Rise of the Drive Killers

22 September 2012: Michigan (16) Denard Robinson is double-teamed by Notre Dame (9) Louis Nix III and Notre Dame (7) Stephon Tuitt during an NCAA football game between the Michigan Wolverines and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Notre Dame Stadium in Notre Dame, IN.

One mere month ago pundits knew Notre Dame’s defense would be the critical litmus test for the season after head coach Brian Kelly announced Everett Golson, a redshirt freshman, as the starting quarterback. The conventional wisdom involved a strong Irish rushing attack bolstered by a Notre Dame defense that kept opponents’ scoring to a minimum. Would the Irish defense be able to answer the bell? One of the bigger question marks involving the defensive unit beyond the inexperience, youth and injuries in the secondary came courtesy of sack production.  With the loss of Notre Dame’s leading sack artist to transfer, would the Irish be able to even pressure opposing offenses?  Now that October is upon us, we can laugh at such speculation (seriously — feel free to let it out. If your co-workers stare at you, well, ND is 4-0 for the first time in a decade, and we’ve earned a little maniacal laughter).

Notre Dame’s sack production has exploded, making ND tied for 8th nationally with 14 overall sacks. To put such numbers in perspective, the 2012 squad is on pace to record 42 sacks, which would eclipse the team record of 41 sacks earned in 1996, Lou Holtz’s final season. These drive-killing statistics, though not entirely responsible for victories, have a strong correlation with success.

Charlie Weis’ first two seasons were known for their dramatic offensive turnarounds compared to Tyrone Willingham, but the untold story came courtesy of defensive production. ND’s back- to-back BCS appearances were definitely aided by 31 sacks in both years, earning the Irish a 29th and 32nd national ranking respectively. Just as telling, however, were the sack totals as the Weis era began to crumble. In Weis’ final three seasons he posted a 16-21 record, earning 19 sacks in two of those seasons and 26 sacks in another. His national rankings in sacks during those poor years were 92nd, 48th, and 92nd.

Brian Kelly’s entrance to South Bend brought an immediate spike in sacks, though the increase was modest. Kelly’s first two Irish squads posted 8-5 records and earned 27 sacks in the first year and 25 in year two, earning ND a 51st and 54th national ranking. It should come as no surprise, then, that ND is currently sitting 4-0 with a 10th national ranking when the 2012 Irish are on pace to break team records in sack production.

One of the more intriguing aspects of the sack statistics stems from how they’re being tallied. In 2007, Trevor Laws led the team with 4 sacks. The following year, Harrison Smith, Pat Kuntz and Ethan Johnson tied for the team lead with 3.5. In 2009, Ethan Johnson led the way with 4. In 2010 and 2011, the Irish had one player lead the squad with 5.5 sacks recorded, courtesy of Darius Fleming and Aaron Lynch respectively. This year’s squad is led by a player who has already topped all of those leaders in just four games.

Stephen Tuitt has notched 6 sacks in four games, making him tied for second place nationally.  It’s worth noting, however, the player Tuitt trails, Bjoern Werner of Florida State, has misleading statistics. Though Werner has 6.5 sacks to Tuittâs 6, five of Werner’s sacks have come courtesy of Division I — FCS schools Murray State and Savannah State. Only 1.5 of Werner’s sacks have occurred against Division I — FBS opponents, with the sack in question taking place against Wake Forest. Werner was left sack-less in Florida Stateâs most recent contest against Clemson. Tuitt, on the other hand, has reached his national ranking against Purdue and top- ranked programs such as Michigan State and Michigan.

The success of Tuitt has been recognized nationally, and why not? With his 6 sacks in four games, Tuitt is on pace to register 18 sacks for the season, a feat that would absolutely obliterate Justin Tuck’s 2003 team record of 13.5 sacks. But what makes this season different from ones in the recent past is that Tuitt isn’t simply a one-man wrecking crew — it’s been a team effort.  Prince Shembo has logged 3 sacks so far this season, making him on pace for a 9 sack season and only a few shy of Justin Tuck’s record. Having two players potentially chasing the team sack record is something most Irish fans could not have dreamt of a mere month ago. In another twist, true freshman Sheldon Day has notched 2 sacks, putting him in position to record 6 for the season. The contributions on this Irish defense are truly coming from all angles, much like the blitzes that have confused opposing offenses thus far.

