This week, we are sitting down with opponent blog Hammer and Rails to discuss the Purdue Boilermakers, the success (or lack thereof) of Darrell Hazell, and the last meeting between Purdue and ND until 2020. Travis, Hammer and Rails head honcho, was nice enough to take some time to answer my questions.
1. Obviously Darrell Hazell and Co. have been struggling to get Purdue's rebuilding effort on the right track, starting this season 1-1 against a couple of directional Michigans. Has some of the luster worn off of the new hire? Or is it simply that they have uncovered more rot in the program that will take more time than many thought in order to get back to a solid team?
I think both. The Central Michigan game was brutal in that the Chips really didn't play that well, but took advantage of a ton of mistakes. We gave up a pick 6, had 2-3 long returns called back on a penalty, had a 4th and 1 conversion called back on a 12-man penalty that killed a scoring drive, lost two other turnovers (one on another fourth and short conversion), and lost our best player in the secondary on a targeting penalty on an incompletion. We pretty much shot ourselves in the foot in every way possible, and that handed them 3-4 touchdowns along with killing scoring drives.
That has led to people turning against Hazell because this was the kind of stuff that was supposed to be corrected. I do like Hazell in the long run, however. Most of the offensive line is sophomores and we have a sophomore QB along with a ton of freshmen and sophomores elsewhere. A total of 10 of 22 starters on both sides of the ball are sophomores or freshmen with 14 of 22 listed at second on the depth chart as freshmen or sophomores. Two more are JuCo transfers in their first season. We're ridiculously young and the upperclassmen, aside from a few players, are players that have done very little in their careers.
I do think it is going to take awhile, and that is why I like Hazell. He seems like a big picture type of coach and really is doing an entire rebuild. Hope tried to paint over a lot of rot without really fixing anything. If there is definite improvement as the season goes on I think the Central game will be forgotten, but boy, was it ugly to watch on Saturday.
2. In last year's game, Purdue came out of the gate and gave Notre Dame all it could handle. This season appears to be shaping up the same way going into the game with the Irish heavily favored, but what can Purdue do in this game to put a scare into the Irish?
Well, if they limit the mistakes that killed them against Central Michigan that will help a lot. Western Michigan isn't great by any means, but Purdue played a clean game and generally at least looked like an FBS level football team for most of the game. You couldn't say that last season except for the Notre Dame and Michigan State games. I think both of those proved that Purdue is at least capable of making it a game if everything clicks.
The boilers need much better play from the quarterback position, be it Danny Etling or Austin Appleby. Etling has not been accurate at all and Appleby is very inexperienced. They also need to get Raheem Mostert and Akeem Hunt the ball with space. Both have ridiculous speed and can break any play if they have some space.
Defensively Purdue has to prove it can stop the run. The secondary hasn't been terrible. Taylor Richards, our projected starting safety, is back after a two-game suspension and Frankie Williams has played very well before he was tossed for targeting last week. Purdue has competed each of the last two years with Notre Dame because the defensive line has been disruptive. That has to continue for Purdue to have a chance on Saturday.
3. With this weekend being the Shamrock Series in Indianapolis, do you think the extra excitement around the game is a proper send-off for the series that isn't scheduled to resume until 2020?
I think so. It is ridiculous that the series could not continue, but the changing conference landscapes forced both school's hands. Purdue is the biggest loser because it loses a guaranteed national spotlight game each season. When ND comes to town we know we're getting a night game because ESPN will jump at the change to put the Irish in prime time. That's lost now.
Even though it was long a one-sided series Purdue has had its moments. The late 60's had a nice No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup and, if I recall correctly, I think no one has beaten Notre Dame while they were ranked No. 1 as much as Purdue. Until the recent run the series was pretty even from 1997 on and there have been some close, exciting games. Purdue had a lot of close calls in South Bend even though they only won once, and ND has been pushed quite a bit at Ross-Ade. It is sad it can't continue.
4. As always with many struggling teams, the QB position is a hotly debated one. Who do the Irish see on Saturday leading the Boilermakers? Who should the Irish see in your mind?
I think Etling gets the start, but he has looked pretty bad in two games. DeAngelo Yancey is our best deep threat and might be our best receiver, but Etling has overthrown him more times than I can count when he has been wide open. He has one reception, but has had at least 10 passes thrown his way.
In a dream world I want to see true freshman David Blough. He was an Elite 11 finalist last summer, enrolled early to go through spring practice, and looked solid in the spring game. He is supposed to be the most accurate of the three and, with his stature, demeanor, and the fact he is from Texas, he is drawing Drew Brees comparisons. He idolizes Brees too, and has his blessing. I think he has a very exciting future, but Hazell has stated he will try to redshirt him if at all possible.
5. Who are the impact players on each side of the ball that Purdue needs to step up on Saturday? Who are the players from the Irish that concern you the most?
On defense we need a big game from the perpetual "He's going to break out any time now" guy, Ryan Russell. It is time he fulfills the potential we have all seen and becomes our next dominant defensive end. Ryan Watson also needs a big game and already has a pair of sacks. Ja'Whaun Bentley, a true freshman has been impressive as a linebacker and might be the first real live Big Ten linebacker we've had in about a decade.
On offense Mostert and Hunt need to have a big day. Both also return kicks and each has a pair of touchdowns off of kickoffs in their careers. Tight ends Gabe Holmes and Justin Sinz have been solid as relief valves for the QBS underneath too.
6. Finally, what is your prediction for Saturday (bonus points for GIF usage)??
I really wish I could say Purdue puts it all together and gets a program-changing upset, but last week's game killed my confidence. Again, it wasn't that Central played well. It was that Purdue played that badly. Notre Dame shouldn't have much trouble, but I thought that last year after we barely got by an awful Indiana State team, so who knows.
In the meantime, I still have this, which has its 10th anniversary this month: