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Notre Dame Football: The Mike Elko Effect

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Turnovers were hard come by in 2016, but Mike Elko has bucked that terrible trend.

NCAA Football: Notre Dame at Michigan State Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Following a fantastic 38-18 win over the Michigan State Spartans for Brian Kelly’s Irish team, his Sunday presser provided some information and clarity on what it took to bring the Megaphone back home and what to expect going forward. Let’s get right into it.

The Elko Effect

What a tremendous turnaround for the Irish defense. Or rather, what a bunch of tremendous turnovers tallied by the Irish defense.

Notre Dame currently resides at a very respectable 13th in the country in turnovers gained. This comes as a massive improvement upon the 104th placing the that this Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team attained in 2016. Under Brian VanGorder the defensive unit often struggled to force turnovers, among other things. That has been changed under new defensive coordinator Mike Elko, as a result of what is now being dubbed “The Elko Effect”.

NCAA Football: Notre Dame at Michigan State
Julian Love leaps into the end zone for a pick-six in the first quarter, to put the Irish up 14-0.
Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Mike Elko has caused a substantial change to a unit that was — at best -- mediocre throughout much of 2016. Instead of being porous and incapable, this is now a defense that is opportunistic and consistent. After giving out points last year like they were America’s biggest daytime talk show host, they’re now clamping down and allowing only 18.5 points per game. Through the first four games of 2016, they gave up 33.5 points per game. Even in 2015, when the Irish played abysmal Texas, Virginia and UMass teams, they still gave up 19.75 points per game.

Against Michigan State, The Elko Effect was on full display again. Julian Love got a pick-six, Greer Martini forced a fumble while Daelin Hayes recovered, and our favorite playmaker Shaun Crawford had arguably the most aware and greatest forced fumble I have ever seen. Brian Kelly attributed these plays to the grit his team plays with, and those essential traits that his staff has tried to instill.

Whether or not you’ve bought into Brian Kelly 2.0, one thing is for certain: What a difference The Elko Effect can make.

Other Notes from the Presser:

  • Kelly — for the second week in a row — has to applaud the smart and instinctual plays that Shaun Crawford continually manages to make. This week, it was a goal-line forced fumble that Crawford attributed to studying how Charles Tillman played. You can’t help but love this kid.
  • Miami of Ohio will be a new opponent for the Irish, but they are led by a familiar face in former Notre Dame assistant Chuck Martin.
  • It’s no secret that the short-to-intermediate passing game has caused a few problems for the Notre Dame defense thus far. Kelly touched on this as an area of improvement, “We've got to do a better job with just understanding passing off routes, underneath coverage, things of that nature, inside-out on slant routes in terms of down and distance.”
  • Josh Adams was taken (mostly) out of the rotation last night due to getting a bit banged up early on. Kelly pointed to some stiffness that his “bell-cow back” was feeling in his ankle.
  • With that being said, Brian Kelly reiterated that Adams will remain atop the running back depth chart if all goes according to plan.
  • Wimbush’s mechanics were much improved against Sparty, and it showed. He was set up early with some confidence-building throws, but he maintained a high level of play even when the playbook was opened up for him a bit more.
  • The Irish have 16 rushing touchdowns on the year so far, as opposed to the 18 they totaled in all of last year. Kelly said this was due to the intentional crafting of a physical identity. Kelly also essentially repeated this when he was asked how the Irish defense has only allowed one rushing touchdown on the year so far.
  • The Irish offense caught the ball much more consistently yesterday — with Kelly only seeing one drop — than they had in the games prior. Brian Kelly said that this was a result of the focus that they had put on catching the ball in the week leading up to the game.
  • Brian Kelly saw this game as a confidence booster for Brandon Wimbush and his receivers. He stated, “We've got some guys that are gaining some confidence out there, and I think you'll see a better rapport as the season goes on here with Brandon and the receivers and confidence grow in that regard.”