Blue and Gold Illustrated

February 2017

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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32 FEBRUARY 2017 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED N otre Dame needed a major change on defense if it was going to recover from the mis- erable 2016 season, and it received that when head coach Brian Kelly announced that former Wake For- est defensive coordinator Mike Elko would be the next man in charge of that area. Elko turned a unit filled with two- and three-star recruits into one of the top defenses in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Wake Forest finished tied for 20th nationally and third in the ACC in scoring defense. The De- mon Deacons finished the season by holding Temple to minus-20 rushing yards in their 34-26 Military Bowl victory. Here's a look at the defense Elko is expected to bring to Notre Dame. BASIC DEFENSIVE STRUCTURE Elko's defense is labeled a 4-2-5, which means in its base form it will have four defensive linemen, two in- side linebackers and five defensive backs on the field. The weakside defensive end is in a two-point stance, which means he is standing up and does not have his hand on the ground. His responsi- bilities are primarily the same as a defensive end, but the standup align- ment allows him to more easily loop inside on stunts, to adjust how tight he is on the edge and to quickly drop into coverage when Elko calls for him to do that. Elko's two inside linebackers are labeled the Mike and Buck. The cor- nerbacks and safeties will play to the field and boundary, which means a safety and cornerback will always go to the shorter side of the field and the other two will line up to the wide side of the field. The fifth defensive back is labeled as a Rover, and he is a hybrid line- backer/safety type player. Part of his responsibility is to serve as the outside force player, which means it is his job to come upfield, take on blockers and to "force" the ball car- rier back inside where the lineback- ers, linemen and safeties are in pur- suit. Elko's Rover will also be asked to blitz off the edge, to play underneath zones and occasionally defend a tight end or slot receiver in man coverage. DEFENSIVE PHILOSOPHY Notre Dame was not overly aggres- sive under former coordinator Brian VanGorder, and it was one of several reasons for his eventual failure. Elko comes in with a reputation for being aggressive, and it does not take one long to see on film why that is. At the heart of Elko's defensive philosophy is the desire to attack the offense in a variety of ways, with the first goal being to shut down the op- position's run game and the second to create negative plays via tackles for loss and sacks. One of the hardest things to do as a collegiate defensive coordinator is to create a system that is simple enough to allow one's own players to quickly master it and then go out and play with a great deal of speed and confidence, but one that is complex enough to create confusion for op- posing offensive linemen and quar- terbacks. Elko had that down at Wake Forest, and his 2016 defense was remarkably disruptive. Wake Forest finished the season 21st nationally in tackles for loss (94) and 12th in sacks (41). Not since 1996, when the defense finished with 41.5 sacks and 101.5 tackles for loss, has Notre Dame approached that type of disruption. Notre Dame's vaunted 2012 de- fense that carried it to a 12-1 record finished that season with 70 tackles for loss and 34 sacks. How he attacks will be determined by each week's game plan and will be contingent on weaknesses found in the opposing offense. Elko will mix in four-man pressures made up of four linemen or three linemen and an edge pressure, he'll bring five- man pressures with a linebacker or safety, and occasionally he'll bring an overload pressure. What makes his pressure packages so effective is the fact his defense can bring pressure from a number of dif- ferent angles. Having a standup end, the Rover lined up on the outside op- posite the end, and being aggressive with safeties and linebackers allow Elko to bring a number of different pressures. His defenses can be difficult for offenses to get a read on, but the car- ryover week to week and the foun- dational aspects of the defense make it easier for players to perform with more confidence. There is less think- ing and more reacting. THIRD-DOWN DEFENSE The objective of Elko's aggressive style is to either force a turnover, or to put the defense in third-and-me- dium to third-and-long situations. It is on third down when Elko's defense has truly shined. His defense will stay in its base looks on first and second down, but if the defense gets the offense to third down, Elko will mix up the looks and seek to make quarterbacks uncomfortable. Over the last six seasons, Elko's defense has finished below 37 per- cent on third-down defense six times. Notre Dame has done that just twice in the same span. ✦ Inside Mike Elko's Defense CHALK TALK BRYAN DRISKELL Bryan Driskell has been a football analyst for Blue & Gold Illustrated since April 2015. He can be reached at Elko's 2016 Wake Forest defense was very disruptive, finishing the regular season ranked 21st nationally in tackles for loss (94) and 12th in sacks (41). PHOTO COURTESY WAKE FOREST

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