NOTRE DAME, IND. -- Sedrick Ellis did not know he could jump that high.
"But I'm glad I can," the senior nose tackle said.
On a Notre Dame first down and 10, from the Irish 23-yard line, quarterback Evan Sharpley dropped back and saw Ellis charging through the offensive line. Sharpley stepped right and pump faked. In response, Ellis launched his 6-foot-2, 305-pound body airborne – really airborne.
"When you're playing, you don't quite remember everything that happens," Ellis said. "I think I jumped to try to bat it down, and then when I realized he was going to keep running, I just tried to grab him."
Ellis tackled Sharpley for an 11-yard loss and brought his team-leading sack total to five and a half on the season. Earlier in USC's 38-0 Saturday romp of the Irish, Ellis combined with roommate and defensive end Kyle Moore to take down Sharpley, and they each were awarded half a sack.
"He's still fighting for the full one," Moore said with a smile.
Ellis, an All-American as a junior, arguably has been the Trojans' best player during their 6-1 start. He has recorded a team-leading seven tackles for loss, after finishing with eight in 10 games last season.
"To get better … I think the main thing is not to be complacent, not to get full of yourself and read the press clippings," Ellis said. "I think maybe I've improved more in my mental game than my physical game. Just studying more. Just being more professional."
His five Saturday tackles brought his season total to 27, which leads all Trojans defensive linemen.
"It's hard to believe that a guy that big can actually be that fast," said linebacker Thomas Williams, who started in the middle – behind Ellis – against Notre Dame. "It's almost like a magic trick."
Williams and the other linebackers benefit every week from Ellis' disruptive presence at the line of scrimmage, where he ties up offensive linemen, leaving the linebackers free to make tackles. It has not escaped their notice – "I'm so fortunate to play with him," Williams said – and it figures to serve the senior well in the upcoming NFL draft.
ESPN expert Mel Kiper Jr. lists Ellis as the No. 5 senior on his "Big Board."
"It's his time to transition into the League," Moore said, referring to the NFL. "He's still got six games left, but he has to establish himself as the No. 1 D-tackle in the country."
That could prove difficult, with LSU's Glenn Dorsey widely considered the best prospect – at any position – in the nation.
But Ellis continues to improve, with his extra mental preparation paying dividends.
"It's a big deal, because when you get out there you start to recognize protections and what the offense is going to do, before they actually do it," Ellis said. "Just start to be able to play faster."
Jonathan Kay can be reached at Jon@USCFootball.com