Irish Eyes continues its look at the best single-season performances of the last five eras with The Best Defensive Linemen, 1991-1996.(Click here to begin reviewing other Holtz Era stars).
Defensive Tackle Bryant Young (1993)Young burst onto the scene as a true sophomore in 1991 (he earned a monogram as a freshman in 1990 due largely to his special teams work), starting nine games and leading the Irish in sacks despite missing three games due to an ankle injury. As a junior in '92, Young anchored Notre Dame's No. 9-ranked rushing defense for the 10-1-1 squad. But it was as a senior leader in 1993 that Bryant Young became one of the nation's best defensive players.
One of four team captains (S Jeff Burris, OT Aaron Taylor, C Tim Ruddy), Young led the Irish from a No. 12 ranking entering a Week Two contest at Michigan to a 10-0 start and No. 1 ranking by mid-November. His personal stats (through constant double-team blocks) show 67 tackles (3rd on the squad), 6.5 sacks (1st) and 7.5 additional tackles for lost yardage (1st), but Young's impact on the game is reflected in the defense's overall rankings for the season, holding opponents to under 90 yards rushing per game (4th in the nation) and just over 17 points per contest (20th).
Young, one of the defensive stars of the victory over Florida State, sacked eventual Heisman Trophy Winner Charlie Ward twice…the fourth and fifth sacks of the season on the previously unflappable quarterback.
Young ranks No. 7 on the program's career sack list and was named second-team All America by the Associated Press, United Press International, and Football Newswhile earning first-team honors from The Sporting News, and was selected No. 7 overall in the 1994 NFL Draft by the San Francisco 49ers. He was named NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in '94 as a starter on the 49ers final Super Bowl Championship team. As a five-time Pro Bowl selection and member of the NFL's All Decade team (1990s) he'll be eligible for NFL Hall of Fame voting beginning in 2012. Young joined Charlie Weis' staff in January as a graduate assistant.
Defensive Tackle Jim Flanigan (1993)Flanigan, a two-year starter, finished his senior season of 1993 with 51 tackles, four sacks (tied for second), four additional tackles for lost yardage (tied for third), three forced fumbles (to lead the team), two passes broken up and a fumble recovery. Two of his stops behind the line came in the epic battle with Florida State, with the second a key tackle on a direct snap to Warrick Dunn on 3rd and goal to limit the Seminoles to a field goal early in the fourth quarter. He was consistently at his best when the Irish needed his contributions most, finishing with three tackles for loss, two sacks, and a fumble recovery vs. Michigan, USC, Florida State, and Boston College.
Flanigan starred in the 1994 Cotton Bowl win over Texas A&M, finishing with six solos (two for lost yardage) and a key sack in the game's final minute with A&M threatening at midfield in Notre Dame's 24-21 victory (Bowl numbers were not yet included in NCAA season-end statistics).
Flanigan was named honorable mention All America as a senior and was selected by the Chicago Bears in the 3rd Round of the '94 NFL Draft. He finished his career with 46 sacks, including 11 as a second-year player in 1995 and was named co-winner of the NFL's Man of the Year Award (with former FSU rival Derrick Brooks) in 2001.
As a DT tandem, Young and Flanigan led the '93 Irish to two shut-outs while holding three other opponents to a single touchdown. The defense set the tone from the outset each week, allowing just nine first-half touchdowns through the first 10 games. Their big-game efforts staked the team to leads of 27-10 (midway through the 3rd Quarter vs. No. 3 Michigan); 34-13 (midway through the 3rd Quarter in a revenge match at Stanford); 31-7 (late in the 3rd Quarter vs. USC); and 24-7 (midway through the 3rd Quarter vs. No. 1 FSU).
Also Considered: Bryant Young 1992
Honorable Mention Defensive Tackles: Bryant Young (1991); Jim Flanigan (1992); Oliver Gibson (1994); Paul Grasmanis (1995).
Defensive End Devon McDonald (1992)He's the answer to an outstanding question for Notre Dame trivia buffs: Who was the MVP of the 1993 Cotton Bowl, a 28-3 win over previously undefeated No. 3 Texas A&M? And what did Devon McDonald do to earn that distinction during a game in which Jerome Bettis destroyed A&M with three touchdowns and 101 all-purpose yards? 10 tackles, four for lost yardage and a sack vs. the previously undefeated Aggies did the trick for the fifth-year senior who finished his Irish career with 26 consecutive starts (at OLB and DE) and a 41-8-1 record, not including a year on the 12-0 1988 National Champions as a member of the scout team.
McDonald was the pass-rushing force on a 1992 Irish defense that held opponents to 16 points per game and 111 rushing yards (#9 in the nation) per contest. He finished '92 with 47 tackles, 7.3 sacks, 5.5 additional tackles for lost yardage, three forced fumbles, and the additional Bowl game totals listed above. Though he was named MVP of the Northwestern contest (seven solos and three sacks) and starred vs. BYU (two sacks, a forced fumble, and a tackle-for-loss), McDonald's biggest regular season moment came in the season-finale when he (along with CB Tom Carter's interception one play later), preserved victory for the Irish in the final minute as McDonald sacked Trojans quarterback Rob Johnson at the ND 5-yard line in a 31-23 Irish victory.
McDonald was named Honorable Mention All America by Football News as both a senior defensive end and junior outside linebacker.
Defensive End Renaldo Wynn (1996)Wynn, the school's No. 5 all-time sack leader, put together back-to-back strong seasons at defensive end (converting from OLB as a redshirt freshman and sophomore in '92-'93), but his 5th year senior season of '96 was his finest in an Irish uniform. With 61 tackles, six for lost yardage, nine sacks, and two fumble recoveries, Wynn, the team MVP and Lineman of the Year, was the squad's most consistent defensive player on an Irish defense that set a team record for sacks in a season (41), finished eighth in the nation in pass defense and No. 14 overall in scoring defense, holding opponents to 16.5 points per contest.
His final two seasons yielded 118 tackles, 15 sacks and 12 more tackles for lost yardage. Wynn was a two-time Honorable Mention All America and first-round draft pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars in 1997 where he was named to the NFL's All Rookie team. He's currently a member of the Washington Redskins.
Honorable Mention Defensive Ends: Melvin Dansby (1996 DT/DE); Renaldo Wynn (1995); Brian Hamilton (1993); Karmeeleyah McGill (1992).