Sixteen interceptions, six forced fumbles recovered by the Irish, and one negated fake punt. Those are the turnover-created season totals for the 2014 Fighting Irish defenders, and among the 23, only *three were generated by players that won't be in uniform for defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder next fall.
*Justin Utupo (interception vs. Navy) and Cody Riggs (INT vs. Michigan; FF vs. Northwestern returned 32 yards by Austin Collinsworth for a touchdown), created the remaining trio.
Below is a look at the 21 turnovers (includes the stop of a faked punt) created by returning Irish players last fall, with forced fumbles credited when applicable.
CORNERBACK COLE LUKE
Stanford -- Trailing 7-0 in the first quarter, Luke tracked a Kevin Hogan sideline route from the snap's outset. Playing bracket coverage to the outside (Max Redfield was his inside help), Luke backpedaled from his off position and secured an easy interception inside the Irish 10-yard line. Luke benefitted from a zone blitz on the play with safety Elijah Shumate (coming behind Joe Schmidt and Jaylon Smith) leveling Hogan as he threw.
Stanford -- Tied at 7 to open the fourth quarter, Luke contacted intended receiver Ty Montgomery on a 3rd-and-7 throw by Hogan, 15 yards down the left hash. Luke broke on the ball quickly and ran through Montgomery's left arm for the two-handed, juggling interception at the Cardinal 29-yard line. Joe Schmidt applied pressure to Hogan the plan.
North Carolina -- Pressured to his left by Isaac Rochell, Tar Heels quarterback Marquise Williams tries a shovel pass down the sidelines, but Luke undercut the ill-advised toss to secure the football, tapping his feet in bounds for his second interception in as many weeks.
Northwestern -- Leading 34-29 early in the fourth quarter, Luke stepped in front of a Trevor Siemian pass on the right sideline, then returned it across to the left for a 13-yard gain to set up Notre Dame with first and goal at the Northwestern 13-yard line. (Notre Dame did not bring blitz pressure on the pick.) The Irish scored three snaps later but failed on the oft-reference, nonsensical two-point conversion attempt thereafter. Notre Dame lead 40-29 with 10:34 remaining but would not score again in a 43-40 OT defeat.
-- Luke likewise forced a fumble vs. the Wildcats but the Irish botched a point-blank recovery that would have sealed the game with just over one minute remaining.
NICKEL MATTHIAS FARLEY
Rice -- Picked off Driphus Jackson at midfield with 29 seconds remaining in the half. From his nickel position, Farley dropped into a middle zone and Jackson's errant thrown came right to him. A six-yard return gave the Irish offense the ball at midfield and one snap later, Everett Golson hit C.J. Prosise for a 53-yard touchdown and commanding 28-10 lead going into the break.
Syracuse -- Trailing the Irish 14-3 on the opening drive of the second half, Syracuse drove 50 yards on four plays before Farley -- who first showed a blitz off the edge -- intercepted a crossing route intended for slot receiver Brisley Estime. Farley tracked Estime across both hash marks then recorded a one-handed interception after undercutting a Terrel Hunt pass at the Irish 24-yard line returning it 16 yards to the 40.
Arizona State -- Trailing 34-17 and with the Sun Devils driving on the opening possession of the fourth quarter, Farley stepped in front of a Taylor Kelly pass at the Irish 23-yard line and returned it to midfield -- his efforts set up an Irish touchdown seven plays later that brought the visitors to within 10, 34-24. Kelly was pressured by Jaylon Smith on the play while Farley dropped in man coverage from the left hash across the field to the right sideline to secure the interception.
Northwestern -- Leading 27-23 with just over three minutes remaining in the first half, Farley stepped in front of a Trevor Simian throw at the Irish goal line, not only saving a touchdown, but returning it 39 yards to set up his offense with a first down and 3:21 to play. Notre Dame missed a field goal to end the half nearly three minutes later. (Farley was in man coverage against the No. 2 receiver to the field-side left. When Siemian was flushed to his side, Farley broke immediately in front of the intended target.)
LINEBACKER JOE SCHMIDT
Michigan -- Leading 28-0 with Michigan snapping at the Irish 39-yard line, Schmidt stalked quarterback Devin Gardner as he scrambled forward in the pocket. As Garder spun out of trouble, Schmidt delivered the knockout blow, burying his shoulder into Gardner to force the fumble, one recovered by sophomore DE Isaac Rochell.
