And in that corner… The Purdue Boilermakers

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For the second week in a row, we’ll be up late watching Notre Dame, only this Saturday it may be tough to decipher who the Fighting Irish are. With their Shamrock Series uniforms paying homage to the Golden Dome and the spirit of campus, the Irish will take on Purdue for the last time until 2020, putting an end to a consecutive games streak that’s tied for the fourth-longest in college football.

On paper and in Las Vegas, the Irish are decided favorites, four touchdown favorites to beat a 1-1 Purdue team that split games with Western Michigan and Central Michigan. And while last week’s loss took some wind from the Boilermakers’ sails, it’s not hard to see from the past two seasons that Purdue regularly plays its best football against Notre Dame.

As we’ve been doing since the ’09 season, we caught up with Travis Miller to talk about the battle for the Shillelagh. Travis writes and edits the Hammer & Rails blog, and we talked earlier this week about the matchup from my perspective. He was kind enough to answer some of my questions (none included the world’s largest drum) to get us ready for another Big Ten opponent, soon to be a rarity on the Irish slate.

Hope you enjoy.

 

Not getting a chance to see Purdue’s loss to Central Michigan, but reading the aftermath, it sure seems like it was a disappointing game from start to finish. What went wrong? And how bad is Darrell Hazell’s second Boilermakers squad?

Really, Purdue shot themselves in the foot time and again. I counted ten absolutely crucial mistakes that ended up making a very big difference, especially because Central Michigan didn’t necessarily dominate the game. They basically made Purdue pay the maximum penalty for each mistake.

It was extremely frustrating because the Western Michigan game was mostly clean, and had Purdue played like that against the Chips it probably would have been enough for the win. Instead, it looked like a major step back. It was a very undisciplined performance and every time something good happened and it looked like there would be a turnaround, something went wrong.

 

The quarterback play seems like a mess. Danny Etling was a highly touted recruit. But his numbers have been pretty brutal through two games, and Austin Appleby relieved him, though didn’t necessarily fare much better.

What would you do at the quarterback position? Is this an indictment of offensive coordinator John Shoop?

I think it could be considered that. Etling finished the year strong with a near 500 yard game at Indiana last season, but he went through the offseason without truly fending off Appleby. I like Appleby because he has a great attitude. He has never conceded an inch to Etling and has showed, at least in practice, that he can be decent. Last week was a little rough because we basically gave him a quarter to erase a three TD deficit, but he did have some decent moments with a scoring drive and a few other positive plays.

The one quarterback that is my favorite is one that likely won’t play this year. David Blough, a true freshman from Texas, was an Elite 11 finalist last season and he enrolled early to go through spring practice. In my opinion he had the best day of the three in the spring game and he was very accurate in fall camp. He has drawn some Drew Brees comparisons and he is a fearless competitor. Hazell has said he wants to redshirt him this season, but I think he has a very exciting future.

 

The ground game seems to be rolling along well enough, especially considering the lack of big plays in the passing game. Is that how you’d attack Notre Dame’s defense?

I think the ground game is somewhat deceptive because it had a big day against Western Michigan, but we had to go away from it after falling behind against Central. I would give it a grade of incomplete, but considering we gained a TOTAL of 805 yards and only had 6 TDs on the ground for all of 2013 it is already much better.

I think Purdue is going to have to mix it up to have success. Etling has shown he can be successful moving the ball with his feet if needed and he already has a pair of rushing scores. Raheem Mostert and Akeem Hunt are dangerous, but we need to get them the ball in space. Mostert has blinding speed and is the reigning Big Ten champion in the 60-, 100-, and 200-meters. He also competed well in the NCAA meet in those events. If they get some space, they can score on any play. The problem is getting them that space.

 

For as disappointing as the offense has been, Purdue is giving up 36 points a game to two MAC programs in Michigan. Eight starters return. Assess Greg Hudson’s defense?

It is extremely young and is still a work in progress. I felt it wasn’t that bad until the second half against Central. That’s when Thomas Rawls did most of his damage. Our linebackers, aside from true freshman Ja’Whaun Bentley, aren’t really Big Ten linebackers and the front four is mostly sophomores.

