Kicking off Notre Dame week

It is Notre Dame week here at Hammer & Rails. So far I have lined up three Notre Dame bloggers to discuss the Irish with me before Saturday night's game. I am working on a possible podcast later tonight or tomorrow with the SBNation blog Rakes of Mallow. The good people at UHND.com will be doing an Irish scouting report that I will publish here Thursday, while I will be doing a Purdue scouting report for them in a reversal of my normal Thursday preview.

We begin Notre Dame week with a new blogger Q&A. Keith Arnold has been tapped by NBC to cover the Irish blog-style over at NBCSports.com with his Inside the Irish blog. When you're big enough that an entire network devotes its coverage to you and you alone you get the royal treatment, so to speak. Keith will be doing a liveblog Saturday during the game over at NBCSports.com. For now though, he had a few questions about the Boilers that went up on his site this morning, and his answers to my questions are right here.


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T-Mill: The injury to Michael Floyd and possible loss of Jimmy Clausen are both concerns for the Irish Saturday. How does this level the playing field? If Clausen plays, how much will the injury limit him?

Keith Arnold: I think any time you take away the most explosive receiver in the country and possibly a Heisman candidate quarterback, you've got to think it levels the playing field. It's a terrible break for the Irish, for their fanbase, and for college football to lose Mr. Floyd for the season. He's a great kid, an absolute beast on the football field, and he's really just fun to watch.

As for Clausen, Weis just got done with his press conference, and it sounds like both X-Rays and MRIs are negative on Jimmy. That said, he wasn't the most mobile guy in the world, and I've got to think an arch/turf toe problem won't help him.

Eliminate the Irish's #1 offensive weapon, immobilize the quarterback, and you're half-way to stopping the Irish offensive attack.

T-Mill: If there is one player I fear, it is Golden Tate. He absolutely loves playing Purdue it seems, doing nearly all his freshman year work in the Purdue game in 2007 and dominating us last year. With Floyd out, do you expect even more from Tate?

Keith Arnold: I'm not sure what to expect from Golden Tate. Charlie mentioned in his post-game comments on Sunday that he's concerned with defenses rolling over the top of Tate, but I'm more worried about what's going on between Tate's ears. If anyone is going to pick up the slack for Floyd, it's going to be Tate. I wrote about this earlier in the week, but even though Tate's already got 301 receiving yards and 3 touchdowns, he's left a ton of yardage on the field with drops, and has done a number of bone-headed things. (here's the link for my piece - - http://irish.nbcsports.com/2009/09/step-up-draft.html.php)

There's no questioning his athletic ability, but one of the factors that will define this Notre Dame season will be how Golden Tate responds to Floyd's injury.

T-Mill: What have been the main issues so far with the Notre Dame defense? Why can't they get the one stop to close out games (and no, I don't count last week as a stop when the MSU quarterback overthrew a wide open receiver for the winning score.)

Keith Arnold: The Irish defense has really struggled the past two games, and the main reason is that the Irish can't get any pressure on the quarterback with their blitz packages. Against both Michigan and Michigan State, the Irish brought the house repeatedly and couldn't get there. The problem, in my mind at least, has been that everybody in the stadium knew who was coming. There's nothing that makes a defense more vulnerable than sending a ton of guys and clearing out the field for a quarterback to pick his poison.

I really do think the Irish have the athletes to be a tough passing defense, but when they've been stuck on islands these past two weeks, the Irish have turned decent receivers into good ones, and good ones into world beaters. Twice against the Spartans, miscommunication left someone wide open behind the secondary, and luckily it only went for 6 once.

I expect the Irish defense to still bring heat, but maybe try to disguise it a little better. What really needs to happen for the ND defense to get better is for the front-four to step up and make some plays. Ethan Johnson (excluding the clutch PAT block last week) has been invisible, and Kapron Lewis-Moore needs to figure out a way to get to the quarterback.

T-Mill: Do you think the sudden resrugeance of many of Notre Dame's future opponents (Washington, for one) will make a potential BCS bid more legitimate this year?

Keith Arnold: Absolutely. I've always been skeptical of the criticism of Notre Dame's schedule this season. I'll never stand on the soapbox and defend it, but it wasn't like they were playing JV teams. Nevada scared me to death, we all knew Michigan would be better, Navy took Ohio State to the max, and the entire country saw what Washington did to Southern Cal. I wasn't sure what to expect out of Purdue, but teams like BC, Pitt, UConn -- those guys can beat you if you bring your C game. So while the Irish didn't have one of those classic meat-grinder schedules they've had in the past, it wasn't like they were playing Wofford or Charleston Southern.

If the Irish lose 2 games, I think a BCS bid is legit, especially after seeing Oklahoma lose to BYU, USC lose to UW, and a few other bowling pins sure to topple as the season goes on.  

T-Mill: Finally, Notre Dame presents a different type of offense than Purdue has faced through three games because Clausen is not the running threat that Aaron Opelt, Jeremiah Moseli, and Chandler Harnish were. Does this help or hurt Purdue's chances in your opinion?

Keith Arnold: I think you're definitely on to something with Notre Dame's offensive attack being different than the spread attacks they've seen thus far. But Notre Dame's offense has had its way with Purdue's defense for much of Charlie Weis' tenure in South Bend, less the dreaded 2007 season. That said, Brock Spack is no longer roaming the sidelines for the Boilermakers, so you've got to think Coach Hope and Coach Landholm might have a few tricks up their sleeves.

I think combining a more traditional attack, with a diluted arsenal with Floyd out and Clausen probably limited, might be better than any chalk talk the coaching staff could give the Purdue defense.

Thanks for stopping by, Keith. be sure to check out his coverage this week at Inside the Irish on NBCSports.com

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