Notre Dame week always means multiple Interviews with the Enemy. This year is no different, as three separate Notre Dame blogs contacted me for Q&A's. The first this week is Keith Arnold, who writes the Inside the Irish for NBC Sports. Keith has always been a very pleasant opponent blogger and was one of the first to contact me, even dating back to the old Off the Tracks days. I still remember the first "Holy crap! Stuff I wrote is on NBC Sports" feeling. Here is what Keith had to say about Saturday:
T-Mill: On paper, this game shouldn't even be close, but that was also the case the last two years. How has Purdue deceptively matched up so well with ND?
Keith: I think having just about zero defensive game tape -- first against Tim Tibesar and then against Greg Hudson -- made for a difficult early season opponent. Especially with a young quarterback (Golson in 2012) and Rees last season, Notre Dame was forced to run into some bad looks and have terms dictated to them, while grinding out yards.
Of course, you've got to credit the guys on the Purdue roster, especially for getting up for a rivalry that means more to the Boilermakers than the Irish players. They have certainly played some very good football against Notre Dame, and that's been the message Brian Kelly has sent in the afterglow of the Michigan victory.
T-Mill: Purdue has been extremely vulnerable to the run in the first two weeks. Does this mean a breakout game for Greg Bryant or Tarean Folston?
Keith: You've got to think so. Notre Dame's three backs are really talented, and Cam McDaniel looks much sleeker and more athletic this season than he did last year. Folston came out of the game a little gimpy, but Kelly called it a bone bruise, not a sprained ankle. But expect to see a lot of Greg Bryant, who is one of the more exciting young players Notre Dame has had in a long time. He is a really physical, really talented home run threat of a running back.
Greg Mattison decided to take the run away from Notre Dame and force Everett Golson to beat the Wolverines. Brian Kelly and Golson were happy to oblige. If the Irish ground game gets rolling on Saturday and Purdue can't find answers, it's going to be a long day for the Boilermakers defense. Because I certainly don't think the strategy is to force Golson to beat you. He's playing really, really good football right now.
T-Mill: Who is William Fuller and how has he become such an integral part of the offense?
Keith: I caught a lot of heat for predicting a 1,000 yard season for Will Fuller this year. And that was with DaVaris Daniels playing as the No. 1 option. Fuller was Notre Dame's designated deep threat last year, averaging 26.7 yards per catch in very limited action.
But he's a product of Brian Kelly's impressive ability to mine talent from some surprising places. This receiving corps, which is his best and by a significant margin, has 3-star talents just about everywhere, so it's not a product of being Notre Dame and being able to win recruiting battles on name alone. Add to the fact that Fuller is probably 175 pounds soaking wet and he doesn't look the part of a blue-chipper. But he's a dynamic athlete that burned Michigan consistently in press coverage. And the best is yet to come for him.
T-Mill: Is there anyone on Purdue that you consider a concern for the Irish?
Keith: I had heard really good things about Ryan Russell in the past, with some pegging him as a first round talent, and Notre Dame's young tackles are still figuring things out. Maybe he breaks loose on Saturday night. And I'm always a fan of the undersized playmakers Purdue seems to find for their secondary, so I'll be keeping an eye on Frankie Williams.
But I think the key for the Irish defense is shutting down the running game. Raheem Mostert and Akeem Hunt are both solid players that will get Brian VanGorder's attention this week.
T-Mill: What are your thoughts on a 69-year series coming to an end until 2020 after Saturday, especially when the schools are FINALLY playing basketball against each other again?
Keith: I think it stinks that a streak that was quietly tied for the fourth-longest in NCAA history has to end. But I also saw the equation that Jack Swarbrick was dealing with and agree with the conclusion. The implosion of the Big East put Notre Dame in some very murky waters. That the Irish could protect their football independence -- something they value probably more than anything else -- and upgrade all the other sports played at the university by joining the ACC, was a no-brainer.
But tearing up schedules that were essentially finished through 2019 and plugging in five new games every year required some tough decisions. Credit Purdue and Michigan State for handling it with class, something the crew in Ann Arbor didn't quite do.
T-Mill: Was the Notre Dame defense that good last week or the Michigan offense that bad?
Notre Dame is really young on defense. But they also have some really good athletes. Combine that with the fact that Brian VanGorder has spent much of the past decade in the NFL and he's a really tough guy to scout, especially early in the season.
I'm not sure Notre Dame will employ the same strategies against Purdue, but the Irish wanted to get to third down and then throw every exotic blitz known to man at Devin Gardner and the Michigan offensive line, and felt good about their chances. And Jaylon Smith is capable of erasing a quarterback scramble, just because he's so freakishly athletic.
I thought Notre Dame would win the game by around 10 points, far more handily than most. But I also knew that Michigan has had a strange effect on the Irish, winning in some gut-wrenching ways, especially with Notre Dame playing really poorly and turning the ball over.
The defense was the biggest question mark for the Irish going into the season. Take away their best cornerback, KeiVarae Russell, and most experienced defensive end, Ishaq Williams, as the Honor Code committee deliberates, and a shutout of Michigan was a big surprise.
I think Doug Nussmeier is a really good offensive coordinator. But until they figure out their offensive line play, it's going to be a work in progress, because Gardner doesn't make great decisions when he's getting pressured.