Know Thy Opponent 2014: Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Jonathan Daniel

Purdue has come close to beating Notre Dame two years in a row. Will the third time be any different before the series takes a break.

For the first time in 29 years Purdue and Notre Dame will play a game away from their respective campuses. One of the longest running non-conference rivalries in the country will head to Lucas Oil Stadium on September 13 as part of the Shamrock Series. It is also significant because it is the final game for six years between two teams that have played every season since 1946.

That is the part that gets me. Both sides are at fault here, as Morgan Burke was unable to keep the long-running series that gives Purdue a guaranteed national game every season, while Notre Dame is at fault for their not-quite-in-a-conference relationship with the ACC that requires them to play five ACC games per year. I understand Burke's desire to keep seven home games per season, but with the Big Ten switching to a nine-game conference schedule on the horizon it made keeping the Notre Dame series difficult. Basically, Purdue could have kept the series going had we started playing at Notre Dame in odd-numbered years and at Purdue in even-numbered years, but that would have severely boxed us in when it comes to other non-conference games where we wanted to get a home-and-home.

So this game means a little extra. For Notre Dame it is their showcase game in a neutral venue. For Purdue, it is the first real chance in 2014 to show there is improvement and it is a chance to end a six game losing streak to the Irish. Even One Foot Down is looking forward to the game.

Notre Dame Fighting Irish

2013 Record: 9-4

Bowl Result: Beat Rutgers 29-16 in Pinstripe Bowl

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

Series with Purdue: Notre Dame leads 57-26-2 (Notre Dame leads Shillelagh portion 38-19)

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

Last Notre Dame win: 9/14/2014 at Purdue 31-24

Last Season for the Irish

I used to be quite the virulent Notre Dame hater, so much so it was irrational. I have gained a newfound respect for them, however, thanks to some of their more sensible fans who have at least given us a modicum of respect the past two years. Even though Purdue has lost six straight in the series, three of those games were within Purdue's grasp. The 2009 game had Danny Hope's inexplicable timeout. The 2012 game had the juggling of quarterbacks between Caleb TerBush and Robert Marve. Last year Purdue played its most complete game of the season (by far) and led 17-10 going into the fourth quarter, but gave up three TDs in a four minute stretch to start the fourth quarter.

Both teams went in opposite directions after that. Purdue never played that well again and came close to victory only once, against Illinois. Notre Dame had an impressive win over Michigan State (later denying them a shot at Florida State for the title) and only lost to Oklahoma, Pittsburgh, and Stanford. Sure, it was a step back from going 12-1 the year before, but would a single Purdue fan complain about a 9-4 season with a bowl win right now?

As usual, Notre Dame brings in a very talented team with tons of recruiting stars. There are still players that are around from a team that was undefeated two years ago before getting pantsed in the National Title game too. It all begins with the return of a prodigal son.

Notre Dame Offense

While Tommy Rees was decent last season, the team truly missed Everett Golson. Golson had the offense moving well and was a dynamic dual threat by the end of 2012 after a slow start, but his academic dismissal from Notre Dame cost him the 2013 season and put Rees under center. Rees is gone and Golson is back with a pair of four-star freshmen are on the roster that provide some backup support.

Golson's redshirt freshman campaign in 2012 was one that had him shortlisted for last year's Heisman before his scandal. He threw for 2,405 yards and 12 TDs against six INTs. He also rushed for 298 yards and six scores. He was a player that got better as the year went on, as against Purdue he had -10 yards on 16 carries, but still threw for 289 yards and a score. How well Notre Dame does depends on how quickly he comes back after a year away from football. It also depends on how he meshes with what comes back:

From a skill position standpoint, Golson inherits an interesting mix of experience and potential. Leading rusher Cam McDaniel and No. 1 target DaVaris Daniels have plenty of the former; their production was rather shaky in 2013 -- McDaniel because he lacked any semblance of explosiveness (anything below about 4.0 highlight yards per carry is unimpressive, and McDaniel was at 3.5), Daniels because he lacked any semblance of efficiency (a 44-percent catch rate takes the sizzle out of 15.2 yards per catch). Daniels averaged a fantastic 10.7 yards per target as the No. 4 target in 2012, so perhaps Golson's accuracy will help him break out again. (This is assuming Daniels is actually on the team; he was removed from the roster for academics, just like Golson was in 2013. It would be a surprise if he were not back, however.)

