Remember in 2015 when Notre Dame played a scrappy Wake Forest team? At the time I didn’t pay much attention to the Demon Deacon defense. Of course now that Mike Elko is Notre Dame’s defensive coordinator that 2015 match up becomes more intriguing. In this edition of Iso Cam, we’ll take a look at the back and forth between Brian Kelly’s offense and Mike Elko’s defense on what turned out to be a critical play in the game. Let’s take a look at the film and I’ll show you what I mean.

2nd and 9, deep in their own end Notre Dame comes out with a heavy run formation with an interesting wrinkle. The heavy run look comes from the two tight ends stacked to the wide side (blue arrows). The wrinkle comes from the two receivers spread to the same side (yellow arrows). This creates an unbalanced formation with 4 receivers to one side and no receivers to the other side (black circle).

This formation puts pressure on the defense in a number of ways. First, the defense has to react to the stacked tight ends. If they don’t move some defenders over to match the extra blockers, Notre Dame will simply run to the tight end side and likely overpower them. At the same time, the defense also needs to decide what to do about the receivers split wide. Do they play man to man with no help over the top or do they move a safety over to provide additional support? Keep in mind one of those receivers is Will Fuller. What about the side of the formation with no receiver? Should they keep a corner on that side, or move the corner to the side of the formation with two receivers?

Elko decides to make the tight end side a priority and shifts his defensive line in that direction (red arrows). This is interesting because it leaves the backside tackle Mike McGlinchey (#68, yellow circle) uncovered. Elko also shifts his linebackers (purple arrows) towards the tight end side and has his rover (purple star and arrow) slide out to the 2 receiver side. For good measure, he’ll have a safety come down to the line of scrimmage to make sure he isn’t outmanned by the stacked tight ends (pink arrow).

When I first looked at this play, I thought Elko had overcommitted to the stacked tight end side. I was especially surprised that he would shift the backside defensive end over the guard (red arrow) since this alignment creates a pretty obvious run lane behind the uncovered tackle (yellow circle).

I’ve actually seen this type of alignment from Elko before, he’s not afraid to move his defensive linemen around. Elko clearly decided he wasn’t going to let Notre Dame overpower him on the stacked tight end side. I suspect he felt pretty good about the backside as well. If Notre Dame ran away from the tight ends, he had a corner in good position to keep contain (pink arrow) and a linebacker free to pursue from the inside (purple arrow). This would leave Notre Dame with one player (McGlinchey) to block two defenders.

The safety has come up in run support (pink circle) which puts 5 defenders (red stars) in position to make a play to the double tight end side.

If you were watching closely in the last screen shots, you would have noticed that running back Josh Adams (# 33, green arrow) was lined up directly behind quarterback DeShone Kizer (# 14). When the safety came down to the line of scrimmage and changed the math, Kizer moved Adams from behind him to beside him (green arrow). This subtle adjustment will allow Adams to get to the side of the formation where the math is better (black arrow) a little faster.

Of course we can’t forget about the 2 receiver (yellow arrows) side of the formation. Elko decided to move the rover to that side (purple circle). However, it wouldn’t be wise to leave him all alone on a receiver. Consequently, Elko will have the safety in the middle of the field roll over to the 2 receiver side (pink arrow) just in case the Irish decide to throw it deep. Remember this adjustment, it will be important later.

A fraction of a second after the snap and the 2 tight end side is already a mess (yellow circle). It looks like a herd of wildebeest crossing a narrow channel in a crocodile infested river. There’s not much room to run there. The linebackers (purple arrows), get caught up in the excitement and join in the river crossing stampede. This decision will come back to haunt the defense.

Josh Adams (green arrow) is just getting to the line of scrimmage, and has found a little bit of space between the guard and the tackle. The linebacker (purple arrow) got caught in the stampede and wasn’t able to scrape over the top and fill from the inside as Elko had hoped.

Remember the safety that rolled over to help to the 2 receiver side? Well there he is (pink circle) coming back to try and make the tackle. If he was able to stay in his initial pre-snap alignment, he would have been in a much better position to make the tackle.

Fortunately for the Irish, Josh Adams is able to break free and is off to the races for a 98 yard touchdown run.


Final Thoughts

This was pretty nice play design by Notre Dame. Stacking the tight ends, forced Elko to adjust his defensive alignment so he had extra defenders to the strength of the formation. This left a bit of a weakness away from the stacked tight ends which the Irish exploited. To make matters worse for Elko, the two receiver wrinkle forced him move a safety away from the backside of the formation. This gave Adams a little extra space which helped turn a first down run into a 98 yard back breaking touchdown. Some nice X’s and O’s from the Irish. Oh and it doesn’t hurt that Josh Adams is pretty fast.