Monday wasn’t a great day of news for Notre Dame with Deshone Kizer leaving for the NFL and offensive coordinator Mike Sanford potentially leaving to be the head coach at Western Kentucky. Notre Dame got one bit of good news today, however, with multiple reports of Wake Forest defensive coordinator Mike Elko interviewing with the Irish.
There haven’t been many names mentioned in connection with the open Notre Dame defensive coordinator position thus far. Charlie Strong’s name was floated by bloggers such as myself, but it was more pipe dream than reality as Strong drew heavy interest for open head coach positions and was hired by South Florida last week.
Of the current defensive coordinators whose names have been mentioned on wish lists though, Mike Elko’s name has been near the top. In his third season at Wake Forest, Elko has turned the Demon Deacons into one of the best defenses in college football. This past season Wake ranked 20th in points allowed, 12th in sacks, and 10th in turnovers.
After watching Brian Vangorder’s defenses fail to generate any semblance of a pass rush and struggle to generate turnovers, those statistics should have any Notre Dame fan excited about the possibility. Simply put, Mike Elko would be a home run of a hire.
Elko’s Defense Give Up Yards, Not Points
Much like Bob Diaco’s defenses, at Notre Dame, Elko’s unit at Wake Forest this year gave up some yards, but they kept the points down. Wake Forest allowed 370.1 yards a game this fall to Notre Dame’s 378.8. Wake gave up six fewer points a game (21.8 vs. 27.8), sacked the opposing QB 23 more times (37 vs. 14), and generated 11 more turnovers (25 vs 14).
Elko’s defense was able to do all of that was substantially less talent that what Notre Dame had to work with.
This year wasn’t a one hit wonder for Elko at Wake Forest either. In 2014, Jimbo Fisher called the Wake Forest defense the best his defending national champion Seminoles faced. Here’s what he had to say about the Demon Deacon defense that day after they gave Jameis Winston a tough time.
“Wake is the best defense we’ve played. Wake is very good on defense. And they have probably the best set of corners we’ve faced. Other teams have been more talented. Wake was very talented in the secondary, brought multiple blitzes, multiple looks. They’ve got a corner, probably one of the top seniors in the Southeast, their boundary corner, probably the top senior corner in the Southeast. One had 35 starts, one had 33. The other field corner is a very good player.
Elko’s Defense Have Been Turnover Machines
Forcing turnovers isn’t new for Mike Elko led defenses either. Prior to being hired by Wake Forest, Elko served as defensive coordinator at Bowling Green for five seasons during which his defenses averaged 1.7 turnovers a game. Elko followed Dave Clawson to Wake Forest in 2014 when Clawson got the head coaching job at Wake.
Notre Dame fans also should still vividly remember the egg the Notre Dame offense laid last year one senior day when Wake Forest came to town. Deshone Kizer completed 13 of 19 passes that afternoon for just 111 yards and no touchdowns. Josh Adams did have his 98 touchdown run that afternoon, but the uneven performance started the narrative that Oklahoma should pass the Irish in the CFP rankings at the time.
Elko’s defense was also able to bottle up one of Notre Dame’s most dynamic wide receivers ever to suit up for the Irish – Will Fuller. The future first round draft picked hauled in just 3 passes for 37 yards .
Elko is the first name to officially be linked to the open position at Notre Dame. Brian Kelly is expected to give internal candidates such as Mike Elston and interim Greg Hudson a chance to fill the role as well.
Outside of landing someone like Strong or Dave Aranda – who was also never a real possibility – Elko would be a no-brainer, home run hire for Notre Dame and Brian Kelly. Notre Dame needs to make this happen.