devils rank seventh nationally in defensive efficiency.
While the Duke D is flourishing, the offense has struggled. Thomas Sirk’s 5.34 yards-per-attempt vs. FBS foes is 112th out of 124 qualified QBs. Only Louisville’s Jackson, Purdue’s Austin Appleby and Maryland’s Caleb Rowe are worse among Power 5 passers.
Georgia Tech’s defense has taken a nice step forward this season, cutting 1.3 yards-per-play off its average and slashing its third-down conversion rate. The problem for the Yellow Jackets, however, is that the offense hasn’t helped much. Through five games, this year’s Tech D has been on the field for 13 more drives than it had been through five weeks last season.
Miami has converted just 24.5 percent of its third-down tries this season, the second-worst in the nation. Its red-zone TD rate is 46.2 percent, 113th nationally, and its goal-to-go TD rate of 63.6 percent ranks 108th. Where the Canes are really struggling is third-and-short, where they’ve converted just 28.6 percent of third downs. Only two other Power 5 programs are converting less than 40 percent.