Cierre Wood

And in that corner: The Purdue Boilermakers

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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.]

Report: Justin Brent to transfer

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Justin Brent has not seen the playing field since Notre Dame faced LSU in the Music City Bowl back in December of 2014. That now looks like it will be the last time Irish fans see him in a Notre Dame uniform, as well. Reports indicate the rising senior running back will transfer.

Irish 247’s Tom Loy broke the news, soon confirmed by Irish Illustrated’s Pete Sampson.

A consensus top-100 pick out of Indianapolis (Ind.) Speedway High School, Brent arrived in South Bend with high expectations, but will depart without an official statistic aside from snaps in nine games his freshman season. He recorded no catches, carries or tackles.

 

Thanks Keith, Now Dear Readers…

SOUTH BEND, IN - NOVEMBER 19: Josh Adams #33 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish takes a hand off from DeShone Kizer #14 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Notre Dame Stadium on November 19, 2016 in South Bend, Indiana. Virginia Tech defeated Notre Dame 34-31.(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Dear “Inside the Irish” fans, “Inside the Irish” foes and, of course, my parents –
Dear curious purveyors, my stand-alone predecessor and Tim Raines –
Mostly, dear Notre Dame fans, Notre Dame spectators and college students enjoying any and all hallowed traditions –

Yes, unfortunately for you and fortunately for me, Keith tossed me the keys to this 1971 Volkswagen Beetle known as NBC Sports’ “Inside the Irish” blog. Don’t worry, I know how to drive stick shift.

If I were feeling corny, I would tell you I first reported on Notre Dame football in the fall of 1996, shouting out the garage window to my father as Allen Rossum returned Purdue’s opening kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown. If we are ignoring sentimental childhood stories, however, then it would be more accurate to call 2009’s home-opener against Colin Kaepernick’s Nevada my beginning on the beat.

Over the last few days I reached out to a few of you readers whom I know, asking why you enjoyed Keith Arnold’s coverage. So as to keep them honest, I neglected to tell them I would be stepping into this spotlight today.

Repeatedly, I heard buzz words such as readable, reasonable and realistic. Those will be my goals, as well. My predecessor at The Observer no longer dabbles in journalism, but I still trust his view on most things. His response strikes me as an admirable objective.

“We are smart, informed sports fans with an irrational passion for ND football, and appreciate writers who share those traits but are professional enough to step back from the irrationality and put things in perspective… We like a realistic take, not a knee-jerk reaction.”

On that note, you will not see me give a recruiting update with my every breath. You will also not see me dispense as much cinema advice as Keith did. I am simply not the film-nik he is, though I am listening to the “La La Land” soundtrack as I write this. You will find jazz increases your words per minute rate.

I will often speak of gambling terms, but not to encourage the vice. Rather, I find those odds to be a thought-provoking and informing means of evaluating things. Today, various books strongly expected President Trump’s inauguration speech to last longer than 15 minutes. Thus, I figured it would last longer than 15, but not by all that much since such was the over/under mark set. I could step away from the computer and watch it without losing too much of my day. It lasted 16:18.

I will try to be conversational, especially in these Friday letters/news-dumps/updates/recaps, should they become a recurring piece.

I intend to keep many, but not all, of Keith’s recurring features, as daunting as many of them seem. If I am to make this place my own, some will have to change. It’s okay, we’ll get through that together.

So ask questions, state your wonderings and pitch story ideas. This very format was a seed watered by one of you early this morning. Admittedly, prior to suggesting this he referred to me in terms I refuse to post publicly, but old drinking buddies have earned that right.

It’s late Friday afternoon. Grab a drink, and don’t you dare leave it unfinished.

– Douglas.

And in that corner… Introducing Douglas Farmer

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 17: Members of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish sing the alma mater following a loss to the Michigan State Spartans at Notre Dame Stadium on September 17, 2016 in South Bend, Indiana. Michigan State defeated Notre Dame 36-28. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
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It’s time to turn over the keys. On a day where our great nation makes a peaceful transition, so does our humble blog.

I’d love to say I was smart enough to time my departure for the same day as inauguration, but as they say, it’s better to be lucky than good. And I was lucky to get the gig, and happy to turn it over to someone who I believe is a better-than-good writer: Douglas Farmer.

Douglas was Editor-in-Chief of The Observer when he was a student at Notre Dame. He’s worked for old media—earning a byline at the Los Angeles Times and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He’s worked the ND beat, not just at the school paper, but at Blue & Gold. And now, I’m very happy to say, he’s taking over Inside the Irish, a transition that I think will go wonderfully.

To give you an idea of who Douglas is, I milked one last column gave him the And in this Corner treatment.

Hope you enjoy. And, one last request—Be Nice.

 

Douglas, you graduated from Notre Dame in 2012, and last covered the Irish on a day-to-day basis in the 2014 season. What has you excited to come back to the beat?

Douglas Farmer: Given Notre Dame’s past season, I would say I am most excited to take an in-depth look at how the Irish respond — and perhaps rebound — in 2017. It has been awhile (nearly a decade, more accurately) since Notre Dame has needed to do that, so it is one area of football there is not much institutional knowledge to rely upon.

Aside from that, the general engagement with a fan base so devotedly-interested in its topic is always something to look forward to. Even during a 4-8 season, that fan base does not waver in its curiosity and thirst for information.

 

A nice perk is also getting paid for the addiction that is Notre Dame Football, no?

DF: I prefer to subscribe to Hurricane Carter’s opinion on addictions: Do not be addicted to anything “they” can take away from you.

