Lowsman Trophy Watch: The Defensive Stat Line Of The YearS

Each week, Football Outsiders recognizes the most outstanding college linemen, defenders and other darkhorses from the previous weekend who are habitually overlooked in the hype for that other award (whatever it's called). These are the Lowsmen.

SHILIQUE CALHOUN • DE, Michigan State
After a certain point, watching the Spartans' assault on Michigan's offense felt like watching a fight that needed to be stopped, and finally was when coaches decided Wolverine quarterback Devin Gardner was too "beat up" to continue in an ugly, 28-6 loss that clinched the Spartans' claim as the best defense in college football. (Through nine games, MSU leads the nation in total defense, rushing defense and pass efficiency defense, and hasn't allowed a touchdown in 12 consecutive quarters.) No one played a more prominent role in the beatdown than Calhoun, a Lowsman regular, who crashed the Michigan backfield for three of the Spartans' seven sacks and a pair of QB hurries to boot. Including sacks, Michigan State held the Wolverines to -48 yards rushing, the worst performance by any FBS offense on the ground in the last three years.

AARON DONALD • DT, Pittsburgh
Even in defeat, Donald was a one-man daisy cutter against Georgia Tech's triple-option attack, turning in the defensive stat line of the year with 11 solo tackles, six tackles for loss and a pair of forced fumbles in a 21-10 loss. So yeah, cut-blocking Aaron Donald: It doesn't work.

Is there a better a player this season on a worse team? At six feet, 285 pounds, Donald still leads the nation in TFLs despite facing regular double teams from much larger offensive linemen. Meanwhile, Pitt ranks 12th out of 14 ACC teams in total offense and has failed to top 14 points in four of five conference games.

CB MANUEL ASPRILLA, DE KASIM EDEBALI, and LB KEVIN PIERRE-LOUIS • Boston College
Asprilla, Edebali, and Pierre-Louis combined for 22 tackles and four turnovers against Virginia Tech, leading directly to 17 points in a 34–27 upset for the Eagles. Asprilla came up with the first takeaway of the day in the third quarter, returning an interception 49 yards to set up a short BC field goal; a few series later, Edebali came through on a sack-and-strip that put the offense at close range for a 17-yard touchdown "drive." From there, Pierre-Louis extended the lead on a 33-yard pick-six in the fourth quarter, and Edebali drove the nail in the coffin with his second sack/forced fumble on the Hokies' final possession. Going back to last week's debacle against Duke, Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas has eight giveaways to his credit (six interceptions, two fumbles) in two games.

NAVY'S OFFENSIVE LINE
The Midshipmen ran 70 times for 331 yards at Notre Dame, methodically piling up the yards and points behind Bradyn Heap, E.K. Binns, Tanner Fleming, Jake Zuzek and Brandon Greene despite failing to produce a single carry longer than 20 yards in a 38-34 loss. Altogether, the Midshipmen scored touchdowns on five of nine offensive possessions, four of them covering at least 70 yards, and racked up a 16-minute advantage in time of possession before a last-gasp fourth-down attempt came up short in Irish territory.

D'JOUN SMITH • CB, Florida Atlantic
FAU turned in its best game of the season Saturday in the absence of its coke-snorting head coach, at one point coming away with four interceptions on four consecutive passes in a 34-17 upset over Tulane. Three of those picks belonged to Smith, two of them leading to short-field touchdowns that turned a halftime deficit into a double-digit lead the Owls never relinquished. (With that, he also vaulted into the national lead for interceptions, and ranks second in passes defended.) Between quarterbacks Nick Montana (yes, that Montana) and Devin Powell, Tulane finished 11-of-31 for 105 yards and zero touchdowns to balance the four picks, good for an astounding pass efficiency rating of 38.1. The only FBS offenses with worse numbers to their credit this season are Arkansas, which turned in a 34.8 against South Carolina; Syracuse, which finished with a 35.3 against Clemson; and South Florida, which put up a 36.7 against Michigan State, and still ranks dead last nationally in the category.

MARCUS TROTTER • LB, Wisconsin.
Filling in for injured starter/Lowsman regular Chris Borland, Trotter made good on the opportunity with a team-high nine tackles against Iowa, including two for loss, holding the Hawkeyes out of the end zone in a 28–9 win. Iowa finished with 115 yards rushing on 3.6 per carry, its worst output of the season on the ground against a non-Spartan defense, and 43 of those yards came on one play.

OUTSIDER OF THE WEEK: ANTHONY LaCOSTE • RB, Air Force
LaCoste finished with 263 yards on 11.4 per carry against Army, including touchdown runs covering 73 and 78 yards, in the Falcons' first win since opening day. Prior to Saturday, LaCoste's longest gain of the season was 21 yards, coming against Notre Dame.

SEASON STANDINGS
1. Anthony Barr, LB, UCLA
2. Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
3. Michael Sam, DE, Missouri
4. Shilique Calhoun, DE, Michigan State
5. Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
6. Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
7. Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
8. Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State
9. Trent Murphy, DE, Stanford
10. David Yankey, OG, Stanford


The Lowsman Trophy Watch was created by Robert Weintraub. Want to nominate a player? Drop us a line.

Matt Hinton writes about college football for Football Outsiders and SB Nation's Football Study Hall. Follow on Twitter, @MattRHinton.