There is no shortage of rival blogs out there when it concerns the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Their large following leads to a number of fan sites devoted to Fighting Irish Football. In recent years, however, three have stood out for their cooperation with Hammer & Rails during Notre Dame week. Tomorrow the folks at UHND will handle the scouting report on the Irish here while I provide a Purdue scouting report for them.
Today, however, is Q&A day, and I have two bloggers that answered my questions about the Irish. Keith Arnold has run the NBC Sports Inside the Irish blog for many years and is definitely an authority on the subject. Jon Burger of SB Nation's One Foot Down was also kind enough to stop by and answer some questions:
T-Mill: The No. 1 question facing Notre Dame all week will be the jet lag question. It greatly affected Purdue in 2009 after playing Oregon on a late Saturday kickoff in Eugene. What role does it have on Saturday?
Jon: Hopefully none, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't at least a little concerned. Supposedly, the team got back into South Bend around 1:00am Sunday morning, so they should have plenty of time to recover before Saturday. It also helps that they're coming in from the east where they gain hours on the trip, as opposed to the west where they would lose time. Having spent my entire life in the Eastern Time Zone with only occasional trips to Central Time, I can't really speak to the impact jet lag will have on the players, so the best I can say is that I'm crossing my fingers and hoping for the best.
Keith: I honestly don't think it'll be too big of a factor. And if it is, it won't be for a lack of consideration. Brian Kelly spent multiple weeks during fall camp adjusting the start time of practice to help get the players acclimated to the early start time (Dublin is five hours ahead of South Bend) and while the trip was taxing, logistically Notre Dame did everything they could to get them back to campus as quickly as possible. The Irish's traveling party left from the stadium after the game, went directly to the airport, cleared customs privately, and their chartered jet landed in South Bend, a trip probably not as taxing as trying to get from West Lafayette to Eugene, most likely on a commercial flight. Add to that, it'll be the home opener at Notre Dame. If you can't shake off a little jet lag for that, you've got other problems.
T-Mill: Is the quarterback question more settled after the Navy game or does the return of Tommy Rees make it an even bigger question?
Keith: The quarterback job will be Everett Golson's until he proves he can't handle it anymore. You could argue it was settled since Rees' spring arrest for fleeing the police and Golson's impressive Blue-Gold spring game. Rees rarely took a snap in fall camp, with the lion's share going to Golson and Hendrix as the coaches decided who would be the starter. I never expected anyone but Golson to be named starter, and it doesn't sound like the competition was even that close.
I fully expect Rees to slide into the number two slot by the time the Irish play Michigan State. If it were up to the coaching staff, you get the feeling they'd like it to stay that way for the entire season, since Golson just brings so many more tools to the table.
Jon: Everett Golson is the starter and, barring an injury or colossal suckage, will play every snap on offense. After Rees was suspended, first team reps where divvied up between Golson and backup Andrew Hendrix, so Rees has a pretty big hill to climb to get back into the starter's role. However, given Hendrix's less than stellar performance in the fourth quarter against Navy, I think we'll see Rees named the #2 QB eventually. Maybe not this week, but soon. But I don't think Golson needs to start looking over his shoulder; the job is his.
T-Mill: Navy seemed to over pursue on a lot of plays defensively. Was this a lack of speed or do you see Purdue's increased talent as a problem here?
Jon: Navy was caught in a tough spot on Saturday. With Notre Dame lining up in multiple tight end sets almost the entire game, the Irish were able to push around the smaller Midshipmen defense. Consequently, their defense had to sell out if they wanted to have any hope of stopping the ground game. That opened up a lot of room for cutbacks, and the Irish backs took advantage.
Obviously, Purdue won't have that problem. I expect a similar gameplan based on pounding the ball on the ground, but I highly doubt we'll see the Irish put up nearly 300 yards rushing again. Kelly will probably ask Golson to throw the ball a bit more to open up the running game. Golson didn't need to taken any shots downfield against Navy because the Irish offensive line was able to push their defense five yards downfield on every play. Notre Dame will still run the ball a lot, but if Golson isn't able to make plays, those lanes won't be nearly as wide open for Riddick and company.