Daniels was the Purdue killer last year, as he caught the tying TD on the first play of the fourth quarter and a go ahead 82-yard TD on the next drive. He had 49 catches for 745 yards and seven scores and he is the type of receiver that always seems to give Purdue trouble. Cam McDaniel, Tarean Folston, and Amir Carlisle will split time in the backfield, while there is a host of four-star, but unproven talent at receiver. Seven players other than Daniels had at least 5 receptions last season and return, but only Chris Brown (15-209-1) had more than 10. The loss of TJ Jones and Troy Niklas is not a positive.

What will help is an offensive line that was great last year and returns three of five starters. Christian Lombard, Ronnie Stanley, and Nick Martin are big guys with over 10 starts each and there is plenty of talent to replace the two lost starters. Steve Elmer likely has the inside track at left guard, while the right tackle position is a bit of a question mark. Unfortunately for us, Notre Dame has third stringers that could likely start at Purdue. A total of 11 guys were 4-star or better recruits as offensive linemen.

Notre Dame Defense

Perhaps the biggest loss was defensive coordinator Bob Diaco, who had built a pretty solid 3-4 defense that had its defensive line as a major strength the last few years. He is off to coach Connecticut, and that brings in Brian VanGorder, who will go back to a 4-3 and try to be more aggressive than before.

Two of the biggest guys that made that Notre Dame defense solid are off to the NFL too in Louis Nix III and Stephen Tuitt. I can't say I will miss them, either. Sheldon Day and Jarron Jones will likely start in the middle and Day is able to get into the backfield with 5.5 tackles for loss. Ishaq Williams and Romeo Okwara will probably get the first look at the end spots, but Tuitt and Nix were far, far better than their replacements.

At linebacker 5-star Jaylon Smith had a solid freshman campaign with 54 tackles and 6.5 for loss. He brings back the most experience, however, as Carlo Calabrese and Dan Fox cycled out along with Prince Shembo. That means this unit is long on talent (six former four-star or better players), but short on experience. Jarrett Grice, a senior that played in only seven games last season, has the most experience of anyone else returning.

The Irish do return a solid secondary that has a ton of starting experience. Bennett Jackson, who sealed last year's game with a pick-six, is the only starter gone. KeiVarae Russell and Matthias Farley are both solid corners while Cody Riggs should be a very good safety after transferring in from Florida. Austin Collinsworth led the team with three interceptions from his safety position and even reserves like Eilar Hardy and Elijah Shumate have played a lot. All this group really needs is a pass rush and Purdue is really in trouble.

Notre Dame Special Teams

This is the Kyle Brindza show all the time. The senior handles all kicking duties and is pretty good at all of them too. He averaged 41 yards per punt and was 13 of 15 of field goals with a long of 53 yards. The loss of George Atkinson III as an ace kick returner will hurt, so at least Purdue has one advantage with Raheem Mostert and Akeem Hunt.

Game Outlook

On paper this should be a blowout. Notre Dame really is not much worse than last year and has more talent at almost every single position than Purdue. Still, the Boilers have managed to keep it close and even be within striking distance of a win the last two seasons. I can't really explain it, either.

Two years ago we had the benefit of our defensive line playing out of its mind and containing Golson plus a heroic effort from Robert Marve (when he was allowed to play). Last year Rob Henry threw three TD passes, but his one mistake (the pick six) is what ended up costing us. Both our offensive and defensive units played their best games by far and Purdue had the ball near midfield down 7 with 8 minutes to go, but a three and out led to a punt and Notre Dame was able to run out the clock.

Purdue should be better in 2014, mostly because it is hard to be much worse. Danny Etling did not play the last time around and he has shown some flashes of being a pretty good quarterback. Unfortunately, there just is not a lot there that gives me confidence. The defense needs to give a similar effort to last season and the Boilers have to find a way to get more than 38 yards on 21 carries. Notre Dame won last year because of big plays by Daniels and Jackson in the fourth quarter, but it was a game at that point mostly because Purdue played far better than it did at any other point last season.

That's really what needs to happen this year. With a modicum of improvement Purdue can come into the game at 2-0. Beating Central and Western Michigan would not be huge surprises and would turn no heads. Once again, beating Notre Dame would turn a head or two. It is the first opportunity to show that the program really is headed in the right direction and it would also be nice to take the Shillelagh and keep it for the next six years.

The last two years Purdue proved it could play with Notre Dame for four quarters. Doing so for a third season in a row would still be a surprise, with a victory even more surprising. Prediction: Notre Dame 37, Purdue 14

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