Normally Thursday is when I take an extended look at our upcoming opponent, but this week is different. Frank Vitovitch of the fine Notre Dame site UHND has been kind enough to give us a full Notre Dame scouting report in exchange for me providing his site a full Purdue scouting report. Mine will be up at UHND later on today, but here is what Frank had to say about the Fighting Irish:
Notre Dame came out on offense last week in Dublin and decided to line up and run the ball down the throat of the undersized Navy defense. It may seem pretty obvious, but after the 2010 debacle and years of playing down to the Midshipmen under Charlie Weis and Tyrone Willingham, it was a very welcomed sight for Notre Dame fans.
The strength of the Irish offense in 2012 lies within a veteran offensive line that features as many as four linemen with NFL futures that paved the way for 293 rushing yards in week one. At left tackle Zack Martin is in his third season as the starting left tackle, center Braxston Cave is back for his fourth season as a starter, and Chris Watt is starting for a second straight season on the interior line. Christian Lombard, meanwhile, made his first career start last week, but if he plays to his potential, he'll play on Sundays as well. The only starting linemen on the Irish roster right now who doesn't appear to have an easy path to the NFL is actually the only one whose father player in the NFL - Mike Golic Jr.
Notre Dame also features a stable of running backs who can hurt you both inside and out although they will be without starter Cierre Wood who issuspended for the first two games of the season. Last week Theo Riddick and George Atkinson filled in more than admirably for Wood though. Riddick picked up 107 yards on 19 carries while Atkinson added 99 on 9 carries with each picking up a pair of touchdowns highlighted by Atkinson's 57 yard first quarter score.
The question marks for the Notre Dame offense, however, come at some of the most pivotal positions - quarterback and wide receiver. Everett Golson made his first career start last week after not playing as a true freshman in 2011 and looked calm and poised, but he also wasn't asked to do a whole lot so the jury is still out on whether or not the athletically gifted South Carolina native is a major upgrade over Tommy Rees.
Golson is a talented runner and gives opposing defenses much more to think about than any other Notre Dame signal caller in recent years. A week ago against Navy though, Golson was limited primarily to short passes to running backs and tight ends and had no designed runs called for him. Part of the reasoning behind the lack of running could very well be Brian Kelly and new offensive coordinator Chuck Martin holding a little back, but at the same time we have yet to see Golson's running skills on display in live action.
Golson's perimeter targets remain a question mark as well. Fellow sophomore Davaris Daniels showed great hands and the ability to make some plays downfield, but also wasn't targeted often. Junior TJ Jones has been a mainstay in the Irish lineup over the last two seasons and looked great on a couple wide receiver screens, but he too was not targeted much. Outside of Daniels and Jones, the Irish wide receivers were largely quiet last week though.
A couple names to look out for this weekend are freshman Davonte Neal and Chris Brown. A lot was said about both talented freshmen over the course of the summer and while both saw the field last weekend, neither was featured prominently. I expect Neal to get a couple reverses and quick screens called his way this week and I would be surprised if a long bomb wasn't dialed up for Brown - Notre Dame's primary deep threat.
The one lone constant in the Irish passing game comes at tight end where Notre Dame may have the best player at the position in the country in Tyler Eifert. The senior tight end is simply a mismatch for pretty every defense Notre Dame faces this year and despite extra attention from the Navy defense last week he still found the end-zone once and could have a second time if Golson didn't wait too long to get rid of the ball.
Bottom line here is the jury is still out on the Notre Dame offense. We just don't know what the Irish have here yet because of the question marks that remain after opening the season against an inferior defense that they were just able to steamroll.
Just like on offense, the strength of the Notre Dame defense is up front in the trenches where the Irish feature a few more NFL caliber linemen. Louis Nix is a prototype nose tackle in Notre Dame's 3-4 defense. Entering his second season as a starter, Nix is still learning to fully utilize is mammoth size and as such, he is still a bit inconsistent. There will be times when Nix completely dominates the linemen attempting to block him and blows up a play and there will be other times where you wonder how a 325+ lb nose tackle gets moved around like Nix can be at times as he continues to work on his technique. Still Nix is someone Purdue will need to account for and may need to commit and additional blocker to.
