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Notre Dame Football: Purdue Boilermakers Q&A with Hammer and Rails

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We talked to Travis Miller over at Hammer and Rails to try to get out ahead of this next potential near-upset for the Irish

Purdue v Northwestern Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

Well folks, it’s that time of week again.

It’s Thursday, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team is preparing for another game on Saturday, and to arm ourselves with knowledge, we’ve got yet another Q&A with the opposition to toss your way.

As I’m hoping most of you are aware at this point (whether you managed to watch it on Peacock or not), the Irish have dropped to #12 in the AP Poll following yet another near-defeat at the hands of a lesser team, narrowly escaping the Toledo Rockets 32-29 in this season’s home opener last weekend.

Now, Brian Kelly’s squad will play host to an old foe/sort-of-rival in the Purdue Boilermakers, who are 2-0 and hot off of a season-opening win over Oregon State two weeks ago and an annihilation of not-really-an-FBS-team UConn last weekend. Head coach Jeff Brohm’s squad has some talented guys at positions that can really hurt this Irish team (looking at you, DE George Karlaftis and WR David Bell), but what else should we know about them?

To find out, I reached out to Travis Miller, one of the three Authors/Editors/Founders/Dictators For Life over at Hammer and Rails, our resident SB Nation Purdue site. I peppered Travis with a multitude of questions regarding everything from the Boilers’ season outlook, to Jeff Brohm, to how Purdue matches up with the Irish this year...as well as some less serious more important questions from our lovely OFD Twitter followers and from the deranged mind of Pat Rick.

So, let’s not waste any more time — what should we know, Travis???

***

1. Purdue’s started the season 2-0 for just the second time since 2007. What have you seen from the Boilers so far this year and how do you see the team’s 2021 season playing out?

Travis Miller: I think the defense has been significantly better but it is still early.

It was pretty good against Oregon State, holding them to 7 points through 3 quarters and getting multiple big stops. Considering we couldn’t get ANY big stops last year, that’s big.

You can only take so much from the UConn game, but at least Purdue took care of business. It was very much a “go-through-the-motions” game because they were so bad, but hey, it was our first road shutout in 40 years, so I’ll take it.

Overall, it is a big year for Brohm going forward, and so far, so good. They got the opening night win over a Power 5 team and they got the predicted blowout of a really bad UConn team. Now Notre Dame is a good test.

2. Now in his 5th season as Purdue’s coach, what are your thoughts on Jeff Brohm? Are Purdue fans still convinced he’s the right guy to bring this program back into contention in the Big Ten?

Travis Miller: I still believe in him and he is so much better than Darrell Hazell it is not funny — but has he proven he is better than Danny Hope? Hope was 22-27 when he was let go and Brohm is currently 21-25.

NCAA Football: Texas Christian at Purdue Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

There have been some signs. The Ohio State game was obviously amazing, but Brohm has been agonizingly close a lot of other times without getting over the hump. In 2018 and 2019 he lost five games literally on the final snap. There are also some questionable losses (Nevada, Eastern Michigan, Rutgers twice) that are concerns.

Still, I think you can only take so much from the last two years. In 2019 Purdue lost its two best offensive players in Rondale Moore and Elijah Sindelar for the season on the same damn play and by the end of the year it was starting a fourth string walk-on QB because of injury. There were a ton of other injuries as well. Last year was just weird with what felt like 6 glorified scrimmages and the handicap of Bob Diaco.* I think this year he needs to get back to a bowl game and show some progress. We’re already a third of the way there and there is some promise to find four more wins somewhere.

*Pat Rick Note: as is tradition, I will use any excuse to add a picture of Big Game Bob to an article. Thank you, Travis, for mentioning him.

NCAA FOOTBALL: SEP 12 Army at UConn Photo by Williams Paul/Icon Sportswire/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

He desperately needed the opener vs. Oregon State and got it. Now I think he needs to get to the Minnesota game at 3-1 because Illinois has not looked good. That becomes a big game because if we can beat the Gophers we’re 4-1 and in great shape for the back half of the season when things get much tougher.

Illinois, Nebraska, and Northwestern are games where it looks Purdue will either be favored or close. Get those and I think we can scrape together a win or two from elsewhere, especially with a hilariously overrated Indiana at the end.

3. What does Jack Plummer bring to the table as QB, and who are his best weapons at the skill positions? Please use plenty of this response to hype up David Bell, who is a certified stud — but also please let Irish fans know who else they should be aware of heading into this game.

Travis Miller: Plummer has been very accurate and has quietly moved into the top 20 on Purdue’s passing list. He has completed over 70% of his passes in his last 5 starts and he is not turning the ball over, so that is good.