Purdue -- After faking a blitz from his mike linebacker position, Schmidt dropped 19 yards deep and across both hash marks, tracking a scrambling Danny Etling before diving in front of a pass at the Irish 5-yard line for his first career interception. Safety Elijah Shumate unloaded on Purdue wide receiver Danny Anthrop as Schmidt secured the football.
North Carolina -- Leading 21-20 midway through the second quarter, Schmidt unloaded on freshman running back Elijah Hood to force a fumble, scooped up by Shumate to set up Notre Dame at the Tar Heels 6-yard line. The Irish scored one snap later on a Tarean Folston touchdown run.
Florida State -- On the ensuing snap of an Everett Golson interception deep in Seminoles territory, Schmidt absorbed a huge hit to his back/head but still held on to an ill-advised (backpedaling) Jameis Winston pass. Winston was pressured by Jarron Jones on the play.
(On a related note -- Jarron Jones forced a fumble vs. Michigan, recovered by the Wolverines.)
CORNERBACK DEVIN BUTLER
Rice -- With just over two minutes remaining, Butler stripped Owls right end Cameron Decell to force a fumble at the first down marker. The loose pigskin was recovered by Irish safety Nicky Baratti and the Irish ran out the clock thereafter.
Purdue -- With starter Cole Luke out due to a head/neck injury suffered two drives prior, Butler first yielded, then regained inside position (bit of a clutch-and-grab) while employing press coverage at right cornerback. Stepping underneath a Danny Etling sideline route, Butler secured a two-handed, lunging interception that helped set up an Irish field goal and 30-14 lead. A zone blitz by the Irish was picked up but Butler's coverage was sound.
DEFENSIVE TACKLE SHELDON DAY
Purdue -- Running back Akeem Hunt lost the football following his initial cut in the backfield and the Irish captain dove to the ground to secure the rolling pigskin. Romeo Okwara (credited with a forced fumble) tackled Hunt who would have had a good shot at the ball in front of him had Okwara not made the hit.
-- Okwara also forced a fumble vs. Michigan, recovered by the Wolverines.
LSU -- With the score tied at 21 midway through third quarter, Tigers quarterback Anthony Jennings fumbled a read-option keeper and Day dove to the ground, catching the football before it hit the ground for his second fumble recovery of the season.
LINEBACKER JAMES ONWUALU
Rice -- Trailing 31-10 and faced with 4th-and-4 at their own 31-yard line, the Owls attempted a fake punt with a snap to protector Luke Turner. Onwualu read the fake, dodged a block, and made the initial hit to stop Turner short of first-down yardage. (Drue Tranquill and Cam McDaniel helped clean it up.)
SAFETY DRUE TRANQUILL
Louisville -- Trailing 17-6 at the end of the half, Tranquill tracked down an errant sideline throw by Reggie Bonnafon (who had escaped pressure and broken containment) to end the Cardinals final drive threat at the Irish 17-yard line.
LINEBACKER JAYLON SMITH
Northwestern -- Leading 27-26 midway through the third quarter, Smith sprinted from behind to strip Wildcats running back Justin Jackson of the football (following a 19-yard gain) to give the Irish offense the football at the Northwestern 21-yard line. The fumble, recovered by safety Drue Tranquill, proved inconsequential as Everett Golson fumbled two snaps later from the Wildcats 5-yard line.
SAFETY MAX REDFIELD
Michigan -- Leading 21-0 early in the third quarter and staked to a 21-0 lead, Redfield dropped into what appeared to be a single-high safety look. Aided by a zone blitz and reading quarterback Devin Gardner from the outset, Redfield stepped in front of the quarterback's pass down the left seam to record his first career interception, one he returned from the Irish 45 to the Michigan 38-yard line, refusing to go down until a fifth Wolverine's tackler made contact.
SAFETY ELIJAH SHUMATE
Michigan -- Set-back 20 yards off the ball in Cover 4, Shumate broke on a Gardner seam pass for an interception at the Irish 40-yard line. He returned the offering down a delirious Irish sideline for an apparent icing-on-the-cake touchdown. The score was overturned when it was deemed Max Redfield's murdering of Gardner on a successful block during the return was illegal/unnecessary.