Yesterday Keith Arnold of NBCSports.com's Inside the Irish blog posted my answers to his questions about hte Boilermakers. Today he returns the favor here by answering my questions:
T-Mill: Tommy Rees has been all over the map at quarterback. What is the story with him and turning the ball over? Do you think the problem is fixed or does it rear its head again this week?
Keith: Man, this answer could be a novel. Rees has been like a ton of young quarterbacks: Really inconsistent. When he's playing well, the Irish offense is a well oiled machine. But he's made some big mistakes with the football and it has taken a ton of points off the scoreboard. That said, he's progressing, and Brian Kelly's sticking with Rees makes you think that the head coach feels like Tommy is the best guy for the job, even if his physical skillset isn't as impressive as Dayne Crist's.
There's no reason to believe this problem is fixed until Rees plays a string of clean games. He's not lacking in confidence, either. If the Irish offense is going to be prolific, they'll obviously need to stop shooting themselves in the foot. If that happens, it's bad news for Purdue.
T-Mill: Tyler Eifert was a beast last week on the final drive and we are notorious for leaving players like him uncovered on third down. Do you see any way he doesn't have another big game Saturday night?
Keith: It's a little bit of pick your poison with Eifert. If you put two guys on Michael Floyd, that's giving a favorable match-up to Eifert, Theo Riddick or T.J. Jones. Rees has developed pretty good chemistry with Eifert, and he does a lot of good work up the seam. In crunch time, it was Eifert that had the impressive drive, making multiple big catches including the touchdown and two-point conversion.
If Eifert is open, Rees will find him. That said, expect to see a lot of Floyd, TJ Jones and most likely Theo Riddick, who the coaching staff would like to get on track.
T-Mill: How much do you think the week off will help Purdue when Notre Dame had to earn a tough road win at Pittsburgh?
Keith: That's the best thing Purdue has going for it. The Irish have played four physical games to open the season. They've only suffered one major injury, but you definitely accumulate some bumps and bruises along the way. Purdue is coming off a bye week and a blowout win where they had a chance to develop some depth, so they'll probably be pretty fresh. If Purdue can out energy Notre Dame early, you never know what could happen.
T-Mill: Notre Dame started 2-2. Do you feel they have underachieved a little or overachieved given their struggle at Pittsburgh?
Keith: They've definitely underachieved. If you go back and watch the USF and Michigan games, it's actually incredible to see the ways the Irish let those games slip through their hands. In the opener, it was a bizarre mix of self-destructive plays, most feeling more fluky than anything else. Against Michigan, the defense started leaking oil and once Rees fumbled inside the Wolverines' five-yard-line, the defense imploded. The mistakes the defense made in that game were just massive, and really atypical for a group that's been really really solid. (Memo to Purdue quarterbacks: Under-throw the ball against the Irish defensive backs. They've really struggled against it.)
That said, you are what you are. Lose two of your first four and it's tough to say you're a great team. Play mediocre winning football against Pitt and you deserve to be docked. If the Irish get through Purdue and Air Force, and play solid football against USC, then we'll know if this team is for real.
T-Mill: Notre Dame is heavily favored in this one, and rightfully so. What is the scenario you see playing out for Purdue to pull the upset?
Keith: Get turnovers. If the Irish turn the ball over more than twice, Purdue has a chance. The Boilermakers are also going to have to make a few big plays on offense, because I think they'll have a tough time sustaining drives against Notre Dame's defense, even with TerBush's wheels. The Irish have played mediocre on special teams and in the turnover department. If you're looking for a blueprint to win, take advantage in those two aspects and you never know what'll happen.
T-Mill: Notre Dame has faced Purdue twice at night. In 2005 our defense forgot to show up and the Irish drilled us. In 2009 We handled things well before failing to stop the go-ahead drive. How does Brian Kelly handle another charged night atmosphere like Michigan?
Keith: No offense to Ross-Ade, but it won't be rocking like Michigan Stadium was -- with 115,000 fans fueled up for their first night game in school history. That said, if Purdue can get some early momentum, they'll have a chance to dictate terms to the Irish, always important in a game like this. That 2005 Irish team had a ton of swagger. This team is a lot closer to that group than the '09 squad, but has a long way to go. Kelly's got the right quarterback in there when it comes to big games -- Rees has played just fine on the big stage, and he led the Irish to what should have been the winning drive with just 30 seconds left against Michigan. If the Purdue defense can confuse the sophomore quarterback, they'll have a chance to get some turnovers. From there, it'll be a matter of taking advantage of them, something opposing teams haven't been able to do against the Irish's stingy sudden change defense.