Having David Bell to erase mistakes helps a lot, and Payne Durham has been a great TE through two games. In terms of recruiting rankings, Purdue has multiple 4-star receivers with Bell as the leader. TJ Sheffield and Mershawn Rice did some nice things against UConn, Milton Wright is a good No. 2, and Jackson Anthrop is a very experienced 6th year guy in the slot. Broc Thompson has been a pleasant surprise as a transfer from Marshall. He has plenty of guys to throw to.

Bell is just incredible though. Sicking him on UConn was just unfair. It is a shame we never really got to see Bell and Rondale Moore play together in sync.

4. What are the strengths and weaknesses of the Purdue defense, and how do you see them matching up with this pass-first Notre Dame offense with its swiss-cheese offensive line?

Travis Miller: We have been surprisingly good against the run so far, especially when Oregon State’s top back went for 160 yards and 3 scores against Hawaii in game 2. That’s encouraging to see. The stats are skewed because of UConn, but it was encouraging that the defense really kept the game in control against Oregon State.

Also, George Karlaftis is a beast on the end. He is a potential first round talent and doesn’t have a sack yet, but he has caused an enormous amount of trouble chasing quarterbacks and has been virtually unblockable.

He is the key to the defense. If he is disrupting things in the passing game it helps Purdue a ton. That said, Notre Dame is a lot better than Oregon State, and UConn is basically a bad FCS team.

5. Combining three fan questions into one, because they all feel like quick-hitters:

FAN QUESTION:

FAN QUESTION:

FAN QUESTION:

Travis Miller: First, more confident than we were two weeks ago, but not exactly confident. I’d say we have maybe a 15-20% chance to win as opposed to 5% at best in the preseason.

Second, uh, this is not 2004 Purdue rolling in with a red hot Kyle Orton.

Third, it’s just fine. In fact, it is 100 years old this year!

Syndication: Nashville Mark Zaleski/ Tennessean.com

6. FAN QUESTION:

Travis Miller: Not as much as we used to. When you’re on the schedule every year for almost 70 years it feels like a big game, especially on our end when a win over the Irish was a rare luxury. Playing Spoilermaker with multiple wins over a No. 1 Notre Dame back in the mists of time is nice too.

After not being on the schedule for 7 years I admit it is a little strange to have you guys back, but nice. If it becomes semi-regular after the five remaining games on the schedule post-2021, that’s fine with me.

7. FAN QUESTION:

Travis Miller: HAHAHAHA, He’s a little intense for me. I would prefer Andy.

My wife actually works for the City of Indianapolis and has for 17 years. Roll damn public employee pension secured.

8. Are there any FBS mascots more suited to be the terrifying monster/villain in a horror movie than Purdue Pete? If so, who?

Travis Miller: Look, Pete has seen some shit, okay? Robbie Hummel. The Fumble vs. Wisconsin. Isaac Haas. Decades of heartbreak in March. The Virginia game.

We’re a basketball-centric school that has to deal with IU fans daily. A Final Four has become my sports white whale since the Cubs finally won a World Series, but I have seen us get punched in the dick so many times I am already looking to this coming season, where we’re a preseason top 5 team, with a dead look in my eyes like him because I can already see Jaden Ivey’s February injury in my head.

Purdue v Notre Dame Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

9. Okay, let’s get down to it: who wins, what’s the final score, and why?

Travis Miller: I am not quite sold on Purdue yet. The offensive line needs to come together and starting running back Zander Horvath is out. King Doerue and Dylan Downing did well in his place against UConn, but Notre Dame is a huge step up from the Huskies.

I admit, you guys struggling with Toledo (and even Florida State after the way they crapped the bed Saturday) gives me more hope than originally thought, but Purdue’s line has struggled in the first quarter of both games. We also left a lot of points on the field against Oregon State.

I just want Purdue to play loose. I want Brohm to go into his bag of tricks and have some fun. He’s been really good about leaking tight end Payne Durham out for big plays. I think Notre Dame still wins, but it would be nice if Purdue can have the game in doubt going into the fourth quarter. We haven’t beaten a top-10 team on the road in decades.

If Notre Dame continues to struggle, then we have a shot. If you play to your ability I think it is about a 34-21 win for the Irish.

***

I wanna give a huge shout-out to Travis for his time and all his thoughtful, funny responses to even our strangest questions, and especially for bringing the term “Spoilermaker” into my life.

Make sure you head over to Hammer and Rails before Saturday to pore over all the insights and analysis you could ever want when it comes to the Purdue Boilermakers, including their Q&A with yours truly, where I mostly just sound sad and give every reason Purdue could potentially win this game.

Additionally, I highly encourage you all to give both Hammer and Rails and Travis some follows on Twitter for all the hard-hitting, breaking news and glorious takes they have to offer on the Purdue side of things.

That’s all for this week, folks — as always, Go Irish!