Julian Love sparks another night of turnovers for Notre Dame defense

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

EAST LANSING, Mich. — Julian Love stepped in front of a Brian Lewerke pass, and he doesn’t remember the rest.

The sophomore Notre Dame cornerback cut underneath the out-breaking route run by Michigan State wide receiver Darrell Stewart Jr. and intercepted the fifth throw of the game for the Spartans.

The rest went by in a flash. 

Love sprinted 59 yards for a touchdown only having to outrun a diving Lewerke. Love gave Notre Dame a 14-0 lead less than five minutes into the game to jumpstart a 38-18 victory in Spartan Stadium.

The next thing Love remembered after the pick was being mobbed by his teammates.

“When I turned around after I scored, everyone was hitting me and was on me,” Love said. “It’s just really an exciting feeling, especially to do it in front of my family that came out. I love playing for this school.”

Don’t let Love’s lapse in recollection fool you. He was plenty cognizant of the surroundings that set up his interception. He rattled off the route concept (“onion”) and his responsibility on the play (“the flat”). And when fellow cornerback Shaun Crawford was answering questions next to him at the podium after the game, he slightly nudged the stationary microphone in Crawford’s direction. Always aware.

“(Defensive coordinator Mike) Elko called a great defense for that,” Love said. “We've been preparing for their route concepts. That quarterback was really good on timing, we learned early. It was a quick throw, and I just broke on it.”

A maniacal focus on turnovers has been a staple of Notre Dame’s defensive overhaul under Elko. Every practice includes various drills designed to mimic the technique required to create turnovers. The goal is to have every situation covered when it presents itself. The repetition allows players like Love to make the plays without hesitation.

“It’s getting ingrained in our brains,” Love said. “Shaun (Crawford) especially is a turnover magnet. We’re just going after it, and we’re doing it for each other. I think that’s why we’re making these big plays.”

Crawford, particularly, has been a cog in Notre Dame’s turnover renaissance. On Saturday night, the junior cornerback stripped Michigan State running back LJ Scott near the goal line and recovered the loose ball in the end zone. It was the fourth turnover Crawford has had a hand in through the first four games of the season.

Notre Dame (3-1) already has forced nine turnovers as a defense this season — three against Michigan State (2-1) — after producing only 14 all of last season. There’s an urgency in the Irish defense to get the ball in the hands of the offense. Love did the scoring on his own to give quarterback Brandon Wimbush and the Irish an early cushion.

The interception was Love’s first of the season. He’s now one behind Crawford’s two interceptions. Naturally, there’s a little competition going on between the two of them.

“That’s always on our mind as corners,” Love said. “We’re brothers in the secondary as well as on the defense. We just get excited for each other.

“I’m so excited for a play that he makes. It feels like I’m making them when he makes them. I know he feels the same way about me.

“I think that’s leading to our success. That selflessness throughout the whole team. That’s really going to push forward.”

tjames@ndinsider.com

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Notre Dame’s Julian Love (27) celebrates scoring during the Notre Dame at Michigan State NCAA football game Saturday, 23, 2017 at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing, Michigan. Tribune Photo/MICHAEL CATERINA