It's another Q&A today, this time with our third football opponent of the 2013 season. I tried to line up an Indiana State one, but couldn't find anyone. Today, however, Eric Murtaugh of SB Nation's One Foot Down is around to talk about the Fighting Irish:
T-Mill: Last season was a true return to Glory for Notre Dame after many false starts, but Purdue was one of the closest calls as a true coaching gaffe (benching Robert Marve for Caleb TerBush in the third quarter) may have been the only thing that prevented an upset in South Bend. We have fixed the coaching situation (hopefully) and ND has to come to Purdue. Is this a dangerous game for ND in your opinion?
Eric: Sure it is absolutely a dangerous game, especially considering it is sandwiched in between the Michigan and Michigan State games. It'll also be the second straight road night game for the Irish as well. Actually, that might help Notre Dame to get up for the game but there's also a let down factor involved assuming the Irish can get past the Wolverines in the Big House.
When you also factor in the rivalry between these two teams it's always dangerous. This is a game where the Irish would like to take care of business but as we've seen in recent years it is often a nail biter.
T-Mill: What can we expect from Everett Golson in year No. 2 as a starter?
Eric: I expect a nice step forward for the young quarterback. I think there's some Heisman potential involved but I really don't think that will be realized for a couple years---especially in comparison to some of the other sophomore quarterbacks like Manziel, Hundley, and Mariotta. Golson's already running behind these guys in terms of production and stats, but his skill-set is right up there with them.
The question moving in to 2013 is whether or not the coaching staff let's Golson loose a little more and sharpens his natural playmaking abilities while letting him simply get out of the pocket and make things happen. I'd expect that to happen this fall and more responsibility falling on Golson's shoulders.
There are enough weapons on offense for Golson to thrive and hopefully the passing game opens up a little bit more after being very conservative in 2012. He's proven to be able to protect the ball and limit turnovers so I'd expect a little more of a vertical passing game which should make the Irish more explosive this fall.
The x-factor will always be his legs. I think there's some worry about protecting Golson and his slight frame (realistically he's 5'11" and MAYBE 190) but he has the quickness and agility to really thrive as a runner---particularly when the pocket breaks down. I'd predict a nice increase in passing numbers and Golson becoming a bigger weapon as a runner, particularly against the better teams on the Irish schedule.
T-Mill: I have heard that the ND defense may be better with the loss of Manti Te'o. What improvements will be there?
Eric: Well there was a belief that the defensive line would get better, but the possible loss of incoming 5-star freshman DT Eddie Vanderdoes hurts that unit a little bit. He was expected to come in and be a quality backup at the very least.
Still, we're now seeing the fruits of Brian Kelly's recruiting finally coming to fruition. I know it may seem like this is always being said at Notre Dame but the defense is really bigger, faster, and stronger. Certainly the depth is pretty impressive across the board. 5-star linebacker Jaylon Smith is going to have to fight for playing time and beat out 2 players at his position. 5-star safety Max Redfield enters a very deep secondary and will have to impress big time to grab something greater than a two-deep spot.
Examining the depth chart a little more closely Notre Dame is losing DE Kapron Lewis-Moore, the aforementioned Manti Te'o, and safety Zeke Motta. That's it. Everyone else is back and a very highly touted group of redshirt freshmen are entering the fold in addition to the stellar 2013 class.
Most are expecting DE Sheldon Day to be about as good as Lewis-Moore and he certainly offers more disruptive abilities. If he can eat blocks as well as KLM did, there should be an increase in TFL and sacks from this new starter.
Jarrett Grace takes over for Te'o and has been groomed to do so for a couple years now. He's obviously not going to have the type of season that Te'o had last year and Manti is clearly a huge loss in terms of leadership. However, the Irish coaching staff has praised Grace a ton over the past year and they really haven't been known to blow smoke on players who aren't deserving. With the return of both co-starters at the other MLB spot, Grace should feel pretty comfortable in his first year of starting. He has a ton to prove to fill Te'o's shoes but he's believed to be a little more athletic, a little faster, and just as much of a ball hawk as Te'o.
The loss of Motta could hurt but again the Irish are getting more athletic there and plenty of options are available. Elijah Shumate has been said to be a SEC-type talent at safety and played all spring with the first team. He doesn't bring the leadership that Motta did, and there's still some concerns that he doesn't know the defense that well after playing nickel corner as a freshman in 2012, but he's crazy athletic and is going to make a ton of plays.
T-Mill: Purdue played the only two undefeated regular season teams to a virtual draw on their home fields last year but got pantsed at home in all three big games. Was it matchups or did the Irish just have an off day?
Eric: That's a great question. I guess it would be a little of both. The Irish interior offensive line really struggled mightily against the Purdue defensive line and that put a ton of pressure on Golson to make plays in the passing game in his first career home start. All things considered he did pretty well throwing for almost 300 yards. Still, running back Cierre Wood was suspended for the game and the running game was nonexistent. Matters weren't helped when Eifert and Daniels went down with injuries on offense---as did Kapron Lewis-Moore on defense.
The Irish defense played well enough holding Purdue to under 300 yards and 4.3 yards per play. I think it was just one of those games where a bunch of things converged at the right time to make it one of those close college football games.
Eric: The biggest one yet! That would be 6'7" 260 pound Californian Troy Niklas aka Hercules. He played a lot last year primarily as a blocker but he did show some flashes as a pass catcher---even hauling in a 30-yard reception against Purdue. By the way, if you want to understand Notre Dame fans' hopes for Golson just watch that play where he gets the ball to Niklas.
Actually, this is a pretty untested tight end group for Notre Dame. It's been something like 7 or 8 years where the team didn't have a proven tight end coming back who caught 20+ passes the year before. Niklas is an athletic freak and has a ton of potential---some think he could go pro with a big year, which I think is sort of ridiculous---but this is only his second season at tight end after moving from outside linebacker and he only has 5 career receptions.
He'll be backed up by Ben Koyack, one of the top national tight ends from the 2011 class, but his career really hasn't taken off yet. Some think he's poised for a breakout season but he'll also be battling Alex Welch coming off a knee injury too. The Irish used a lot of 2 tight end sets last year so you can expect to see a lot of these 3 players.
T-Mill: Finally, do you have an early prediction for us?
Eric: Well in my recent summer preview of Purdue I predicted the game day spread to be Notre Dame (-13.5) so that says it all, I guess. Depending on how the game plays out that could be a comfortable victory for Notre Dame, but I don't expect a huge disparity. The Irish are much more talented and should be stellar on defense again and at least for this season I like their chances going up against a Purdue program that is going through a transition with a new coaching staff.
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