 

Well put. As I thought about the decision to move on, I came to the conclusion that there’s no perfect time to ever do so. That said, other than the head coach, this is as close to a reboot as you can ask for. Do these next few months get you excited, especially as an almost entirely new staff take charge?

DF: Just had to slip in a reference to removing the head coach, didn’t you?

Bouncing back from a rough season is the most appealing story line in sports, in anything really. Take a look at any movie you have ever watched (or, in your case, perhaps even been involved in). The hero experiences conflict just before redemption. Now, I am not saying Notre Dame is the hero. I am saying watching the team, the program, try to rebound has me very interested.

The staff turnover is an added wrinkle, and will only increase the work ahead for the program. Before the players can learn the plays, they have to learn the staff. Before that, the staff has to learn about each other.

 

So what’s the plan with the blog? You plan on getting to know the characters below the fold in the comments? Keep the A-to-Z series rolling? Do a better job proof-reading?

DF: I do not intend to outright abandon any institution or established series you have devoted years to. Thus, I would expect A-to-Z to continue in some form. But we will see. That is an easy thing to say when I have not yet reached the misery that must be “Q, R, S, …”

I would like to engage with the readers, but only so far as logic and rational conversation will allow. I have no interest in devolving to who knows what depths. Proof-reading, well, I want to say I will excel at that, but that just sets me up to eat a lot of crow when I miss a letter in April.

 

Smart. Will tell you about the A-to-Z… This roster is a front-loaded one, alphabetically, at least.

DF: All of high school I had a locker next to a Favre. (Not really related.) I understand the luxuries the alphabet can provide.

 

Let’s go rapid fire for a second: Favorite game you saw in person at Notre Dame?

DF: Either the 2012 Stanford game or the 2011 South Florida game. I realize how absurd that latter answer sounds, but that is part of why it stands the test of time. It was such a unique experience. Plus, being allowed to go back to the dorm for an hour at halftime made the whole day more entertaining.

 

Best road game experience?

DF: 2010 Army in Yankee Stadium jumps to the top of the heap, though I suppose technically not a road game. Go ahead and score against me for this, but I am a lifelong Yankees fan. That was a big one for me.

(KA note: The Observer must not have had the $$ to send the editor to Dublin…)

(DF note to KA’s note: I graduated in May 2012. The Observer did manage to send four staffers to Dublin the following September. Sometimes I wonder if I would not have been better off if I had taken two years to get through fifth grade.)

 

Favorite player to watch during your time as a student?

DF: Golden Tate could have walked around the football field as Maximus, for all I’m concerned, given how entertaining he often was. Though Lou Nix also holds a lofty place in my regard.
I lived a door down from Lou for two years, part of the reasoning there.

 

Favorite villain of the Irish from your time watching/following Notre Dame football?

DF: Pete Carroll runs away with the award. His candidacy is enhanced by my Wisconsin-bred Packer fandom.I do not like disliking Pete Carroll. I very much wish I could be indifferent toward him. The Falcons granted me that luxury for nine months.

 

Part of what has me excited about this transition is that I actually thought you’d be a good person to turn the keys over to, as I enjoyed reading your stuff when you were at The Observer and covering the Irish in your post-graduation years. What’s the most exciting part for you about taking over the blog? And what do you look forward to doing with it?

DF: I am most excited for the chance to write, and the chance to write about something on which I consider myself relatively knowledgeable. I look forward to seeing where the blog environment takes me. The open-ended aspect of it presents all sorts of possibilities.

Theoretically, I can be more freewheeling than elsewhere, get in-and-out quicker of some pieces, spend more time on others. I know Notre Dame fans of all varieties — the obsessed, the apathetic, pessimistic, optimistic, etc. — including some who have yet to decide how they feel about Tommy Rees. (Feel positively about him. It’s that simple.)

My sample size is certainly representative of the fan base as a whole. That wide swath is what makes covering Notre Dame enjoyable, and very well may provide the blog some direction and material on its own.

Oh, and I appreciate those kind words, Keith. I’ll Venmo you $20 later tonight.

 

Sliding a final question into my lightning round. What’s your handle on NDNation? (Kidding!)

DF: I will take my right to not incriminate myself, otherwise known as the Fifth.

Notre Dame makes Alexander and Balis hires official

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Notre Dame confirmed the news that Del Alexander and Matt Balis are joining Brian Kelly’s staff. As expected, Alexander will coach wide receivers while Balis was named director of football performance.

The program announced both hires on Thursday.

“I was looking for an experienced teacher, mentor, recruiter and developer of student-athletes,” head coach Brian Kelly said in a statement. “Del not only met the criteria, but he exceeded it. He also understands, respects and values the type of young men we want to bring to this University and football program.”

Alexander, who’ll lean on his West Coast roots and familiarity with new offensive coordinator Chip Long, said the following:

“I’m excited to officially get on board, hit the road recruiting, and to find and develop the best student-athletes in the country. Notre Dame is a special place, and I’ve been able to the see the power of its brand on the recruiting trails across the country for the last 15-20 years. I’m honored and humbled to serve this University, this program and these remarkable young men.”

Balis comes to Notre Dame from UConn, with an impressive pedigree that counts jobs at Mississippi State, Florida, Virginia and Utah. He takes over for Paul Longo, who is taking a leave of absence from the football program, per the official release.

“Matt comes to Notre Dame with impeccable credentials and incredibly high praise from the likes of Urban Meyer, Mickey Marotti, Dan Mullen, Bob Diaco and Al Groh,” Kelly said. “He’s already instituted a strength program built with a foundation that focuses on hard work, discipline and top-notch competition. Matt will demand the best from our players, not only in the weight room, but in many other areas within our program. I couldn’t be more excited to have him in place moving forward.”