Cierre Wood

And in that corner: The Purdue Boilermakers


After starting 2011 in the worst possible fashion, Irish fans couldn’t feel better about things after a 50-10 drubbing of Navy. First-time starting quarterback Everett Golson looked confident and smooth in his debut. The Irish ground attack was prolific, even without starter Cierre Wood. And even without defensive end Aaron Lynch, the Irish continually harassed Navy quarterback Trey Miller.

But that was Navy. The Midshipmen spent almost half a century as an Irish doormat before breaking through in 2007 and winning twice more since then, including beating Brian Kelly’s 2010 squad. Now it appears the Irish are back to their dominating ways, notching two straight 40-point wins.

Now the Irish will turn their attention to the Big Ten and in-state rival Purdue. The matchup won’t have the same heat as the games against Michigan State and Michigan, but Danny Hope’s Purdue squad shouldn’t be overlooked. Fresh off their own impressive first win, we brought in Travis Miller of Hammer & Rails to discuss all things Boilermakers.

We’ve done this three times before (20092010, 2011), a nice time capsule back as we look at the evolution of this series.

I asked, Travis answered. Here we go:

The Boilermakers did a nice job taking care of business on opening day, whipping Eastern Kentucky handily on a day where not everybody had as good of luck with their respective cupcakes. And they did so with some significant pregame distractions, like the last minute suspension of starting quarterback Caleb TerBush. After last year’s nail biter with Middle Tennessee, did you see this coming?

I did not. I expected EKU to put up a better fight, especially since they challenged a very good Kansas State team last year in Manhattan before falling 10-7. This was a rout in every sense of the word. Even giving up five turnovers didn’t hurt Purdue as the defense allowed zero points after them. Kawann Short was dominant in blocking a field goal and an extra point. Even the middle linebacker play was solid after losing Dwayne Beckford due to his recent arrest.

I expected to win, but EKU has one of the best running backs in FCS, a quality receiver, and an experienced quarterback. I didn’t expect to be so dominant on defense to where we only had one bad play, a 30 yard touchdown run by Matt Denham.

Speaking of the QB situation, Marve threw an early pick and had a fumble, but was pretty impressive as the game got rolling. Does that make you willing to scrap TerBush as a starter and roll with the veteran? I know Hope hasn’t decided yet, but is one game against an FCS opponent enough for you?

Whatever makes us ditch the crazy quarterback rotation is good enough for me. I think Marve finally showed what type of player he can be. Yes, he is a veteran, but of his 14 previous starts and through all of last year he has never really been THE guy. At Miami he split every game with Jacory Harris. In 2010 he had three starts before hurting his knee, and even then Rob Henry took a few snaps. Last year he split time with TerBush.

Marve impressed me because he was making good decisions on the roll out and making throws we quite frankly haven’t had a quarterback capable of making in some time. We got our tight ends involved as more than a last resort and most of Marve’s mobility is back. I think the upside for him is higher than TerBush, so he should be the guy. Also, I do not like that a team captain and starter did something (whatever it was) to get suspended right before the opener.

Most people know about All-American candidate Kawann Short, but I’ve heard plenty of good things about the rest of Purdue’s front four. Paired with a strong secondary, how good are you expecting this defense to be? What are your early impressions of new D.C. Tim Tibesar?

I was extremely impressed. We covered the middle of the field on third and long, something I have been screaming for us to do for years. After watching part of the Navy game I had nightmares of forcing a 3rd and 15 only to see Tyler Eifert wandering completely uncovered over the middle for an 18 yard catch. Now I have some hope.

Will Lucas really impressed me with his play at linebacker. Landon Feichter, a guy who was a very unheralded walk-on last year, has earned a starting safety spot and he responded with a pick six and two pass break ups. I also thought Jalani Phillips had a solid game in terms of being disruptive up front with Short and Bruce Gaston.

Of course, this is all against an FCS team. Notre Dame is a much better gauge of competition, so we shall see this week.

The Boilermakers have been a dark-horse candidate to make a run in the Big Ten this year, especially with Penn State and Ohio State already off the board. It’s been a tough few years for Purdue fans, do you get a sense of optimism this year?

I do. It’s really a three-team race with Illinois and Wisconsin. I thought on day one Illinois played better than I thought and Wisconsin played worse. If you’re blasting a good FCS team at home while the favorite in the division is struggling with theirs it is definitely a confidence boost.

I do view the Notre Dame game as a major test to see how we stack up against the Big Ten. It is the only non-conference game that should give us trouble, and last year we were completely uncompetitive. If Purdue comes out and rolls over just like last year I will be very concerned.

Did watching the Irish’s impressive performance on Saturday morning have you feeling more or less confident about the upcoming game? 

I am pretty neutral, mostly because I didn’t expect either blowout to be so dominant. Obviously, Purdue cannot have five turnovers and expect to win. If Purdue fixes that, however, I think the defense can at least slow down Reddick, Eifert, and Atkinson. Those are the three players I am most concerned with. Defensively, I know we offer a different look from Navy’s triple option. Even with the turnovers we moved the ball at will just like Notre Dame.

