Since 1995, the Football Writers Association of America and the Charlotte Touchdown Club have partnered to bring you the Bronko Nagurski Trophy winner each year. The Best Defensive Player in the entire country is announced at the Westin Hotel in downtown Charlotte each December before sellout crowds, with this year’s 21st straight banquet, sponsored by ACN and slated for Dec. 7. Auburn Coach Gus Malzahn will deliver the keynote speech.
Five finalists for the award, named after the legendary Minnesota Gopher and Chicago Bears lineman, will appear on stage before the winner is announced by 2015 FWAA President Lee Barfknecht of the Omaha World-Herald. During the evening, the winner of the Bronko Nagurski Legends Award, sponsored by East Coast Railways, will also be feted–Ohio State linebacker Randy Gradishar (1971-73).
Arizona’s junior linebacker Scooby Wright III will attempt to become only the second player to win back-to-back Nagurski Trophies after Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald in 1995 and 1996. Wright is just the second sophomore to win the award after Ohio State linebacker James Laurinatis in 2006.
The weekly ACN Bronko Report will bring to you updates on what is happening on the defensive side of the ball during the 2015 season, top matchups and also provide links to stories on Bronko Nagurski Alumni and occasional feature stories about current top defensive players who might wind up in Charlotte the first week of December
MATCHUP OF THE WEEK
Temple at East Carolina on Thursday night. The 22nd-ranked Owls (6-0) are in the Associated Press Top 25 for the first time since 1979 and will receive a test on the road in Greenville, N.C. Temple linebacker Tyler Matakevich has 52 tackles, three sacks, 6.0 tackles for loss, three interceptions and four pass breakups in six games and is the NCAA’s active career leader in total tackles (406). The Owls lead The American in scoring defense (14.7 points per game). East Carolina has won 13 of its last 14 home conference games. If Temple falls behind the Pirates in the first half, the Owls could have a rough night. ECU has won 26 straight games in which it has led at halftime.
BRONKO NAGURSKI BANQUET NEWS
AutoNation FWAA DEFENSIVE PLAYERS OF WEEK
Alabama’s defense rewrote part of the school’s record book, returning three interceptions for touchdowns and outscoring its offense in a 41-23 win at Texas A&M. Minkah Fitzpatrick and Eddie Jackson, teammates in the secondary, combined for four interceptions and all three scoring returns to earn the AutoNation FWAA Defensive Players of the Week honor for games the weekend of Oct. 17, as selected by the Football Writers Association on America.
Fitzpatrick, a 6-1, 195-pound freshman cornerback from Old Bridge, N.J., became the only player in Alabama history (in records they have back to 1948) to return two interceptions for touchdowns in the same game. His first pick and return of 33 yards to the end zone gave Alabama a 7-0 lead. His 55-yard interception and touchdown return provided the Crimson Tide’s final score, which put the game out of reach with 5:18 left.
Jackson, a 6-0, 194-pound junior safety from Lauderdale Lakes, Fla., also had two interceptions in the game, and returned one of them 93 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter to give Alabama with a 28-6 lead. The 93-yard return is the third-longest in school history. Jackson also had a 26-yard return on his other interception to the Texas A&M 28-yard line, setting up another score. Jackson’s 119 return yards are the most return yards in a game by an Alabama player.
The Crimson Tide’s 207 interception return yards is an Alabama single-game record, the third-most in SEC history and the most since Tennessee had 214 against South Carolina in 1971.
“The four interceptions were huge in the game,” Alabama head coach Nick Saban said. “Three scores on defense is unprecedented and probably some kind of record. Minkah (Fitzpatrick) having two is fantastic for a freshman. The thing I’m probably most proud of with our players is when we lost the momentum of the game in the second quarter, when we dominated the game in the first quarter, the players really responded well in the second half to go out there and compete.”
MEMORABLE DEFENSIVE PERFORMANCES FROM LAST WEEK
Utah State senior linebacker Kyler Fackrell: He recorded a season-high 11 stops (four unassisted), including 2.5 tackles for loss, in Utah State’s 52-26 against then-ranked Boise State. He recovered two fumbles as part of eight takeaways by Utah State. He also forced a fumble and had two quarterback hurries. The Aggies scored 35 first-half points off Boise State turnovers. Fackrell helped anchor a Utah State defense that limited the Broncos to just 34 yards rushing. His first fumble recovery led to a late first-quarter touchdown that gave the Aggies a 17-3 lead. With less than two minutes remaining in the first half, Fackrell forced a fumble that was recovered by Utah State. The Aggies scored one play later.