Keith: The Irish are going to be very good running the football under new offensive line coach Harry Hiestand. There isn't much depth behind the starting five, but the offensive line is probably the best its been since the Holtz era, and the physicality it showed against Navy won't disappear as the Irish play more physically impressive teams. Notre Dame is also schematically doing some things different, playing quite a bit under center with one back deep.
Obviously, Purdue has some strength on the defensive line. We'll see if they do a better job stopping the run than they did last year against Cierre Wood. Theo Riddick was solid taking the majority of carries last Saturday, but watch out for George Atkinson. He clocked one of the two or three fastest times in the nation in the 100m dash for a college football player, and he's actually filling the role of the Irish's "big" back.
T-Mill: Both teams seemed to simply overpower their opponents in week 1 with talent. Were the blowouts a better sign for Purdue, Notre Dame, or were they a wash?
Keith: I quietly expected the Irish to roll through Navy, but I didn't expect a 40-point blowout. Navy will win some football games this year against good teams. But for Notre Dame to get out of their own way and to dominate on both sides of the ball was a welcome surprise after last year's toughest opponent was the man in the mirror.
It's only one game, but the difference in perception after the win in Dublin and last year's calamity against USF is night and day. We'll see if that holds true this Saturday, but you get the feeling that the trouncing the Irish took in the media from guys like Rick Reilly and Allen Pinkett actually helped them.
Jon: I'd call it a wash. The Navy win was certianly more cathartic for Notre Dame fans, though. After losing 3 out of 5, including getting embarrassed in 2010, the Irish have beaten the Midshipment by a combined 82 points the last two years. Those wins exorcised a lot of demons.
But overall, I think it's hard to tell how good both teams are. They both put up impressive numbers on both sides of the ball, but, honestly, wouldn't we be worried if our teams hadn't done that? Saturday's game will be a good measuring stick for both teams.
T-Mill: Do you see Theo Reddick and George Atkinson being as dominant as Cierre Wood was last season against Purdue?
Jon: Last year, Purdue came out with what I thought was the worst defensive gameplan of any opponent last season. Kelly exploited it all game and Purdue's coaches made little to no adjustments. (Ed. note: Glad I am not the only one that thought that.) A lot of Wood's performance had to do with the Boilermaker coaches not putting their defenders in a position to make plays.
That said, Wood is a great back and losing him hurts this offense. I was very impressed with the performance of Riddick and Atkinson last weekend, though. Riddick ran hard and was tough to drag down and Atkinson showed good vision and didn't inexplicably drop the ball.
As I said before, the Irish are probably going to come out looking to run the ball. I don't expect them to pick up 287 yards rushing again, but I don't think 200+ yards is out of the question, especially if Golson can open things up with his arm.
Keith: I was surprised that the Irish ran the ball so well against Purdue last year, but both Riddick and Atkinson have the ability to do the same thing. Theo might lack the top end speed of Cierre, but Atkinson is going to have a breakout season, putting up some really gaudy numbers. He has the chance to be a very very good one.
If Golson plays the way the staff hopes he can play, defenses are presented with some tough options -- stack the box against the run and take your chances one-on-one with Tyler Eifert, or try and stop the Irish running game with seven guys. Add in the zone-read wrinkle that Golson gives you, and it could be tough on defensive coordinators.
T-Mill: Finally, what is the worst case scenario for Notre Dame on Saturday in terms of Purdue pulling the upset?
Keith: You've got to feel confident that Purdue is going to be able to throw the ball against the young Irish secondary because Navy could. Purdue also has some talented cornerbacks that could take advantage of Golson's inexperience. I'm not sure Purdue is going to be able to beat the Irish running the football, but taking some deep shots and forcing some turnovers seems like a pretty solid recipe for upset.
I know that the Irish coaching staff really respects Purdue's personnel. But with ND preparing for both Michigan teams and coming off the high of Dublin, this is a perfect time to catch the Irish sleeping.
Jon: Worst case, Purdue clogs the running lanes and forces the ball into Golson's hands, who has a case of the yips in his first home game as the starter. On defense, the Boilermakers confirm Irish fans' worst fears and shred the young secondary.
But that's just worst case. I think if Purdue can get solid front seven play and is efficient on offense, they can take this game.