I am excited to see what Bentley and freshman Gelen Robinson can develop into in their careers. Bentley already has played well and even had a long interception to set up a score last week. He is the first legitimate linebacker we have had in a decade. Robinson is coming along a little more slowly, but he is the son of basketball legend Glenn Robinson and a true athlete. He was a two-time undefeated state champion in wrestling, a state champ in track & field, and a 4-star commit in football. We’re trying him out at rush end in our 3-4/4-3 hybrid and on special teams, but he is coming along.

 

There seem to be bright spots though. Frankie Williams has been dynamic. Fort Wayne product Landon Feichter leads the team in tackles. Can this defense find a way to stop Notre Dame’s offense, led by Everett Golson?

Williams may not play because he was ejected from the Central Michigan game due to a targeting penalty. Taylor Richards, our preseason starting safety, will play after serving a two-game suspension due to an off-the-field incident (DUI). The moment where Williams was tossed was a big one because Purdue had just cut the lead to 14-7 and he slowed up before hitting a receiver on an incomplete pass over the middle. Central got 15 yards, our top defender (and punt returner) was tossed, and they immediately got a big play that set up a touchdown. It ended up being a huge moment.

I am slightly encouraged that Purdue has done decent in the passing game for the most part and so far Notre Dame has done more through the air than on the ground, but I am also a realist. Back-to-back 150+ yard rushing games to MAC running backs is not good. It is probably going to be a long night, and it seems like Purdue always gives up a long TD pass to Notre Dame anyway.

 

This game will end a streak of 68 consecutive years where this game has been played. The rivalry will return in 2020, but considering we just spent last week blathering on about Michigan-Notre Dame and the scheduling issues, what could have been done differently to save this game? (Or do you consider it saved, considering that it’s already set for 2020?)

I think it is absolutely ridiculous this is happening, though more traditional rivalries like Texas-Texas A&M, Kansas-Missouri, and others being thrown away for the sake of more money is worse. I am furious with our AD, Morgan Burke, because he basically lost a rivalry that has been going on for almost seven decades and a game that, no matter what, puts Purdue in the national spotlight for a week. The game is always nationally televised regardless of venue and I feel like it is a major loss in terms of our exposure.

Of course, both schools had their hand forced a little. With the Big Ten going to nine games for its league slate Purdue got on the wrong end of the rotation. It was going to have Notre Dame at Ross-Ade in years where it already had five Big Ten home games, so in the four home game seasons it was going to have to go to South Bend. That would mean only six home games at most and the loss of that seventh game revenue. Combined with Notre Dame’s ACC commitments it made things tricky, especially with the rest of Purdue’s non-conference commitments.

What I would have done is played it at a neutral site this year, then in South Bend next year to flip the years on the rotation. Then Purdue would have had a built-in Big Ten caliber home game in the year where it only had four league home dates. It would still have two more non-conference dates to fill at home, but it would basically have no versatility for home-and-homes with other schools. At least now we have some alternatives with Virginia Tech (West Lafayette 2015, Blacksburg 2023), Missouri (Columbia 2017, West Lafayette 2018), Cincinnati (at Purdue in 2016 after we went there last season), at Marshall in 2015 (they came to us in 2012), and Nevada (West Lafayette 2016, at Reno in 2019).

Those are all different, but none of them carry the attention that a game with Notre Dame would, and that is what sucks for us.

 

What’s your gut tell you about this game? Purdue has played ND tough the last two seasons, even as significant underdogs. How do they get over the hump, or is it going to be a tough night for Boilermakers fans?

I am really disheartened by what I saw against Central because it felt like a major step back. The first game against Western was the first time in over a year where we actually looked like an FBS level football team. I would say we looked like a real football team for about three quarters of one game last year (against Notre Dame), and for most of the game defensively against Michigan State. The rest of the time we didn’t even look like we belonged on the same field as anyone else.

If the same Purdue team that played last week against Central shows up the Irish will win by 50. Of course, I thought the same last year and the Boilers gave Notre Dame quite a bit of trouble. I am hoping for the latter, but expecting the former.

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I really appreciate Travis’ time and effort during a busy week. He’ll be talking to or with three different Notre Dame football websites, so be sure to go over to Hammer & Rails and check it out. You can also follow him on Twitter @HammerandRails.