As Notre Dame football fans realize, the defense has been a problem the last few years.
Although Brian VanGorder became Notre Dame’s defensive coordinator in 2013 with an excellent resume (defensive coordinator with the New York Jets and the University of Georgia), he very much underperformed. His complex and too complicated defenses had the defensive players thinking too much and not reacting as they are supposed to do.
Two weeks ago, the Fighting Irish hired a new defensive coordinator named Mike Elko, the defensive coordinator at Wake Forest. Elko is 39-years-old and is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania. He was Wake Forest’s defensive coordinator for three years and before that he held the same position at Bowling Green for five years. He has been a defensive coordinator for 12 years.
Pete Thamel of Sports Illustrated stated that “Elko’s defensive hallmarks include multiple concept driven packages that lend to an aggressive style.”
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According to Notre Dame’s press release, Elko’s defenses in his last five seasons have been rated in the top 40. This past season, Elko’s defense ranked third in the country in fumbles recovered, 10th in turnovers gained, 13th in sacks, 17th in Red Zone defense, 20th in scoring defense and 33rd in third-down defense. He has done this with two and three-star recruits against offenses with four-star recruits such as Clemson, Florida State, Miami and North Carolina.
Elko will, of course, have much higher rated defensive players at Notre Dame. A very encouraging fact about Elko is that football people know him for his willingness to be flexible with the talent he has. He is also known to use the 3-4 defense as well as a 4-3. He gets as much out of his players as is possible.
Even though he does not have the resume that VanGorder had, he has been very successful with the players he’s had. The number his defenses have put up speaks for him. One factor Elko has over VanGorder is that VanGorder was rarely involved in recruiting. Whatever Elko can do in that area will be an advantage during his tenure.
Notre Dame’s offensive looks to be top tier this coming season. If Elko can elevate the defense as he did with his prior two teams, Notre Dame could have a promising 2017 season ahead.