I wanted each of them to have their own spot, but there just wasn't enough room. With Brian Toal limited to second-team duties, Akins and Francois acted like first-teamers. Francois started for Toal and tackled everything he saw. In fact I think he was the only Eagle to make a tackle all afternoon (the above statistics refute that, but it seemed like it). Late in the game, Francois made the leap from "guy whose name is being called more than anyone" to "most consistent player on defense right now." We all know about Francois' assist to Jaime Silva to the end the game, but he also broke through the line for a four-yard tackle-for-a-loss on 3rd-and-1 in a tie game with three minutes to go in the fourth. A 40-yard field goal became a 44-yarder, and BYU kicker Jared McLaughlin dinged the left upright. Akins might not have been all over the field like Francois, but he was in John Beck's facemask all afternoon. It seemed like there wasn't a play that Akins didn't blitz when he was out there and his pressure was the only means the Eagles had of disrupting Beck.
#4. Dejuan Tribble (6 tackles – all solo, INT)
Finally, a playmaker in the secondary. It wasn't a pretty day statistically for the d-backs (438 yards for Beck) and it sure hasn't been a pretty year (last in the ACC in pass defense). They needed (and still need) someone to start making things happen and Tribble finally did. He may have had an up-and-down day on special teams (two fumbles, 50-yard kick return), but Tribble was rock-solid on defense. Beck tested him deep and Tribble responded by making perfectly timed swats on long balls and a one-handed, lunging interception that, as Tribble said later, surprised even him. His blanketing coverage continued in overtime, when Beck failed several times to complete a pass into the end zone.
#3. Brandon Robinson (7 catches, 140 yards)
It's about time my #1 Breakthrough Player had, well, a breakthrough performance. I was getting nervous there. Robinson on Saturday was something Eagles' fans had yet to see this year: a deep threat. His 79-yard reception down the right sideline in the first quarter quickly turned 1st-and-10 from their own 15 to 1st-and-Goal on BYU's six. Robinson gave the offense unmatched speed down the sideline and open-field playmaking ability, which made him an obvious target for Matt Ryan. Let's hope it continues. The only mistake he made was letting his defender catch up with him on the long bomb.
"I was kind of upset about that one," Robinson said about not getting into the end zone on the 79-yarder. "I don't know what happened [laughs]. I thought I was [alone], but the corner was just a little faster than I was and he got me. So kudos to him."
#2. Tony Gonzalez (6 catches, 69 yards, 2 TD)
Ho-hum, just another day at the office for Gonzalez. Yes, he had about 70 fewer yards than Robinson. But Gonzalez's two touchdown catches had degrees of difficulty of 15 and 13, respectively (on a 10-point scale). In the second quarter, Gonzalez came down with an 18-yard touchdown catch as he was falling down behind a defender, who tried illegally to break up the play. And his 15-yard game-winner was more unlikely than I think fans initially realized. Ryan was never supposed to throw it to Gonzalez. He was the last receiver in Ryan's progression on that play and Ryan took a major risk – something he rarely does – lofting it up to him. But Gonzo made a great adjustment and positioned his body in such a way that no one but him would be able to touch the ball. A truly clutch play by a receiver? Don't hear about that too often.
#1. Matt Ryan (29-48, 353 yards, 2 TD, 2 INT)
Ryan's starting to make a living as an overtime quarterback. He's three-for-three now in overtime games (including the two Clemson wins) and set a career-high in yards for the second time this year. He threw two picks, one coming at midfield with less than a minute to go, so it wasn't Matty Ice in his true form. But he got the job done and the Eagles have still yet to lose this season, which is a more important statistic than any (I sound like a coach). But what makes Ryan's game the best performance of Saturday? Because you can't set a career-high for yards in an overtime win without topping out my list. Because Ryan's 353 were the most amount of yards by a BC quarterback in two years. Because those 353 came when BC needed them the most, in the same game that Beck was having a field day with the Eagle's secondary. Ryan's few mistakes might have seemed uncharacteristic, but that's because we've become spoiled. Let's not forget, Ryan and the Eagles have the best passing offense in the ACC. And they're 3-0, which is what really matters.