While the season is still in its beginning stages, and the likelihood of the 2012 Irish team breaking the team sack record is still a large question mark, the effort witnessed through the first third of this season cannot be ignored. And if this type of defensive production continues, Notre Dame wonât be ignored, either.

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  1. no, sad warrior, the issue will not be let alone.

    There was specific information posted twice. It just won’t do to throw
    a generic, unspecified comment back, particularly on rebuttal.

    Once again, Details, please.

  2. My post rated the teams as if they played each other.

    Toulmin offered the generic “this is BS” I’m confused

    Is it because Navy would beat BYU?

    Because Purdue would beat Miami?

    Because Michigan State would beat Stanford?

    Because Michigan would beat OU?

    My point was not to nominate the four October opponents for BCS Bowl games, but narrowly specified to how they stack up against our September opponents.

    Details, please.

  3. Stanford and Oklahoma are legit. One bad game does not nullify excellence. I would take those two teams extremely seriously. BYU’s defense may or may not be “all that” and if it is well, we will be in a close game. Against all these teams, our defense should do well. I worry for the week after Stanford because win or lose, they will slug you in the mouth and you’ll need to hit the whirlpool two days straight. That’s just the way it is.

    Now as for Miami. My opinion is that on paper, they are the weakest opponent in that list duranko put up. However, this is the sort of trip game you fear. Kelly has not always managed bye weeks well. In the past the team has looked flat. I do hope they’ve learned and have not repeated that mistake. On the positive side, two great things can happen for the QB situation. Rees knows he’s the backup but really is on deck. Golson on the other hand can have time for Kelly to put some perspective on him and let him realize he’s a long term project. He’s not the Second Coming but he is no loser. In fact if he just works hard in practice and then goes out an plays with no fear, he;ll be fine. I also like that the game is not in South Bend. Golson has choked up at home so far and looks a lot looser on the road. The team should relish the venue and fan support, but Golson should consider this an away game.

    Finally, let’s hope the running game gets back on track. I’d like to see 190 plus yards on the ground and 250 yards plus in the air. Let’s come out plus 3 in the turn over column.

    And please someone return a punt more than 10 yards, ( ok, more than 2 yards ).

  4. let’s look at the entire month. We have four games in October that are individually and in total, tougher than our first four.

    BYU is better than Navy
    Miami is better than Purdue
    Stanford is better than Michigan State
    Oklahoma is better than Michigan

    The Irish must play better to keep winning.

  5. Easy, easy steeler rob. Let the man state his opinion. All he’s saying is that the Irish better be on their A game, as with any team going forward. When your notre dame everyone is gunning for you. Besides talk is cheap. Games get decided between the lines. Go Irish!

    1. Rick,

      I have no qualms with THB’s game assessments. What I was questioning was his divided loyalties. In fact, if you follow the threads, I’m one of the first to make the point that the game is decided between the lines, namely, the O and D lines!

      Is there anyone else on this board who has 3 favorite college football teams besides ND?

  6. THB:

    With all due respect, if you’re “devoted” to 3 teams, then you’re not really devoted to any one of them.

    Don’t give me the analogy of a parent who loves 3 children equally. The more appropriate(or inappropriate comparison, as the case may be) would be of a spouse who claims to be devoted to his/her wife/husband and his/her 2 other lovers.

    I have only one love on Saturdays in the fall, and that’s to Our Blessed Mother’s team!

    Go Irish!

    1. I understand and I assure you I have Notre Dames best interest at heart. (I’m not a spy) I am concerned regarding Miami none the less and my feeling is this I’ll take the heat now so that when I am proved accurate regarding this games tenacity ND will remain on its way up. We all share in this goal. I believe in your university’s place in the sun. Best of Luck Saterday !

    2. P.S. I grew up in a home in Shreveport with a mother and father (both natives of New Orleans) who were rabid LSU supporters. My next door neighbor Horace J. Macgaffigan married Mildred (Wisconsin Badger from Milwaukee) post WW2 at the Notre Dame basilica. Mr. Macgaffigan was retained by AVCO CORP and they located to Shreveport. Horace and my dad were best friends and Horace’s father was the president of Boston College in the 1930’s. H.J.M. knew all the fathers personally at N.D. and spoke with them frequently via telephone. My family’s religious backgrounds were as follows: My mother was Roman Catholic and my father was Pretestant. Horace and dad were close friends and this was in part due to the fact that my grandfather was from Newburyport, Massachusetts & Horace said dad was more like a Bostonian than a southerner the two that got LSU/ND arr. Ultimately Horace & dad arranged through the fathers for LSU/ND to meet in 1970/71. Horace wanted me to play football for Notre Dame and naturally my mom wanted me to play at LSU…

    3. SFR,

      “A spouce who claims to be devoted to his wife and 2 other lovers”


      That poor S.O.B. can kiss his beer money goodbye!

