Since 2014 is the last year for some time that we will be facing Notre Dame in football this will be our last interview with One Foot Down for some time. It is a little later than the original preview I posted, but Jim Miesle of the SB Nation Notre Dame site was able to answer some questions in advance of the 2014 Shamrock Series game at Lucas Oil Stadium.
T-Mill: With Everett Golson back at QB will the offense be better or will there be some rust after a year away from football?
Jim: Despite working with acclaimed QB coach George Whitfield, fans have to expect a little rust over the first few games for Golson. Practice and drills just can't completely simulate the actual game conditions. That being said, the offense will be much better off this fall than they were a year ago. Golson is a threat to beat you with his arm or legs, where Tommy Rees was never a threat to run. That added dimension alone will force defenses to play a little more conservatively. The Irish averaged a little over 27 points/game last fall, so a modest improvement to 30+ points/game should be expected.
T-Mill: The defensive line was downright beastly the last two years, but Tuitt and Nix are gone. Is there anyone that can step up and replace their production?
Jim: Right now, it is tough to say what exactly to expect from the defensive line this fall. With the departure of Bob Diaco and the hiring of Brian VanGorder, the defense is shifting from a base 3-4 to a 4-3. Head Coach Brian Kelly maintains that Notre Dame will still employ multiple fronts. Given the change, the defensive front should be a little more active up front in terms of pressure and (hopefully) sacks. The only returning starter (Sheldon Day) missed a few games last fall due to injury, but is surrounded by high expectations. Fellow defensive tackle Jarron Jones showed some flashes late in the season after taking over for an injured Louis Nix. Defensive ends Romeo Okwara and Ishaq Williams move from OLB spots in the old front to more natural positions for both.
Will they match the production of Tuitt and Nix? Probably not if we are talking their 2012 production, but neither were healthy during 2013.
T-Mill: It is a mystery to me how Purdue was able to keep it close last year. What happened from your perspective?
Jim: The Irish struggled early in 2013--likely a result of high expectations following the 2012 run to the title game. Early on, they appeared to be searching for an identity on both sides of the ball. They went into the night game in West Lafayette reeling from a poor performance the week prior at Michigan. The Irish squad came out flat against an inspired Boilermaker squad playing on national television. Everything went wrong in the 1st half. Thankfully, they found a way to keep the game close and then finally converted a few plays in the second half. Overall, the team never seemed to find a groove last fall and the Purdue game was just a microcosm of that--a few brilliant plays, a few bad ones and a lot of everything in-between.
T-Mill: Do you agree it is a little ridiculous that the Purdue-ND series has been ongoing for almost 70 years, but is basically getting tossed aside?
Jim: I believe that Notre Dame had played Purdue more than any other opponent outside of Navy. Due to the history and proximity of the two schools, it is unfortunate that the series won't continue as it has in the past. The Notre Dame-Purdue series is yet another casualty from the radical conference realignment that fans have endured over the past five or so years. College football is better overall when there are interconference/intersectional rivalries to compliment the conference ones.
T-Mill: Despite Purdue's 2013 season is there any fear of the Boilers going into this year?
Jim: To put it simply, if Notre Dame plays the way they are capable--I can't see Purdue hanging with them for four quarters. The Irish have recruited very well during the Brian Kelly era, while Purdue has struggled with poor seasons under Danny Hope and then a coaching transition. I think things will be turning around in West Lafayette (probably starting this year--I don't see a repeat of 2013), but the Boilermakers will struggle to match-up with Notre Dame's athletes.
Regardless, Purdue has given Notre Dame plenty of tough games over the recent years, and the neutral site (though the crowd will be primarily pro-Irish) could play a factor. This game also looks like a classic trap game for the Irish--early season game following a high profile game (Michigan) the week prior. If ND puts up a few early scores, they will be fine. However, if Purdue can keep this game close into the second half, things will get a little too interesting for Irish fans.