Know Thy Opponent 2012: Notre Dame Fighting Irish

SOUTH BEND IN - SEPTEMBER 11: Tommy Rees #13 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish looks for a receiver against the Michigan Wolverines at Notre Dame Stadium on September 11 2010 in South Bend Indiana. Michigan defeated Notre Dame 28-24. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

I will not be returning to Notre Dame Stadium in 2012, or in any other year for that matter.

Don't get me wrong, I love watching Purdue football road trips. I make at least one per season and have done for the past 11 seasons. An in-state road trip seems like a no-brainer. After what happened two seasons ago, something that nearly ended up being the death of this blog, I decided I would never return to Notre Dame Stadium even if they were giving away $10,000 checks to everyone who walked through the gates. A recap:

  • The Notre Dame SID took offense to me running the usual Open Thread as I was in the press box. This is something done at every SBNation site, but to them, it was liveblogging, which was forbidden. They also took offense to me saying that it wasn't liveblogging, but was different because it was an Open Thread in the description.
  • As much of a heinous crime as that was, it paled in comparison to the fact that the SID actually read all 1,125 comments, and took offense with this one:
T-Mill, I had known you were going

I would've mailed you a sniper rifle.

  • As you can see by reviewing the thread in the link above, I did not make that comment, but I was accused of condoning the action of firing into the crowd and killing Notre Dame fans. There is no follow up comment made by me addressing it at all. This led to me losing my credential with Purdue, culminating in having it pulled two days before the 2011 Big Ten basketball tournament. Thankfully, that is now solve because Purdue's athletic department was willing to sit down, hear my side of the story, and work things out.
  • The final straw was the fact that every seat in the gigantic press box had a "No cheering allowed in press box" sign at it. Every material given to reporters also had this, so I abided by it in a professional manner. Well, this rule was obviously limited to visiting teams only, as the place went crazy any time Notre Dame did something positive.

So yes, that all happened. I was exposed to the machine behind what is Notre Dame football, and while the team itself is a respectable entity, the fans were excellent, and the coaching staff was accommodating in the post-game press conference, the treatment I received from the administration was every stereotype about their administration you can imagine. If I had made a peep when Robert Marve had his touchdown run I may have not made it out of South Bend alive.

While I won't be going, our Boilers head to Notre Dame this year for their home opener. It is the second time in three years Purdue has served as their home opener, and our horrid record of one victory in almost 40 years up there doesn't give me a ton of confidence. Still, anything can happen.

Notre Dame Fighting Irish

2011 Record: 8-5

Bowl Result: Lost to Florida State 18-14 in Champs Sports Bowl

Blog Representation: One Foot Down, UHND, NDNation, Irish Roundtable, Inside the Irish

Series with Purdue: Notre Dame leads 55-26-2 (Notre Dame leads Shillelagh portion 36-19)

Last Purdue win: 9/29/2007 at Purdue 33-19

Last Notre Dame win: 10/1/2011 at Notre Dame 38-10

Last Season for the Irish

In the middle part of the season the Fighting Irish were pretty good, going 8-1 with only a home loss to USC. Costly turnovers and poor defense cost them in losses to South Florida and Michigan to start the year, while a relatively punchless offense saw them end the season by losing to Stanford and Florida State.

Defensively, Notre Dame was pretty stout for a good portion of the year. They held teams under 20 points in seven of 13 games, and it really could be considered eight games since seven of the 23 points given up to South Florida came on a 96-yard fumble recovery that was a huge swing in that game. Offensively they had one of the best seasons running the ball in quite some time with Cierre Wood topping 1,000 yards and Jonas Gray scoring 12 times. The biggest issue was 29 turnovers. At nearly 2.5 per game, turnovers drastically cut into what the Irish wanted to do.

Notre Dame Offense:

One of the hottest debates going is who will start at quarterback for the Irish. On paper, Tommy Rees has the most experience with 12 starts, 2,871 yards, and 20 TDs with a 65% completion percentage. No one was happy with his 14 interceptions, however. His offseason arrest for battery, among other charges, doesn't help his case, either.

There are other options. Andrew Hendrix is a junior that played in five games and threw for 249 yards with a touchdown and two picks. Everett Golson, a three-star recruit in 2011, is also a possibility. Finally, you have Gunner Kiel, who spurned Indiana and LSU after committing to each to come to Notre Dame. Golson is the more mobile of all of them, and Kiel is the most highly touted. Hendrix brings experience, though very little of it, and mobility of his own with 162 rushing yards and a score.

It's hard to make a call here until Brian Kelly makes a call on any potential suspension for Rees. From there, it's a major question mark as to who helps the Irish win now, which is always an important factor in any decision involving Notre Dame football.

Whomever starts at quarterback will have an excellent running game to help him out. Wood returns after rushing for 1,102 yards and nine touchdowns. He had 5.1 yards per carry, but an astounding 9.6 YPC against Purdue. His 191 yard, one TD game last year followed up a 58 yard game in 2010 where he only had seven carries. Simply put, we cannot stop this guy. We've failed to do so two years in a row. At least Gray is gone, but Theo Reddick and George Atkinson III give them two solid backups, and Atkinson is already an excellent kick returner with speed.

