Getting Notre Dame back om the schedule is exciting even if it means a very difficult non-conference game. To get further insight about the Fighting Irish I asked Joshua Vowles of SB Nation’s One Foot Down about the Irish.
T-Mill: Purdue is back on the schedule for the first time in seven years after being on there for almost 70 straight. From a Notre Dame perspective is it good to have us back?
Joshua: I don’t believe having Purdue back on the schedule saw the needle moved very far with Notre Dame fans. In a recent survey, we asked Notre Dame fans which Big 10 team they would like to have back on the schedule annually. Less than 15% of Irish fans said they would want Purdue back on the schedule. Notre Dame is 24-5 against Purdue since 1986, and the Irish have won the last seven games played. Purdue’s last victory over Notre Dame came against what was quite possibly the worst Notre Dame team in history (2007). At best it feels like a “meh” from most fans that I speak with.
T-Mill: When we last saw Notre Dame Purdue at least had four straight mostly competitive games with the Irish. How much will the continuity Notre Dame has had be a benefit in this one?
Joshua: I don’t know how competitive 2014’s 30-14 game was or 2011’s 38-10 was for that matter, but there’s no doubt this game has seen some fits over the years. Notre Dame is 57-19 since 2015 with two playoff appearances and continually pulls in top 15 and top 10 recruiting classes. That, I suppose, can be classified as continuity with Brian Kelly as the head coach. The disaster that was the 4-8 season of 2016 was the spark that has made Notre Dame a fixture in the top 10.
T-Mill: Congratulations on the almost ACC championship last year! It was a strange season for everyone, but how will a return to some more traditional rivalries help or hurt you guys this season?
Joshua: Notre Dame’s regular season schedule last year actually got easier with the toe dip into the ACC. I still would have expected wins over USC, Wisconsin, and Navy last year - but it was pretty interesting. Certainly I could have done without the revenge beatdown by Clemson in the ACC Championship game, but it was still a fun year regardless (we had football). If it was up to me. I’d throw the Navy game into the sun with a couple of nuclear subs attached, but it is what it is. I am really excited to get USC back on the schedule and to finally play Wisconsin (though neutral site games kind of offend me as a college football fan). While Clemson won’t be a thing unless it’s in the playoffs, Notre Dame still has a handful of the better ACC teams on its schedule. This is all a long way of saying that I really don’t know how much it helps or hurts Notre Dame, but I’m glad things are back to normal (except for Navy).
T-Mill: The offense was pretty consistent last year. What key pieces return and what needs to be replaced?
Joshua: Notre Dame shipped off its winningest quarterback in program history and four starters along the offensive line to the NFL. That’s a lot to replace, but Wisconsin transfer quarterback Jack Coan will be a huge help to the offense as he steps in with a lot of experience with a big-time program. The Irish added Cain Madden as a transfer from Marshall to the offensive line and 5-Star Blake Fisher looks like the real deal at left tackle. So... they lost a lot, but the pieces coming behind should still allow Notre Dame to operate its offense how it wants. With 1000 yard rusher Kyren Williams and the dynamic speedster Chris Tyree in the backfield, Notre Dame has big play capabilities at running back. Michael Mayer will likely be one of the best tight ends in the country, and the receivers that were supposed to be the starters last year (Braden Lenzy and Kevin Austin) will be back fully healthy. While the offense will look different in 2021, it should still be fairly efficient - and possibly more explosive.
T-Mill: The defense was no slouch either, which is to be expected from a playoff team. How does it match up against a likely pass heavy Purdue attack?
Joshua: Safety Kyle Hamilton will be a preseason All-American and a top 10 pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, but Notre Dame is still trying to figure out who is next to him at the other safety spot. It could be senior Houston Griffith, but the Irish could see D.J. Brown or even freshman Khari Gee play a big role there as well. Notre Dame has a lot of experience at field corner with TaRiq Bracy and Clarence Lewis, and a likely rotation may develop there. At the boundary corner, Cam Hart’s physique is really impressive, but Notre Dame is still trying to go out and get Tulsa transfer Akayleb Evans in the fold. Really though, this will come down to what kind of pressure (and how it happens) with new Notre Dame defensive coordinator, Marcus Freeman. The front seven is stout and from what we saw this past spring (and the line uses a very deep rotation), they are very active and aggressive in pressuring the passer. Notre Dame will offer a lot of looks, but how all of this goes in the fall is still a little more “wait and see” for me to say.
T-Mill: What does Purdue need to do in order to keep this close to have a chance at a massive upset?
Joshua: Purdue is going to have to make Notre Dame one dimensional (one way or the other). I feel like this year for Notre Dame will really be about balance between the running and passing game and if you take one away, the other will suffer. This means the Boilers are going to have to figure out how to stop what everyone knows is coming - those 3rd and 7/8 passes to tight end Michael Mayer. Offensively, if the Boilers can play up tempo, stay the hell away from Kyle Hamilton, and keep down and distance in their favor - they will help keep limit possessions and make this a game in the 4th.
Maybe... but what the hell do I know?