BC linebacker Luke Kuechly was around the ball so much against Duke last week you’d think that he was the one carrying it.
Kuechly finished with a career-high 21 tackles, broke up two passes, forced a fumble and recovered another on the next series.
Did you get that? Twenty-one tackles. Neither team could even get that many first downs.
When it comes to making tackles, no one in the country is better.
Kuechly is the only player in the nation to have two games with at least 20 tackles. He also had 20 at NC State on Oct. 9. For the second straight year, Kuechly has ranked either No. 1 or No. 2 in the country in total tackles and solo tackles. Last year he finished second in total tackles. This year he leads all players with 146. Yet after two seasons of racking up flabbergasting numbers, Kuechly is one of the most under-the-radar players outside of the ACC.
“Luke Kuechly is a great football player,” said Duke coach David Cutcliffe. “He is a humble youngster; I know him well. I think he is the best defensive football player in college football. Absolutely, without question. And I will vote in that regard.”
Cutcliffe wouldn’t be the first.
As a true freshman last year, Kuechly earned All-America honors from the Football Writers Association of America. His 158 tackles were the most by a BC defender since 1993 and his 12.15 tackles per game were the most by a rookie since the NCAA began tracking tackles in 2003.
And somehow, this year, he’s even better.
“Now that I’ve got a year under my belt I think I’m more comfortable with the whole scheme of our defense,” he said. “I feel more comfortable not only with what I’m doing, but with what other people are doing, too. That’s allowed me to play a little more comfortably out there and have a little more confidence in what I’m doing.”
Despite his breakout season as a true freshman, it took Kuechly, a former high school safety, some time to learn the position. He was thrown into a starting role last year after Mark Herzlich was diagnosed with cancer and Mike McLaughlin ruptured his Achilles.
"He worked at it," said defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Bill McGovern. "He was one of those guys when he came in the meeting room he would ask questions. He wanted to know where he was supposed to be and how he fit, what was going on and why he should be doing that. He learned the game quickly. He takes a lot of pride in understanding what's going on, what we're doing on defense and also how the offense is attacking him."
Apparently, not very well.
Against Duke, Kuechly extended his streak of games with 10-plus tackles to 19, which is the nation's longest active streak.
In addition to his playmaking abilities, what separates Kuechly from many of his peers is his humility.
The interception at Wake Forest? He passed it off as just being “in the right place at the right time.” The forced and recovered fumble at Duke? “I was just kind of around the ball.” His ridiculous stats? “If I have two tackles and we can win the game I’m perfectly OK with that.”
Those within the program have nicknamed him everything from Boy Wonder, to Superman and Clark Kent (because of his studious, off-field look with glasses), but Kuechly said he’s just an “average student” in BC’s business school, taking some electives and trying to figure out what he wants to do with the rest of his life.
He’s got some time to decide.
The fact that Kuechly is a sophomore means the best is yet to come. But how does he top what he’s already done? He self-scouts every week to find out.
“I need to work on angles to the ball and things,” he said. “I missed a couple of tackles this past weekend because I took poor angles to the ball. There’s some things in pass coverage I need to work on, get in better position, not only help myself but help the secondary behind me. That’s one of the things that kind of goes unnoticed if you don’t particularly know what you’re looking at. I have to get in better position for pass coverage.”
Regardless of how much success he has, or how much progress he continues to make, one thing that’s unlikely to change about Kuechly is his modesty.
“The biggest thing is that I didn’t get to where I am by myself,” he said. “There’s people who were constantly helping me out, guys like Wes Davis and Mark Herzlich. Everyone around me has really helped me get to where I am today. Without them I wouldn’t be in this situation. The thing that you have to keep in the back of your mind is that there’s always somebody better than you, and there’s always somebody who helped you get to where you are.”
And right now, Kuechly is at the top.