At receiver, the one positive I can say is thank God Michael Floyd is safely in the NFL. He abused our secondary for far too long, but at least that will not happen this season. Instead, we get Tyler Eifert (63-803-5), who is the next in a long line of tight ends we'll refuse to cover on key plays (Kyle Rudolph in 2009, anyone?). John Goodman (7-65-0), TJ Jones (38-366-3) and Robby Toma (19-207-1) are listed as the top three receivers, but Eifert is another perfect safety valve for whichever quarterback starts. The unit won't get better losing a 100 catch receiver in Floyd, but it's still going to be awfully good. Freshman receiver Davonte Neal is a true burner with 4.4 speed.

If Notre Dame is going to have great success in 2012 look toward an offensive line that has three seniors and a junior listed as starters right now. Nick Martin at 6'4" 285 and a sophomore is the smallest of the five, but this is a group that only gave up 17 sacks last season. Zack Martin, Chris Watt, and Braxston Cave bring with them a ton of experience, which is exactly what you want on the line.

Notre Dame Defense:

Notre Dame's 3-4 defense has given us fits the last two years, especially with the defensive line. It doesn't get a lot of sacks, but the front three defense well against the run and have been more than disruptive against us. Kapron Lewis-Moore and Louis Nix started a bunch of games last season, while Stephon Tuitt gained valuable experience in three starts as a freshman. All three are big, mean guys that will cause trouble up front. Sheldon day and Jarron Jones (who is 6'7" 308) could play immediately as freshmen too.

At linebacker they have one of the best in the country in Manti Te'o, who has over 300 tackles in his career and could leave the school as its best defender ever. He's going to win multiple awards and All-American honors, and with 128 tackles, five sacks, and 13.5 tackles for loss last season you cannot just avoid him. Danny Spond, Prince Shembo, and senior Carlo Calabrese are listed as the other three starters, but Calabrese was with Rees during his arrest and is facing intimidation charges for saying "My people will get you" as Rees was arrested.

Calabrese played in all 13 games a year ago, but did not start. Shembo started eight games, and Spond played in 10 without a start. A player like Te'o, however, can make up for a ton of mistakes by the new starters.

In the secondary there is some concern since Notre Dame intercepted only eight passes, and five of those were by players who are no longer there. Zeke Motta and Jamoris Slaughter are seniors at the safety spot, which got thinner with Austin Collinsworth likely missing the season due to shoulder surgery. Motta had a pick in eight starts, while Slaughter started ten games with an interception.

Lo Wood and Bennett Jackson are a pair of corners that played in a combined 23 games, but did not start at all last year. Wood did have a 57 yard interception return for a touchdown.

Notre Dame Special Teams

While we have a great weapon in Raheem Mostert, George Atkinson III had 915 return yards and a pair of touchdowns last season. The kickoff changes may neutralize him and Mostert somewhat, but both players are a threat to take back any kick. The punt return game was pretty much the opposite for Notre Dame, as they average 3.7 yards per return and that was buoyed up by a 41 yard Floyd return. Goodman somehow managed less than a yard per punt return with five yards in eight attempts.

Nick Tausch returns as a steady, consistent kicker that is 15 of 18 in his career, but hasn't been the main guy since 2009 because of David Ruffer. Ben Turk is a solid senior punter averaging 40 yards per kick.

Game Outlook:

As much as I try to talk myself into having a chance here with the experience we have returning plus the fact Notre Dame is playing in Ireland the week before, I can't do it. The last two Notre Dame games and complete lack of any semblance of a game plan in them has broken even my optimism. That, and aside from the glorious unmerciful beating we hung on them in 2004, we've played like utter crap in South Bend for the vast majority of the last four decades.

This is year three under Brian Kelly, and that is the year things should start coming together. He has a choice to make at quarterback, but aside from the loss of Floyd that quarterback has a ton of tools around him and a front seven that should be pretty good defensively. We've proven we have no interest in stopping Cierre Wood, and when the Irish do choose to pass I have no confidence Eifert won't be wide open over the middle whenever they need to convert a 3rd and 12.

Purdue has scored one competitive touchdown in the last eight quarters against Notre Dame, and that was with an entire offseason (2010) and an extra week (2011) to prepare. At least this year we won't see Floyd abusing Ricardo Allen on play after play.

For Purdue to win it is going to have to go into South Bend and play a near perfect game, something that is highly unlikely. If Rees plays, we have to be the beneficiary of his interception tendency. If one of the other three QBs play, we have to take advantage of their inexperience. Even then, a game plan of handing off to Wood until we stop him is still pretty sound. Since he averages north of nine yards per game against Purdue, it is more likely he'll get tired before we stop him.

Kawann Short and the defense line need to have a monster day of getting after the quarterback while containing Wood to have any kind of a chance. Offensively, we need a plan, any plan at all.

Prediction:

Unless our offense is light years better than last season and we can keep them off balance with Akeem Hunt and Akeem Shavers while our own quarterback issues are solved the Notre Dame defense won't have a lot of trouble stopping us. Danny Hope fails to game plan at all leading to another game where we struggle to crack double digits. Wood rushes for at least 125 yards with ease and a couple of scores as Notre Dame cruises. Notre Dame 30, Purdue 10

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