Our second summer prediction points to two seniors joining the school's career top five in a fan-favorite statistical category.
Prediction #2 – Two to join Top 5 sack masters
2011 marks the 30th season that sacks will be recorded as an official statistic in college (and pro) football. Prior, tackles of quarterbacks behind the line of scrimmage were scored simply – as a tackle-for-loss. Today, sacks and TFLs are scored with maddening inaccuracy and lack consistency from program-to-program, if not game-by-game.
For example: In the 2009 season opener, Irish QB Jimmy Clausen dropped back to pass, surveyed the field for a solid 3.1 seconds, felt pressure and subsequently rolled left, then was tackled from behind by Nevada defensive lineman Ryan Coulson for a six-yard loss.
That obvious sack was ruled a tackle-for-loss.
Why do I care? Well it affects my next prediction, of course – that is: seniors Ethan Johnson and Darius Fleming will finish their Irish careers among the program's Top 5 sack masters at season's end.
All-Time Program Sack Leaders (1982-present)
Program legend Ross Browner (1973, 75-77) is the school's all-time leader in tackles-for-loss with 77 – nearly 33 more than his closest competitor, Kory Minor
, who recorded 44.5 TFL from 1995-1998. None of Browner's 77 TFL were recorded as sacks…in other words, we all know who the program's sack king is, but for official purposes, below is Notre Dame
's career sack list.
- Justin Tuck 24.5: Also owns the official single-season school-record with 13.5 sacks over 12 games in 2003. Tuck finished with 19 TFL that season – tied for the third-best total in school history behind Browner (28 in 1976) and Anthony Weaver (below).
- Kory Minor 22.5: Minor was a consistent pass rusher, posting eight sacks as his career high as a sophomore in 1996. The true OLB owned the program sack record for five seasons before Tuck took the crown. A 1997 season spent at Drop LB (just 3.5 sacks) detracted from his career QB assault.
- Victor Abiamiri 21.5: Registered just three sacks over his first 24 games, but two huge seasons buoyed his career total: a 10.5-sack effort in 2006 and an 8-sack 2005 season mark the best efforts put forth by the four-year contributor.
- Mike Gann 21: Gann, who played nine seasons with the NFL's Falcons, began his Irish career in 1981, one season before the sack was an official statistic.
- Renaldo Wynn 19.5: Wynn recorded nine sacks as a senior in 1996, a mark that ranks fifth among single season efforts at the program, but was only good for second on the '96 squad behind OLB Bert Berry (below).
Ryan Roberts 19: Entered his senior season of 2002 with 11 career sacks, then proceeded to lead the 2002 squad with 8 more over the 13-game season.
- Bryant Young 18: Became the highest NFL draft pick of the group – 7th to the San Francisco 49ers in 1994. Young won the league's defensive rookie of the year award en route to a Super Bowl championship in his first season.
- Anthony Weaver 17: His 21 tackles-for-loss in 2001 ranks second behind Browner in school history. Weaver recorded 15 sacks and 35 TFL in his final two season and stands tied with Tuck with 42 TFL, good for third on the program's career list.
- Bert Berry 16.5: Posted 10 sacks in 1996 as part of a three-headed pass-rush-monster (Berry 10, Wynn 9, Minor 8) en route to a team-record 41 QB takedowns (in 11 games) for Lou Holtz's final Irish squad.
- Wally Kleine 13: Massive DT combined with LB Mike Kovaleski for a key 3rd down tackle for loss at the LA Coliseum in Notre Dame's 1986 comeback classic victory over USC. Kleine's backfield tackle of a Trojans ball carrier was followed by a USC punt and subsequent 56-yard return by Tim Brown, setting up the game-winning field goal by John Carney, a 38-37 Irish victory to conclude Holtz's first season. Kleine passed away due to heart failure in his hometown of Midland, Texas, in 2008.
- Ethan Johnson 12.5: The five-sack season of 2010 was his best to date. Johnson enters the 2011 season with 11.5 tackles-for-loss.
- Darius Fleming 11.5: Led the Irish with six sacks last season and is the team-leader in career TFL with 14.5 entering his senior year.
Standing in the way of a Johnson/Fleming 2011 sack party? The presence of DE Kapron Lewis-Moore (4.5 career sacks, 9 TFL) and that of emerging sophomore LB Prince Shembo (4.5 sacks as a true freshman last season). Look for Shembo's role as the drop linebacker to (somewhat) limit his opportunity next fall, while Lewis-Moore reaches a career-best sack total, though not in the vicinity of the senior pair.
Johnson and Fleming need seven and eight sacks, respectively, to tie former first-round pick Renaldo Wynn (19.5) for fifth on the school's all-time list. Such an effort would be reminiscent of the 1992 DL/LB combo of Bryant Young and Devon McDonald, a pair that recorded 7.5 and 8.3 sacks, respectively, en route to a 10-1-1 season.
Since the sack-starting 1982 season, only Young and McDonald in '92, the aforementioned Berry/Wynn/Minor trio of 1996, and the unheralded duo of Abiamiri (10.5) and Derek Landri (7) led a campaign in which multiple Irish players recorded seven or more sacks.
2011 will be the fourth, highlighted by the senior pair forcing their way alongside the program's Top 5 sack masters by season's end, both setting personal single-season bests in the process.
Note: Prediction #3 due mid-week.