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Chatting with the Enemy: A Q&A with

There is no player profile today because of an error in one of our main coverage sites. lists Henry Lorenzen as wearing #52, while GBI lists him at #64. Since I already did his profile on day 64 (and there is no #52 on GBI), that means no player until tomorrow. Tomorrow will be a double shot though, with both Xavier Melton and Kakpindi Jamiru listed as wearing #51. We should get used to the double numbers. There are a ton of them later in the countdown including three #21's for some reason.

In the meantime we can turn our attentions back to the coming season. One of the best opponent blogs out there is Notre Dame's These guys run a pretty fair and balanced site with solid content. They might even be more balanced than I am. Frank Vitovitch of that site was kind enough to answer some of my questions about the Fighting Irish.

Hammer & Rails: This is game 1 of the Brian Kelly era. How do you think he will shore up a defense that struggled last year? Most of Notre Dame's defensive struggles in 2009 weren't talent related which is mainly what made watching the Irish defense so frustrating for Notre Dame fans last year.  Notre Dame was using its third defensive system in three years and the co-defensive coordinator plan (Corwin Brown and Jon Tenuta) by Charlie Weis clearly didn't work. 

The switch back to a 3-4 defense should immediately improve one of the worst Notre Dame defenses in recent memory.  Notre Dame's best defensive personnel were recruited to play in a 3-4 defense.  Guys like Darius Fleming and Steve Filer at outside linebacker especially will benefit greatly from the switch.   Now, the problem is that there will be yet another defensive philosophy for the Irish defenders to learn so there are almost certainly going to be growing pains.

If the Cincinnati defense from the past couple years is any indication, the Notre Dame defense will make a lot of big plays - Cincy was among the leaders in both sacks and tackles for loss in 2009 - but it will also give up some big plays at times as well.  Look for Notre Dame to improve greatly against the run (there's no where to go but up) but still give up some points.  (Ed Note: That's depressing, since one of their best games against the run came against Purdue)

Watch out for Darius Fleming though.  Despite battling through some injuries, Fleming led the Irish in tackles for loss in 2009 and could be poised for a breakout season.

H&R: What is Dayne Crist's progress after his knee injury? What are your thoughts on both likely starting quarterbacks recovering from the same injury suffered at roughly the same time?

UHND: All reports regarding Crist's knee have been extremely encouraging to this point, and he surprised everyone by being ready for spring ball.  The one thing that concerns me, however, is that I remember watching Carson Palmer and Donovan McNabb both come back from ACL injuries in the last few years and neither of them was themselves in that first year back.  Combine that with the fact that Crist has never started a game on the college level before and there are some legitimate concerns for Notre Dame under center despite Crist's potential and the positive reports about his knee. 

H&R: Notre Dame once again has the roughest part of its schedule at the start of the year. What would be an acceptable record in the first six games to placate the fan base wanting a good start?

UHND: If Notre Dame starts off the season 4-2, I don't think too many Irish fans could complain.  Notre Dame faced all six teams they'll face to start this season a year ago and went 3-3 against them (wins over Boston College, Michigan State, and Purdue; losses to Michigan, Stanford, and Pitt).  All six of those games came down the final minutes though so a play here or a play here and that record could have looked much different in either direction.  

On the surface, Notre Dame will have more talent than most of its first six opponents.  The problem is that Notre Dame's had more talent than a lot of teams it's lost to over the past few seasons.  I see Notre Dame having an easier time with it's first three games as opposed to it's next three games.

H&R: Do you look at the 2010 season as one where Notre Dame can get to a BCS bowl, or more as one of patient growth?

UHND: The 2002 and 2005 seasons showed me that anything can happen in a coach's first season at Notre Dame.  I didn't expect a BCS birth in 2005 or a near BCS bid in 2002 so if Notre Dame somehow caught fire and made a similar run this season it wouldn't completely surprised me - especially when you take into account the immediate success Brian Kelly has seen at each of his previous three coaching stops.   Would a run like that be a good thing for Notre Dame at the end of the day though if it resulted in Notre Dame being over-matched as they were in 2005 and 2006?

Based on the last three seasons, a 8-4 or so regular season combined with a bowl win over a solid opponent should be seen as a great first year for Brian Kelly and Notre Dame especially if the attitude of the team changes.  Out of Lou Holtz, Bob Davie, Ty Willingham, and Charlie Weis; Holtz had the worst record in his first season but the attitude of the team changes and Notre Dame fans started to feel like every game was winnable again - that's what I'm looking for most out of Notre Dame this year. 

H&R: What do you expect of Purdue in the opener?

UHND: Considering Purdue is breaking in a new quarterback who is also coming off a knee injury, I'm expecting them to run right at Notre Dame early on to establish the run.  Notre Dame was dreadful at stopping the run last year and until they prove otherwise, it doesn't make sense for opposing offenses to try beating the them any other way. Defensively, I see Purdue loading up the box to stop the Notre Dame ground game and force Dayne Crist to beat them through the air.  Purdue saw a little bit of Crist last year and kept the Irish passing game under control while he was under center before Jimmy Clausen came off the bench at the end of the game.

Whichever team establishes their running game first should be able to take control of the game.

H&R: Thanks again, Frank. I think you echo the sentiments of many in that this is a major toss-up game for both sides. Robert Marve was named the starter yesterday for Purdue, and Al-Terek McBurse needs to have a much better day running the football than Ralph Bolden did last season.