Tackles-for-loss is a valuable, telling statistic. In competitive game situations, there's not a single tackle behind the line of scrimmage that is overvalued in terms of it's solo-play impact on an opponent's drive and thus, its ability to later score a touchdown.
But tackles after gains of 0, 1, and 2 yards remain overlooked in basic football statistics, and each such stop at or near scrimmage helps paint a clearer picture of a defender's ability to stuff the run or defend the modern game's "extended running play" the quick, horizontal pass.
Hereafter on these pages, tackles that limit ball carriers to 0, 1, or 2-yard gains will be referred to as "stuffs." So who among the returning Irish defenders ranked as the biggest playmaker at scrimmage last fall?
I'm glad you asked…
RETURNING LEADERS -- "STUFFS" AND TFL
Of note, tackles after gains of one or two yards that resulted in first downs for the opponent were logically omitted. In other words, a tackle after a gain of two yards on 3rd-and-1 isn't a good play for the defense.
As well, sacks are officially dually-registered as tackles-for-loss in the college game, so listing sacks in the review below was unnecessary.
(The number listed in the parenthetical is the combined total of stuffs, plus official tackles for loss):
-- Jaylon Smith (28): Tied for the team lead with 19 stuffs to go along with a team-best 9 tackles for loss. Recorded a team-best 3 stuffs vs. Stanford. Two of Smith's stuffs occurred on passing plays.
-- Isaac Rochell (24.5): Produced 17 stuffs to go with 7.5 tackles for loss. Surprised? Not if you're a long-time Scout.com reader, as Rochell was regularly ranked among the team's top 10 players following our post-game film reviews.
-- Joe Schmidt (19.5): Registered 19 stuffs but oddly contributed just a half-tackle for loss. Played in only 7.5 games, which means he averaged 2.53 stuffs per game compared to Smith's 1.46
-- Jarron Jones (19.5): Finished with 12 stuffs to go with 7.5 TFL. Jones' best was doubtless at Florida State (3 TFL, 1 stuff). His total of 19.5 was accrued in just over 10 games (10 games and one series vs. Louisville).
-- Sheldon Day (19.5): Mirrored Jones' totals with 12 stuffs and 7.5 TFL, with 10 total games played (10.5). Both Day and Jones finished with 40 total tackles.
-- Romeo Okwara (19): I was surprised to see he ranked fourth on the squad with 15 stuffs, adding 4 tackles for loss. Both Okwara and Rochell finished with 39 total tackles.
-- Matthias Farley (15.5): Posted 9 stuffs with 6.5 tackles for loss, the latter ranked behind only Smith, Day, Jones, and Rochell. *Remarkably, five of Farley's nine "stuffs" occurred on pass plays. He tied for the team lead in picks (4) and added five passes defended.
-- Nyles Morgan (13.5): Produced 10 stuffs and 3.5 TFL in what amounted to 5.5 games played. Morgan nullified two stuffs (his own, and Farley's) with subsequent penalties on the play.
-- Justin Utupo (13): Had 11 stuffs and 2 TFL in what was mostly a backup role (two starts for Day in November.) A solid farewell season for Utupo who came back for a fifth-year in 2014.
-- Elijah Shumate (12.5): Posted 10 stuffs to go with 2.5 TFL from the strong safety position.
-- Andrew Trumbetti (12.5): Impressive numbers -- 7 stuffs, 5.5 TFL -- in a backup role (Trumbetti did not officially start a game in 2014). Combined with his rotation-mate Okwara, the DE position opposite Rochell produced 22 stuffs and 9.5 TFL.
-- Cole Luke (7): Five stuffs, including two after short pass completions, to go with two tackles for lost yardage. Luke tied Farley for the team lead in interceptions (4) and led in passes defended (15) by a wide margin.
-- Cody Riggs (6): Five stuffs, one TFL, five passes defended, and 9 great outings/efforts in an Irish uniform. He'll be missed in South Bend and around the Gug...
-- Max Redfield (5.5): Finished with five stuffs, a half-tackle for loss, and ranked second on the squad with 68 total tackles -- too many of them the touchdown-saving variety.
-- Grant Blankenship (5): Produced 4 stuffs and 1 TFL in limited rotation action behind Rochell. One of Blankenship's "stuffs" occurred on a pass play he limited to two yards at USC.
-- James Onwualu (5): Three stuffs and two tackles-for-loss -- notable in that three of the combined five big plays at scrimmage occurred vs. Navy while two others came vs. LSU. (And he delivered the game's best hit against Stanford.) Onwualu was apparently at home mixing it up against the run.
-- Greer Martini (4): Two stuffs, two tackles-for-loss, including what was the most important TFL of the season, a sack against Louisville quarterback Reggie Bonnafon that afforded the Irish a chance to tie at game's end. (Stuffs were against Navy and Northwestern).
-- Drue Tranquill (4): Three stuffs and a tackle for loss (actually two half-tackles for loss vs. Michigan, North Carolina, respectively).
-- Jacob Matuska (3): Two stuffs and one TFL, all against Louisville in a gritty, if not outstanding outing.
-- Kolin Hill (2.5): All tackles for loss (no stuffs), all occurring between Games 2-3 when he registered a combined two TFL vs. Michigan and 0.5 against Purdue.
-- Jay Hayes (2): Recorded a pair of stuffs in what amounted to less than 2.5 games played, bowing up vs. both Louisville (on the Cardinals final drive, no less) and LSU.
-- Eilar Hardy (2): Two stuffs at USC, albeit when the game had been long-decided.
-- Austin Collinsworth (1.5): No stuffs, but the fifth-year senior recorded 1.5 TFL vs. Louisville on Senior Day before dislocating his shoulder for the third and final time.
-- Daniel Cage (1.5): Posted a key stuff vs. Michigan and a (relevant) half-tackle for loss at USC.
-- Devin Butler (1): Recorded a stuff vs. USC, long after the outcome was in doubt.
-- Ben Councell (1): Posted a tackle-for-loss vs. North Carolina at the goal line.
Among those listed above, only Utupo, Riggs, Collinsworth, and Hardy are certain not to return for 2015. (Councell would have to be invited back.)