Frank Vitovitch of UHND.com talks about Saturday's Shamrock Series in Indianapolis.
Our second of three Q&A's this week is with Frank Vitovitch of UHND.com, a long-standing and quality Notre Dame site. Here is what Frank had to say to the same questions:
T-Mill: On paper, this game shouldn't even be close, but that was also the case the last two years. How has Purdue deceptively matched up so well with ND?
Frank: For one, Purdue has caught Notre Dame at good times each of the last two years. In 2012, Purdue played Notre Dame the week after the team came back from Ireland and then last year Purdue was sandwiched in between Michigan and Michigan State on Notre Dame's schedule. Now, three years ago Notre Dame faced Purdue in between Pitt and Air Force and ended up winning 38-10. Two years ago Purdue was also facing a rookie quarterback who had too easy of a time in his debut and might not have been as prepared as he should have been. The Purdue defensive line did a great job that day of getting after Golson and keeping the Irish offense in check. Last year, it looked like Notre Dame was poised to pull away in the 4th quarter after Bennett Jackson's pick six, but nearly coughed up the game with Amir Carlisle's 4th quarter fumble.
It's really hard to pin point just how Purdue was even in the game in the 4th quarter last year though considering the Boilermakers were 1-11 in 2013. Notre Dame was an up and down team last year though and each week you weren't quite sure what you were going to get. I think last year Purdue just played off the atmosphere of a night game at Ross Ade and played their best game of the year.
Frank: It wouldn't surprise me if either ripped off some long runs but I have a feeling Notre Dame might still throw the football a lot this week. It's no surprise that Brian Kelly likes to throw the ball a lot and while the Notre Dame passing game has been pretty good so far this year there is still some room for improvement. The young Irish wide receivers have dropped some very catchable passes over the last two weeks and I think Kelly realizes that for the Irish to get out of October and still be in the playoff hunt, it's going to be because of Everett Golson and the Irish passing game. With the status of Davaris Daniels still up in the air, I could see the Irish still leaning towards a pass heavy offense this week at least initially.
Notre Dame had trouble running the football last week against Michigan so Kelly will still want to get some work on the ground game in. I see that work primarily coming in the second half though after Notre Dame has built a pretty good lead and they look to grind it out over the final two quarters.
T-Mill: Who is William Fuller and how has he become such an integral part of the offense?
Frank: Fuller wasn't as under the radar of a recruit as everyone makes him out to be. He was actually committed to Penn State prior to decommitting following the NCAA sanctions that were placed on them following the Sandusky scandal so he had some big time offers. He's been able to become such a focus of the passing game because of his speed combined with his route running. Last year as a freshman Fuller was still fast but wasn't a very polished - similar to a Golden Tate as a frosh in 2007 - but this year he is running great routes. If you go back and watch his touchdown against Michigan his route is a thing of beauty. It looks like a simple go route, but the way that Fuller gets off the line and past the Michigan corner almost immediately is really impressive.
Fuller is still on the smaller side and not a very accomplished blocker in the run game, but as a deep threat, he's as good as Notre Dame's had in a while. Michael Floyd and Golden Tate were All-American talents but both made most of their big plays after the catch whereas Fuller's doing it by getting open 40-50 yards downfield by blowing right past the coverage. The scary thing is Fuller is just starting to scratch the surface of his potential.
T-Mill: Is there anyone on Purdue that you consider a concern for the Irish?
Frank: The fact that both quarterbacks can run is a concern. Even though Notre Dame bottled up Devin Gardner last week, mobile quarterbacks have historically been a problem for Notre Dame in the past. Gabe Holmes could pose some matchup problems for Notre Dame as well if he ends up lined up against a linebacker not named Jaylon Smith. In the past Purdue always had a big defensive lineman that worried me like a Bruce Gaston but this team doesn't look like it has one of those players - at least not yet.
T-Mill: What are your thoughts on a 69-year series coming to an end until 2020 after Saturday, especially when the schools are FINALLY playing basketball against each other again?
Frank: Like with the Michigan and Michigan State series, I think it's going to be sad to see the schools not on each other schedules each year. While this has been a largely one sided rivalry over the years, there has never really been the animosity between the programs that existed between Notre Dame and Michigan and to a lesser extent Michigan State. In fact, I always enjoyed watching Purdue pull off upsets against both when they happened. Unfortunately the scheduling complexities of the expanded Big Ten conference schedule and Notre Dame's agreement to play five ACC opponents a season made it too challenging for the two to keep each other on the schedule for now. At least with Purdue though, the break in the action will only be until 2020 whereas there is not currently another game schedule between Notre Dame and Michigan.
T-Mill: Was the Notre Dame defense that good last week or the Michigan offense that bad?
Frank: It sounds like a copout but it really was a little of column A and a little of column B. There were plays to be had for Michigan on Saturday, they just didn't make them. Brian Kelly mentioned in his Tuesday press conference that Notre Dame had 34 mental errors on the defensive side of the ball against Michigan. That is to be expected since the Irish are playing a vastly different style of defense this year as they move away from Bob Diaco's bend, don't break and transition to Brian VanGorder's more aggressive attack. That said, with 34 mental errors you would expect Michigan to at least crack the red-zone once or twice.
What made the defense so effective on Saturday night was once they got the lead, VanGorder unleashed some of his young pass rushers. When he did that, the turnover fest from Michigan stated. The Wolverines didn't turn the ball over once in the first half. In the second half, they turned the ball over four times (three interceptions, one fumble) all because of pressure. This is another reason I think Notre Dame will still come out throwing the football on Saturday. They know that this defense is at its best when it can pin its ears back and let some of the young players rush the quarterback.
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