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Fiesta Bowl Notebook: Mike Elston will make majority of defensive calls

And other things

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 20 Georgia Tech at Notre Dame Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish arrived at the Fiesta Bowl with the normal flair that the bright-colored jackets bring with these New Year’s Six games.

Very shortly after their arrival, Marcus Freeman was ushered into a media room for a Zoom press conference. (Unfortunately, I have some family matters that need attention this week, and likely won’t be involved directly with the press conferences.)

It took a while for the question to finally be asked — but who is calling the defensive plays on Saturday against the Oklahoma State Cowboys? It’s been one of the bigger talking points leading up to this week that doesn’t directly involve coaching searches. According to Freeman, defensive line coach Mike Elston will make the majority of those calls. He also discussed who would be located where on gameday.

“Nick Lezynski will come down, because he’s had a more active role with the linebackers. We activated him from the analyst position, the senior analyst position, to the linebackers and special teams. He’ll come down. We’ll still leave O’Leary up. Elston and Mickens have been down and they’ll stay down. All year, as I lead, I’ve always been a leader as a teammate. It’s been a collective group effort in terms of game planning, in terms of, hey, what do you guys think on this next third down, at some point somebody has to call it and that’s what I’ve done obviously being the defensive coordinator. But right now, the plan is for Elston to have a lead role, Mike Elston, to have a lead role in terms of who’s making the majority of the calls on game day. Now, we’re going to work hand in hand like we’ve done all year. I’m going to be right there with him. We’re gonna go back and forth and be able to throw ideas off of each other, but the game plan, we’ve game planned as a group. We’ve kind of put the game plan in as a group, but he’ll be the one on Saturday making the majority of the calls. But again, I think it’s best for the group because he’s had more time, the defensive staff, not just him, but Mike Mickens and Chris O’Leary, they’ve had more time to just strictly prepare for Oklahoma State’s offense, and I would be doing a disservice to our defense, if I said, nope, we’re doing exactly what I say, I’m the one that’s going to call it, I’m the one that’s going to do it, because I haven’t had as much time to prepare for Oklahoma State’s offense as those guys have. I think this gives our group a better opportunity to have success. That’s why I made this decision. Hey, these guys have spent more time preparing for Oklahoma State than I have in terms of our defense verses their offense, so let’s let those guys, those individuals, and specifically Mike Elston, have the opportunity to call it. Again, I’m going to be involved. I’m going to make sure to be like, hey, if I want something I’m going to say hey, let’s do this. If I don’t like something, I’ll interject and say, let’s do this. But he will be the primary play caller for this game.”

Freeman cleared up his age after the Fiesta Bowl rep said mistakingly that Marcus played in the 2019 game. He then went on to quickly give another nod to Oklahoma State.

“This will be my fourth Fiesta Bowl. This will be my first as a coach. 2006, we played Notre Dame. I was not a part of that, but I was here with the team. 2007 was a national championship game, and then 2009 in the Fiesta Bowl. I can’t tell you how excited I am to be back down here in Scottsdale and Phoenix, Arizona. We just touched down not maybe 30 minutes ago and what a beautiful city. What a beautiful environment. We’re an excited football team for this opportunity play a really, really good Oklahoma State team.”

“I was on the plane for about four hours and tried to watch as much film as I could. I’m so impressed with how hard they play. From every position, but especially their front four. They play extremely hard. They are relentless and they tackle and they pursue to the ball well. It’s going to be a huge challenge and the challenge isn’t going to be schematicly. it’s going to be to match their intensity and the physicality they play with.”

“I think it’s a program that every year is in contention to win the Big 12 championship and make a playoff run. I think what you’ve seen over the past 10-15 years throughout the time coach Gundy has been there is a team that just every year is pushing to win that championship and that is a very explosive offense and now you incorporate a defense that plays extremely hard and is one of the best in the country. This is a program that can present problems for any team. We know the challenge and we respect this opponent and we’re going to have to prepare to try to make sure we’re successful on Saturday.”

One of the biggest questions for bowl week for any year, is about how how the team prepares leading up to bowl week — and for the game itself.

“All three,” he said when asked if he used Cincinnati’s game plan from the past, talks with Jim Tressell or just what Notre Dame has used in the past. “I looked at the practice schedule we already had set. Coach Kelly had already kind of had a practice schedule set, so I looked at that. I’ve looked at what we’ve done this year. The big thing I got from coach Kelly was the use of technology, the use of GPS system, the use of numbers, so I’ve been using that really hand in hand with our head strength coach, Matt Balis. Then I used some of Cincinnati’s stuff. I looked at the two years, three years we prepare for Georgia, we prepared for Boston College and we prepared for Virginia Tech, and I kind of took some of those ideas. Then obviously I leaned most hand in hand or voice to voice opinion to opinion with coach Tressell in terms of things and just ran things by him. Coach Fickell is obviously extremely busy getting ready for Alabama and coach Kelly, I’m sure he’s pretty busy down at LSU. But the guy that I was leaning on the most in terms of a day to day operations and things that I hadn’t had across my desk before was coach Tressell. So, I’ve used all three and kind of come up with what I feel is best for our team to be ready for this game.”

“I want to go now. I want to get off this plane. I told these guys that we can’t have four days off. I want to get out there today and we’re going to go run around and it’s not going to be a walkthrough. We’re going to have a good practice today to get some of that lactic acid out of their legs and make sure, hey, we’re ready to go. Tomorrow is gonna be a big day. Tuesday’s of game week is huge. Huge in terms of the physical aspect of it, but also the mental aspect of getting ready for Oklahoma State. Wednesday will be more specific in terms of third down, in terms of redzone, in terms of two minute offense and defense. The preparation of Tuesday’s practice and Wednesday’s practice, those won’t change. No matter where you’re at, usually a lot of Tuesdays are gonna be similar and a lot of Wednesdays are gonna be similars. Today, to me, is a big focus. Today, being able to say, let’s go out here for an hour, hour and a half, and have a really, really good practice is what I’m most focused on right now. I’m excited to get to it.”

You can watch the full presser in the player below.