And in that corner... the Purdue Boilermakers
It was a tale of two seasons last year for Purdue. The first half heartbreak and despair, the second half hope for a better day. Maybe that’s overly dramatic, but the Boilermakers went on a nice run in the second half of the season, including an upset victory against Ohio State, finishing the season 4-2 and putting up a respectable 4-4 record during Big Ten play. Even though the season ended 5-7, Purdue fans had to believe that three or four of those games could’ve gone a different direction.
One of those was obviously against the Fighting Irish. Travis Miller was at Ross-Ade stadium that fateful night when Jimmy Clausen scored his “signature win” against the Boilermakers, marching the Irish down the field for a last minute touchdown pass to Kyle Rudolph. Miller runs the very entertaining Purdue website Hammer & Rails, and was kind enough to chat with me earlier this week as the Irish and the Boilermakers prepare to kick off the season.
I also answered some questions for him over at his blog, so check those out when you get a chance. I’m especially proud of his title for the blog: “Inside the Irish: Quality, sane Notre Dame discussion. I like that.” (Might put that on the book jacket...)
Inside the Irish: How bad did the loss last year feel?
H&R: I’ll admit, it stung. I sit in section 128 , so the play happened right in front of my seats. Just deflating. I felt like we had the game, but once again our defense failed to get stops on a long drive at the end. That has been our MO forever. If we take a lead with more than five minutes left and all we need is one stop we never get it.
ITI: Following up on that, was it the timeout that hurt the most? From Purdue’s standpoint, did you feel like it was your game to win and you blew it or would it have been a stolen W?
H&R: I think it was ours to win and I can’t believe we called the timeout. At the very least you force either a hurried play or a spike to stop the clock. They then have less time to call the fourth down play. Instead we gifted the Irish time to script the two plays we wanted. To me, it was an inexcusable decision, and the worst one Hope made all year.
ITI: You predicted Keith Smith last year. Who’s going to do it this year?
H&R: I am high on three guys: Al-Terek McBurse, O.J. Ross, and Ricardo Allen. McBurse is the new guy at running back, but a four-star recruit who has a ton of talent. I think he can have a big game if we commit to the run. Ross and Allen were high school teammates at Daytona Mainland and the top two guys in our recruiting class. Allen seems to be taking control of one of the open cornerback slots immediately and may even be an upgrade over David Pender and Brandon King. Ross. Is a speedy receiver that will see time in the slot. He is a lot like Dorien Bryant, only with better hands. He could also be used on kickoff returns.
ITI: What does an outsider think about the hiring of Brian Kelly? Would you rather be facing a Charlie Weis team or does BK signify a dangerous precedent: An above-average coach of the Irish?
H&R: I’m not sold on him because we have heard the same thing for a decade in South Bend. A new guy comes in, he’s the greatest coach in the history of the sport, then loses a few and gets canned. Remember that Ty Willingham was once fantastic after an 8-0 start. He could do no wrong at that point, but was fired three years later. Charlie Weis came in, had success immediately, but then started to struggle. The fans blamed it on “Ty’s players”, which was a joke of an excuse because Weis was in his third year. He had his own players by then and went 3-9. In fact, he nearly lost to Washington with “Ty’s Players” playing for the Huskies last year.
Brian Kelly has won at Division II, Central Michigan, and Cincinnati. That’s all good and well, but we all know that unless he brings a national title, and soon, there will be grumbling. Notre Dame fans are far from patient, and Kelly is the type of coach they need to be patient with. I have no doubt that he is a good coach and can be successful, but the real question is can he be successful to Notre Dame’s elevated standards? Weis had success that would be phenomenal at many schools, but not in South Bend. Shoot, Bob Davie even took the Irish to a BCS bowl without a quarterback for most of the year, but was gone after the following season.
ITI: You went on the record saying you didn’t want Robert Marve last year. Are you drinking the Kool-Aid yet?
H&R: Yes, I have changed my mind. I’ve been most impressed with the maturity he has shown off the field. I got to meet him at Big Ten media Days and he was calm, cool, and collected. I think this maturity, as well as the fact that he is no longer sharing snaps with Jacory Harris, will help him most. He always needed the maturity to go with his talent. That seems to have come with the move to West Lafayette.
He also gives us a running element from the quarterback that we haven’t had since Brandon Kirsch. Part of what made Purdue so good under Drew Brees was his decision making. He ran for over 800 yards as a senior and read defenses so well thathe knew exactly when he could take off for 10-15 yards. If Marve can utilize that skill it will make Purdue better fast.
ITI: How bad do you think ND’s defense will be this year?
H&R: It is hard to say. On paper, there is a ton of talent, but it hasn’t produced yet. I know you guys are changing schemes yet again, so there will naturally be a learning curve. Against Purdue I can see them struggling because we have talent and depth at a lot of skill positions. We can through six solid receivers out there with Keith Smith, Cortez Smith, Justin Siller, Ross, Antavian Edison, and Gary Bush. Siller and the Smiths are big guys, while Bush, Ross, and Edison are speed guys. Siller and Keith smith are also former QB’s, so we will very likely use trick plays (and have successfully with Smith). Rob Henry, the backup quarterback, may play in the wildcat. Dan Dierking, Jared Crank, Reggie Pegram, and Derek Jackson can help McBurse in the run game. Basically, we have the talent to move the ball in a lot of creative ways.
ITI: I know you like Michael Floyd. Anybody else on the Irish roster give you anxiety?
H&R: Kyle Rudolph is a solid tight end that can exploit our inability to cover the middle of the field. As far as other receivers, it is hard to say. I am optimistic that we have so many guys emerging as possible starters in the secondary, but most of them still have yet to play a game at this level. I think they will be excellent and deep in time, but this is still game one.
ITI: What’s the recipe for a Purdue victory?
H&R: Hold on to the ball. Turnovers cost us at least three wins last year. We can’t let that happen again. If we don’t turn the ball over we’re a very good football team.
ITI: Gut feeling?
H&R: Strangely, I have been feeling like this game could turn out like 2004 for some reason. I know that is very likely wishful thinking, but it would be nice all the same. Last year I was in the minority predicting a win at Oregon. Had we not handed them a pair of defensive touchdowns it would have happened too. I think we’re going to see a high scoring game where the efficiency of Notre Dame’s offense is the difference. I think these teams are nearly equal, but my gut tells me Purdue wins.
If you’d like to stroll back to Memory Lane, here’s what we had to say before the game last year.