Oklahoma junior cornerback Zack Sanchez: He intercepted two passes and returned one for a touchdown in Oklahoma’s 55-0 victory at Kansas State. Sanchez and the Oklahoma defense held the Wildcats to 110 total yards (fewest by an OU opponent on their home field since 2005) and just seven first downs. It was OU’s first shutout against a Big 12 opponent since 2010 and the first time K-State was held scoreless at home since 1991. Sanchez recorded his first interception with 6:38 left in the second quarter. On K-State’s opening possession of the second half, the junior cornerback stepped in front of the intended receiver for his second interception and returned it 38 yards for a score. It was his third career interception returned for a touchdown, tying an OU record.
LSU junior end Lewis Neal: He shattered his career highs with 10 tackles, 3.5 tackles for a loss (including three sacks) in a 35-28 victory over Florida. His three sacks rank as the second-most in a game in LSU history. His 3.5 tackles for loss were the most in a game by a Tiger since defensive end Sam Montgomery had 3.5 at Auburn in 2012. Neal led an LSU defensive effort that limited Florida to 55 rushing yards on 31 carries, an average 1.8 yards per rush. Neal ranks second in the SEC in sacks and seventh in tackles for a loss.
Michigan State senior end Shilique Calhoun: Recorded five tackles, including a career-best 3.5 tackles for loss, in Michigan State’s 27-23 victory over Michigan. His tackles for loss totaled 11 yards, including a pair of sacks for a loss of six yards. He was part of a Michigan State defense that forced the Wolverines to go three-and-out on six possessions. He earned his third career Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week honor and second this season
Florida State sophomore linebacker Jacob Pugh: He had two sacks and a game-high seven tackles in the Seminoles’ 41-21 victory over Louisville. Pugh led a defensive effort that recorded a season-high five sacks – FSU’s most since 2013 – and held Louisville to just 99 yards rushing. Pugh’s two sacks and seven total tackles also marked career highs.
Old Dominion junior linebacker TJ Ricks: He set a school record with 18 tackles and added two tackles for loss, a sack, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery in ODU’s 37-34 victory over Charlotte. Ricks notched his first sack of the season and forced a fumble that ODU recovered to thwart a Charlotte drive. He also recovered a fumble and returned it 28 yards to set up an Old Dominion field goal. The 18 tackles in a game are tied for the seventh most in the country this season.
Washington State junior safety Shalom Luani: He recorded a game-high 11 tackles (eight unassisted) with two interceptions and a pass breakup in Washington State’s 52-31 victory over Oregon State. His returned his first interception 84 yards for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter, the Cougars’ only points of the second half and Washington State’s first interception returned for a touchdown since 2013. Luani added a second interception on Oregon State’s next possession to seal the victory. He became the fourth Pac-12 player this season with two interceptions in a game and recorded the longest interception for a touchdown in conference play this season.
SCOOBY WRIGHT III UPDATE
Arizona’s junior linebacker Scooby Wright III, the 2014 Bronko Nagurski Trophy winner, went down with a left knee injury midway through the first quarter of the Wildcats’ 42-32 season-opening victory over Texas-San Antonio on Sept. 3. He had surgery to replace a torn lateral meniscus two days later. He returned for the first time in Arizona’s game against UCLA on Sept. 26. His left knee held up, but he suffered a right foot injury in the 56-30 loss to the Bruins. Wright finished with seven tackles in the UCLA game, five unassisted. He has missed the Wildcats’ last three games and will be out again for the Washington State game on Saturday in Tucson, it appears.
SPOTLIGHT ON A BRONKO NAGURSKI TROPHY CANDIDATE
Penn State’s Carl Nassib states his case as one of the Big Ten’s top defensive players. CLICK HERE to read more.
SPOTLIGHT ON A BRONKO NAGURSKI TROPHY WINNER
Texas’ Brian Orakpo claimed the Bronko Nagurski Trophy in 2008. He’s now with the Washington Redskins. CLICK HERE to read more.
NCAA FBS INDIVIUDAL DEFENSIVE STATISTICS NATIONAL RANKINGS
BRONKO NAGURSKI WATCH LIST
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