It is hard to make a definite choice because both of our games were the result of one team being far and away better than the other. I will say that Purdue’s performance encouraged me more than Notre Dame’s discouraged me.

Vegas opened the line for Saturday’s game at 14.5 points. Cliff Notes version of how Purdue pulls off the upset.

First off, Danny Hope picks Robert Marve and sticks with him. I don’t mind the occasional Rob Henry snap as a wildcat QB that can throw, but Marve has to be THE guy. Second, we don’tturn the ball over. Third, we have improved special teams. We had an extra point blocked, kicked a ball out of bounds, fumbled a punt return, and had a punt blocked. Those would be disastrous against Notre Dame. Fourth, we have to be aggressive defensively and not let ND’s running game go wild like last season with Wood.

[Editor’s note: The guys at Hammer & Rails have already addressed Danny Hope picking Caleb TerBush as the starter for Saturday.]

Even amidst chaos, Kelly expecting USC’s best

JuJu Smith-Schuster, Rocky Hayes, Blaise Taylor

USC head coach Steve Sarkisian was fired on Monday, with interim head coach Clay Helton taking the reins of the Trojan program during tumultuous times. Helton will be the fourth different USC head coach to face Notre Dame in as many years, illustrative of the chaos that’s shaken up Heritage Hall in the years since Pete Carroll left for the NFL.

All eyes are on the SC program, with heat on athletic director Pat Haden and the ensuing media circus that only Los Angeles can provide. But Brian Kelly doesn’t expect anything but their best when USC boards a plane to take on the Irish in South Bend.

While the majority of Notre Dame’s focus will be inward this week, Kelly did take the time on Sunday and Monday to talk with his team about the changes atop the Trojan program, and how they’ll likely impact the battle for the Jeweled Shillelagh.

“We talked about there would be an interim coach, and what that means,” Kelly said. “Teams come together under those circumstances and they’re going to play their very best. And I just reminded them of that.”

While nobody on this Notre Dame roster has experienced a coaching change, they’ve seen their share of scrutiny. The Irish managed to spring an upset not many saw coming against LSU last year in the Music City Bowl after a humiliating defeat against the Trojans and amidst the chaos of a quarterbacking controversy. And just last week, we saw Charlie Strong’s team spring an upset against arch rival Oklahoma when just about everybody left the Longhorns for dead.

“I think you look at the way Texas responded this past weekend with a lot of media scrutiny,” Kelly said Tuesday. “I expect USC to respond the same way, so we’re going to have to play extremely well.”

Outside of the head coaching departure, it’s difficult to know if there’ll be any significant difference between a team lead by Sarkisian or the one that Helton will lead into battle. The offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach has been at USC for six years, and has already held the title of interim head coach when he led the Trojans to a 2013 Las Vegas Bowl title after Lane Kiffin was fired and Ed Orgeron left the program after he wasn’t given the full time position.

Helton will likely call plays, a role he partially handled even when Sarkisian was on the sideline. The defense will still be run by Justin Wilcox. And more importantly, the game plan will be executed by a group of players that are among the most talented in the country.

“They have some of the finest athletes in the country. I’ve recruited a lot of them, and they have an immense amount of pride for their program and personal pride,” Kelly said. “So they will come out with that here at Notre Dame, there is no question about that.”

Irish add commitment from CB Donte Vaughn

Donte Vaughn

Notre Dame’s recruiting class grew on Monday. And in adding 6-foot-3 Memphis cornerback Donte Vaughn, it grew considerably.

The Irish added another jumbo-sized skill player in Vaughn, beating out a slew of SEC offers for the intriguing cover man. Vaughn picked Notre Dame over offers from Auburn, LSU, Miami, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Tennessee and Texas A&M among others.

He made the announcement on Monday, his 18th birthday:

It remains to be seen if Vaughn can run like a true cornerback. But his length certainly gives him a skill-set that doesn’t currently exist on the Notre Dame roster.

Interestingly enough, Vaughn’s commitment comes a cycle after Brian VanGorder made news by going after out-of-profile coverman Shaun Crawford, immediately offering the 5-foot-9 cornerback after taking over for Bob Diaco, who passed because of Crawford’s size. An ACL injury cut short Crawford’s freshman season before it got started, but not before Crawford already proved he’ll be a valuable piece of the Irish secondary for years to come.

Vaughn is another freaky athlete in a class that already features British Columbia’s Chase Claypool. With a safety depth chart that’s likely turning over quite a bit in the next two seasons, Vaughn can clearly shift over if that’s needed, though Notre Dame adding length like Vaughn clearly points to some of the shifting trends after Richard Sherman went from an average wide receiver to one of the best cornerbacks in football, and Vaughn will be asked to play on the outside.

Vaughn is the 15th member of Notre Dame’s 2016 signing class. He is the fifth defensive back, joining safeties D.J. Morgan, Jalen Elliott and Spencer Perry along with cornerback Julian Love. The Irish project to take one more.

With Notre Dame expecting another huge recruiting weekend with USC coming to town, it’ll be very interesting to see how the Irish staff close out this recruiting class.