Prediction #28 – Notre Dame's Defense Will Record More Sacks than Last Season's Total of 26
The defense's final total (listed as 27 by the NCAA/26 by Notre Dame) was a middling 50th nationally. But as stated in a previous prediction, 3rd Down Efficiency (the ability to "get off the field") is generally a more accurate indicator of defensive success than measuring the total number of quarterbacks that hit the turf (both are obviously relevant and keys to a strong defense).
But ND's final 2008 total is a bit skewed. Here's a game-by-game look:
- San Diego State: One in 59 pass attempts.
- Michigan: Zero in 28 pass attempts
- Michigan State: Zero in 20 pass attempts
- Purdue: Zero in 55 pass attempts
- Stanford: Five in 28 pass attempts
- North Carolina: One in 32 pass attempts
- Washington: Four in 25 pass attempts
- Pittsburgh: Two in 30 pass attempts
- Boston College: Zero in 22 pass attempts
- Navy: One in 14 pass attempts
- Syracuse: Two in 26 pass attempts
- USC: Two in 33 pass attempts
- Hawaii: Eight in 44 pass attempts
The Irish recorded 17 of their 26 sacks in three contests, wins over Stanford, Washington, and Hawaii. Yet in the four remaining wins, the defense posted just two total sacks…in other words, there was little correlation between a high sack total and Notre Dame wins in 2008. Of course, the Irish finished with just seven sacks in their six losses – an indicator that a lack of pass rush pressure contributed to the defeats (though probably not as heavily as the 1,024 rushing yards allowed in those six losses).
What about turnovers? They were a key element to wins over Michigan and Stanford and to road losses against Michigan State, North Carolina and Boston College. Of course, the Irish forced a combined five and committed zero in two November losses to Pittsburgh and Syracuse and were dead even at three apiece in the 38-3 thrashing at USC.
The lesson? Don't try to figure out the 2008 Irish football team.
And regardless of your take on total sacks vs. consistent quarterback pressure and third-down success, expect an Irish pass rush led by Darius Fleming, Ethan Johnson, and Kerry Neal to better last year's end-season total over the 13-game slate.For those interested, the highest sack total this decade was registered by the 2003 team (5-7 record) with 39 sacks – due largely to the efforts of Mr. Justin Tuck (13.5). The stout, playmaking defense of 2002 (10-3) wasn't far behind with 37.
The best single-season total in program history (though the stat has only been tracked since the early 80s) is 41.5 by the 1996 squad (8-3) in Lou Holtz's final season (Bert Berry had 10; Renaldo Wynn 9; and Kory Minor 8). Holtz's second best team effort came in 1992 with the fearsome six-man D-Line rotation of Bryant Young, Jim Flanigan, Devon McDonald, Karmeeleyah McGill, Brian Hamilton, and Oliver Gibson leading the way to 36 sacks (vs. 13 allowed) for the 10-1-1 Irish.
Both the 2005 and 2006 team registered 31 sacks – the highest total of the Weis era.
Prediction #29 – Notre Dame's Defense Will Allow 30 or Fewer Touchdowns
A 20-season, year-by-year breakdown is included below, but the predicted number would rank as the lowest total of the Weis era.
Last season, 11 of the 33 touchdowns allowed by the Irish defense occurred in the season's final three contests: Syracuse, USC, and Hawaii (obviously not all touchdowns incur the same level of damage). Yielding 30 or fewer defensive touchdowns (through the Bowl game) this season – and 1-2 field goals per contest – would provide a wide overall scoring margin at season's end. Of course, the difference between a season's overall scoring margin and its bottom line – the overall record – will be determined by the six, or seven, or eight close contests and the level of execution in each from an experienced offense, a young front seven, and the coaching staff.
Note: Special Teams scores and touchdowns scored vs. the Irish offense are not included below or in the prediction (there has been at least one touchdown scored by the opposing defense – and generally courtesy of the Irish quarterback – in every season of the Weis era).
Also, the NCAA began to include Bowl game statistics in its final numbers after the 2001 season.
- 2008 (13 games): 33 (18 rushing)
- 2007 (12 games): 39 (20 rushing)
- 2006 (13 games): 35 (11 rushing)
- 2005 (12 games): 35 (17 rushing)
- 2004 (12 games): 29 (6 rushing)
- 2003 (12 games): 35 (19 rushing)
- 2002 (13 games): 23 (11 rushing)
- 2001 (11 games): 23 (10 rushing) – No Bowl Game
- 2000 (13 games): 29 (14 rushing) – Bowl Game: 1 rushing and 3 passing
- 1999 (12 games): 34 (13 rushing) – No Bowl Game
- 1998 (12 games): 21 (10 rushing) – Bowl Game: 1 rushing and 4 passing
- 1997 (13 games): 27 (22 rushing) – Bowl Game: 1 passing and 2 rushing
- 1996 (11 games): 23 (14 rushing) – No Bowl Game
- 1995 (12 games): 27 (11 rushing) – Bowl Game: 4 passing
- 1994 (12 games): 28 (19 rushing) – Bowl Game: 4 rushing and 1 passing
- 1993 (12 games): 26 (9 rushing) – Bowl Game: 2 rushing and 1 passing
- 1992 (12 games): 20 (9 rushing) – Bowl Game: 0 touchdowns allowed
- 1991 (13 games): 33 (21 rushing) – Bowl Game: 2 passing
- 1990 (12 games): 30 (18 rushing) – Bowl Game: 1 rushing
- 1989 (13 games): 23 (5 rushing) – Bowl Game: 1 rushing
- 1988 (12 games): 14 (6 rushing) – Bowl Game: 1 rushing and 1 passing
Prediction #30 – Darrin Walls Will Triple His Career Interception Total
There are two elements involved in this prediction: 1.) Walls has just one career interception (which he returned 73 yards for a touchdown at Penn State in 2007), and 2.) Unlike 2007, opposing quarterbacks won't easily target the cornerback opposite Walls in 2009. While the returning senior might be the team's most complete cornerback, sophomore Robert Blanton appears to be the most instinctive of the group (and certainly the most aggressive). Blanton showed flashes of playmaking ability last season as a part-time starter and though I still think he'll be targeted a bit more than the seasoned Walls – and thus predicted that Blanton will lead the team in interceptions this season – few quarterbacks will consistently pick on either side of the Irish defensive backfield this fall.
More opportunities equate to more big plays from Walls – look for at least three picks in 2009 from a senior player that could apply for a 5th year of eligibility at season's end.
Darrin Walls' 73-yard Interception Return – 0:20 mark of the video which was created by Irishfan89 via YouTube.