The star of the Irish defense line, however, is sophomore Stephon Tuitt. The Georgia native is weighing in at over 300 lbs this year but you would never know it based on the way he sprinted down the field on his 77 yard fumble return for a touchdown against Navy last week. Tuitt is still learning his position as well, but he is showing signs of dominance as a defensive end.
Rounding out the defensive line is 5th year senior Kapron Lewis-Moore. Moore is the most well rounded and consistent linemen and was around the ball a lot on Saturday. Junior Kona Schwenke will provide depth in the middle and flashed some serious pass rushing skills for an interior linemen as well.
The star of the Irish defense, however, is clearly senior line backer Manti Te'o. Te'o is an All American and the leader of the Irish defense. After three seasons of starting for the Irish, Te'o turned in his most dominant performance a week ago with his first career interception and fumble recovery. He will be active and all over the field on Saturday.
Another name to watch at linebacker is sophomore Ishaq Williams. Technically, the Brooklyn native is not a starter, but he caused a lot of havoc last weekend with two forced fumbles and like Tuitt, he is coming into his own and showing signs of dominance as a pass rusher. Williams will see the field a lot on Saturday in pass situations.
The biggest question mark for Notre Dame this season on either side of the ball comes in the secondary. Notre Dame is starting a converted wide receiver who played mop up duty at corner last year in Bennett Jackson and a true freshman who was recruited to play running back in Kei'Varae Russell at cornerback. The duo's inexperience was on full display on Saturday when the Navy receivers were able to get open behind the Notre Dame defense several times.
Part of the reason for the Irish secondary getting burned can be attributed to Notre Dame playing an option offense that normally doesn't pass with a pair of green corners, but that argument is only going to go so far. If I were Purdue, I would be testing the Irish corners with double moves early and often.
Notre Dame is more experienced and talented at safety, but neither Jamoris Slughter or Zeke Motta made too many noteworthy plays last week. In fact, Motta was caught out of position a bit and took a bad angle on the first play from scrimmage for Navy and let a play that should have been stuffed go for a first down. Notre Dame is solid here, but neither Slaughter or Motta played well enough last week to help compensate for the inexperience at corner. Sophomore Matthias Farley is a name to look for though. The sophomore saw the first action of his career last weekend and was around the ball whenever he was on the field.
Defensively Notre Dame will be able to generate a pass rush - something they will have to in order to protect the young, inexperienced corners. If Purdue is able to slow down the Irish pass rush and give Caleb TerBush time to pass, however, he will be able to find some open receivers.
Notre Dame features a pair of dynamic return men, but both kicking games are major question marks heading into week two. As a kick returner, George Atkinson returned two kicks for a touchdown last year - one against Michigan State and another against USC - and is the most electric kick returner Notre Dame has had since Allen Rossum.
Davonte Neal will be Notre Dame's primary punt returner and after his first career punt return last week, he already has more yards returning punts, 12, than incumbent returner John Goodman had all of last season, 8. Neal, a true freshman, could be a liability at times because of his inexperience, but from a raw talent perspective, he is already a major upgrade.
Both kicking games, however, looked more than a little shaky last week. Notre Dame missed two extra points and had trouble with snaps last week. The punting game, meanwhile, failed to produce a 40 yard punt on two tries - a common theme from last year that looks to be a problem again this year.
For Notre Dame to win this game, Evertt Golson is going to have to take a big step forward in his second career start. I have faith that the youngster is more than capable of doing so, but at the same time, until we see Golson step up and make plays with his arm and his legs its tough to say with certainty he can do so already.
I expect Notre Dame to continue to use multiple tight end sets and let Golson get outside the pocket where he can either fire the ball downfield or take off. Notre Dame has the athletes to be able to make plays out of multiple tight end sets in the passing game to help Golson ease into the game. Those sets will only go so far though. Kelly and Martin are going to have to let their young signal caller fire a couple downfield and hope he connects to soften up the Purdue defense.
Defensively, I expect to see Notre Dame blitz a little more than they did a week ago in order to force Purdue quarterbacks into some mistakes and to limit the amount of time their inexperience corners are left to cover the Purdue receivers. Notre Dame has the pass rushers to be effective in doing this, but at the same time, blitzing too much could also potentially expose those young corners if Purdue picks it up.
At the end of the day, I think Golson and the Irish offense are going to make enough plays to lead Notre Dame to a win this weekend to give the Irish their first 2-0 start since 2008, but think it might be closer than some of my Irish brethren feel it will be.