Living Behind the Line?

Prediction No. 7 in our pre-season series projects the Irish defense to produce the most tackles-for-loss of the Brian Kelly era to date.

They were known for their fast-paced, high-scoring offense, but Brian Kelly's 2009 Cincinnati Bearcats rode into the Orange Bowl undefeated because the program's sometimes overmatched defense had a key compliment to Kelly's quick-strike, up-tempo attack:

Backfield penetration.

Then first-year defensive coordinator Bob Diaco's Bearcats unit produced a remarkable 110 tackles for loss that fall. In his four seasons that followed as coordinator of the Irish defense in South Bend, Diaco's groups never approached that eye-opening number, finishing with 69, 69, 70, and 64 between 2010-2013, respectively.

Diaco is gone, but Kelly's fifth-edition Irish will follow the '09 Bearcats plan of attack, featuring a defense predicated on disruption and confusion at scrimmage. Look for at least 80 tackles-for-loss by first-year coordinator Brian VanGorder's Irish defense this season, the highest total registered in South Bend since Kent Baer's crew -- led by future All Pro Justin Tuck -- recorded 87 in 2003. (Baer's playmaking 2002 unit finished with a whopping 95 en route to a 10-win regular season.)

Of note: More tackles-for-loss does not necessarily equate to fewer points allowed. Diaco's '09 Bearcats yielded 300 points, more than any single season during his tenure in South Bend: 263, 269, 166, and 291, respectively, from 2010-2013 -- with far fewer TFL.

Returning TFL Leaders

-- Sheldon Day: 9 (2012-13)
-- Jaylon Smith: 6.5 (2013)
-- Ishaq Williams: 6 (2011-13)
-- Keivarae Russell: 3.5 (2012-13)
-- Matthias Farley: 3 (2012-13)
-- Romeo Okwara: 3 (2012-13)
-- Kendall Moore: 3 (2011, 2013)
-- Joe Schmidt: 2 (2013)
-- Jarrett Grace, Ben Councell, Justin Utupo, Anthony Rabasa, Jarron Jones, Elijah Shumate, and Eilar Hardy each recorded one TFL in 2013. Austin Collinsworth and Cole Luke both registered a half-TFL.

Predictions To Date

Click the links below for a look at our previously published predictions.

No. 1: Most TD of the Kelly Era (As a team, the will record more than the 50 scored in 2011)
Prediction No. 1: TD Scored

No. 2: Perfect September (Look for 4-0 start: There've been but four in last 25 seasons under the Dome)
No. 2: A Perfect September

No. 3: The Irish will use more than 19 Defensive Starters (19 also used last season in injury-riddle year. It's an unusually high number)
No. 3: More than 19 Defensive Starters

No 4: Nine Games Will Be Played Close and Late (A record 11 fell under this category in 2013)
No. 4: Nine Games "Close and Late"

No. 5: At Least 12 True Freshmen play (2010: 9; 2011: 10; 2012: 9; 2013: 11)
No. 5: Most True Freshmen of the Kelly Era

No. 6 Most Points Allowed of Kelly Era (Previous high was 291 last year)
No. 6: Most Points Allowed of the Kelly Era Top Stories