  7. One thing of many that jumped out at me from the box score of the Miami-NC St. game was that the Wolfpack turned the ball over 6 times to Miami’s 1. That’s a 6 to 1 TO ratio and Miami still barely held on to win. Also NC St. had 100 yards of penalties against them. Seems to me that Miami needed a lot of help from NC St. to win a home game in which their QB broke all kinds of passing records.

    I just really would like to see a complete game from ND in all 3 phases. Do that and I think the Irish cruise and win by 2-3 TDs.

  8. Michigan had their best running back (Tousant) back in their line up agianst us.

    In week 2, they had 422 yards of offence followed by 585 yards in week 3.

    Doesn’t sound like a beat up team to me.

    Now maybe.

    Talk is cheap. That’s what this Dan Slimo learned from his time at the U.
    I guess it beats delivering pizza’s.

    1. I appreciate your enthusiam..LOL I’m looking forward to this game. You sir are the kind of Irisih fan I like. Tough

  9. Toulmin,

    I agree that Miami is probably the best O. we’ve played but I’m not assure about the Canes being the best team. But they do have a lot of weapons on O. and Special Teams. We can’t sleep on them!

    Perhaps some of you more technologically savvy computer types can find 560 WQAM Miami sports talk show host and former Canes D-lineman Dan Sileo’s comments online and post them and pass them along to BK and his players. Sileo went beyond trash talking. He denigrated ND and talked about taking cheap shots at and intentionally injuring ND’s players. Some really over the top stuff from a “never-was” former Cane (“has-been” would be a step up for Sileo!)

    1. Agreed, Miami’s O will be the most potent we have faced and we will really find out about our D and more importantly our secondary.

      However, their D is not very good and if we can’t produce this week on offense we may be in trouble. Miami is definitely better than I thought they would be. I think it will be refreshing to play a game like this. A great D always trumps a great O.

      Additionally, Miami has had 2 very emotional wins in their last 2 games. Not saying we haven’t, but we have had a bye to let the emotional batteries re-charge.

      1. Look who they have played. It tells a great deal about the Canes offensively and more so defensively. KSU, a solid but not spectacular club, mauled them at will. Time for Coach Kelly to unleash the ‘Celtic Lion’!

        Go Irish! Hooah!

    2. I’m not comfortable and Miami fans around here have that killer vibe. Example I shop at a low budget Winn Dixie food chain here in New Orleans and I was wearing my “RISE AND STRIKE” ND tee shirt last Saterday, A miami fan who was in front of me in line and I spoke about something silly I don’t even remember what but then he saw my shirt and man I realized Miami and its fanbase are taking this game dead serious!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      1. Soldiers field in October.

        Very well could be cold, windy, and rainy.

        If that’s the case, it would be interesting to see what kind of vibe they have then.

  10. THB-Wrong, Wrong, Wrong. Michigan, MSU, and Purdue would all handle the Canes. No defense, Won games against poor opponents. I’m not taking them lightly but they are not a top tier team; yet.

      1. Oh I’, right THB, make no mistake about that. And stay out of Winn Dixie-Miami fans are bad people to treat you with such disregard and disrespect.

      2. He was mean man + I have not seen a Hurricane t-shirt here in N.O. since the early 2001 season. I’m warning you Miami is taking this fight s.e.r.i.o.u.s.l.y.

  11. Michigan was beat up after Alabama. Miami is easily the best gtean Notre Dame has played. They always were.

      1. Help us understand…

        If your team is LSU why do you spend so much time here on a ND site?

      2. I love 3 teams in order of devotion: 1. A.S.U., 2. L.S.U., 3. N.D.

        I currently am beginning that N.D. will finish #1……………………….but not if “Mammie” catched N.D. asleep or whatever you want to describe an upset win as. ND,LSU + ASU are all three mostly Roman Catholic student bodies. I grew up in Shreveport and my neighbor Horace John Macgaffigan (Boston MA)

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