So, I came across this video today of Utah's 55 sacks in 2014. After watching it for pure enjoyment, I decided to analyze it. I have a lot of thoughts, so here is the TLDR version. Nate was great, but Utah clearly has a lot of talent and will still get 45+ sacks. Also, I disagree with the official sack stats, my list is included below.
First, I want to address Orchard: All of the pundits seem to think we'll have a huge drop off without him this year. If you go by the official stats, he had 18.5 sacks (more on that later). Out of our 55, we're left with 36.5 sacks. This number still would have put us at 19th in the country. Keep in mind, that some of Nate's sacks were half sacks. Also, some of Nate's sacks came from the other end or DT pushing the QB into him. I figure we'd still have at least 40 sacks without Orchards. That number would put us at 12th in the country last year.
A lot of "experts" talk about Dimick reaching 10 sacks because Nate was opposite and question whether he can do it again. Well, it was just as often that Dimick, Fanaika, and the tackles pushed the sack to Nate. So you could argue that Nate's sack total would be a lot lower without the overall talent of the line. Also, some of Dimick's sacks came when Nate was at LB or even taking a breather. On top of that, we have to remember that Dimick missed some time due to injury. He only played in 11 games. Hunter Dimick is a legit #1 sack man for any team.
Aside from Dimick, Pita and Fanaika also officially combined for 10.5 sacks. That is 20.5 sacks returning to the end position, with the addition of Kylie Fitts on top of that. We may have the best group of ends in the country, even with the loss of Orchard.
Moving on the the DTs. That group combined for 9.5 sacks last year. We only lose 2 sacks from that group in Ianu and Shepard (by the end of the year, neither of them were starters). Lotulelei, Mokofisi, and Fouonuku make for a great rotation at DT, with some more depth behind them. They create great push up the middle and are present enough to get sacks when the ends force the QB to move up in the pocket.
The biggest factor with the line is the diversity. Regardless of the situation, whether we go with a 3, 4, or even 5 man front, Utah has the bodies and ability to give offenses different looks in any situation. Fanaika specifically can play (and has) anywhere from DT to LB. I can see passing situations with Pita, Dimick, Fanaika, and Fitts all on the line.
Lastly, we have our linebackers. Norris had 4 sacks last year, but Paul was the only other LB to get a sack (JT and Godfrey were the only other non-lineman to get sacks). With Paul and Whittingham both healthy, this will open up Utah's blitz capabilities. I believe that the linebacker group will combine for 10 sacks this year, if everyone stays healthy.
The reality is, it is simply lazy journalism to assume Utah will take a big step back because they lost Orchard's production. No doubt Nate is one of the best defenders Utah has ever had and he affected the way offenses played. But Dimick can take that role and Utah still has enough talent and depth that offenses can't just double or triple block one guy-hence why Nate got 18.5 sacks last year.
So, I've already predicted 10 sacks for the linebackers, with a healthy Tevin Carter, and the other safeties stepping up, along with JT in the nickel again, I'm going to say that the DBs get at least 4 sacks this year. I'm going to say that the line still gets at least 38 sacks, putting the total to 52. I believe that Utah will average 4 sacks per game. The line may not match last year's total, and I don't know if we'll have anyone over 15. But the defense as a whole will do just as well.
Now, as far as official stats go, last year there were a few times that I felt that Orchard got full credit for a sack or even half credit when he maybe shouldn't have. I think that this is common when there is a big player in on a play, the stat guy automatically gives him credit. So I carefully watched each sack and determined who should have been credited with the sack. When it came to half sacks, I did my best to determine if the first person to get there would have completed the sack without the other defender. If yes, they got the full sack. If no, or questionable, I usually cautioned to half sacks.
There weren't a lot of changes, the biggest being that I determined Orchard should have been credited with 17 sacks last year. Everyone else that differed only differed by half a sack.
Here is the list, the players official stat is listed first, with my determination listed second.
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