1. How have things changed since we last talked? What have you learned about Notre Dame through two games?
Even though we're only two games in, this season has been a bit of a roller coaster. My confidence was riding high after destroying Navy (yeah, yeah, "it's only Navy," but still...) but the tight game against Purdue has taken the wind out of my sails. The defense has been as stingy as expected, but the offense has been frustratingly inconsistent. The offensive line and tight ends looked great when they were blowing Midshipmen five yards off the line of scrimmage on every play, but they looked terrible against Purdue.
Everett Golson has played well for a sophomore seeing the field for the first time, but he struggles to get the play called at the line. Even the defense has suffered mental lapses that have allowed opposing teams to extend drives. And Kelly still makes coaching decisions that leave fans scratching their heads. There's still a lot of talent on this team and if they can rebound and make the Purdue game the exception rather than the rule, I think the Irish will be fine this season.
2. Did Brian Kelly create a QB controversy by putting in Tommy Rees, who played well against MSU last year?
No, Everett Golson will remain the starter. Golson has loads of talent and his upside is through the roof. Rees is more experienced but his physical limitations hamstring the offense. That said, I think Kelly made the right move putting Rees in at the end of the game last week.
Notre Dame needed to get down the field in a hurry and Golson just wasn't capable of running the offense that fast. Say what you want about Rees as a quarterback, but he knows the playbook and can check into the right play at the line. I can't say for sure Kelly will make the same decision if it comes up on Saturday, but against Purdue it was the right call.
3. Aaron Lynch dominated MSU last year, but he's gone (thankfully). Who are some defensive players to watch for on Saturday?
The big name is defensive end Stephon Tuitt. He's not quite the pass rusher Lynch was, but he's a better overall player. At 6'6 and 300+ pounds, he outran almost the entire Navy offense on 77-yard fumble return. He's definitely the best defensive linemen Notre Dame has had since at least Victor Abiamiri.
Tuitt, along with nose tackle Louis Nix and fellow defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore, form a solid defensive line for the Irish. At linebacker, there's Manti Te'o of course, and there's Jamoris Slaughter in the secondary. Both are the best players at their position groups and should have names called a lot on Saturday.
4. What are the three biggest keys for a Notre Dame win this weekend?
1. The offensive line. Thought to be a strength coming into the season, they were manhandled by Purdue last week. The Irish couldn't run the ball at all and gave up five sacks. With the talent at running back and the inexperience at wide receiver and quarterback, the offensive linemen need to step up and play much better if Notre Dame hopes to win on Saturday.
2. Penalties. Notre Dame played very sloppy last week, getting flagged eight times. Even more inexcusable were the dumb personal foul penalties on Manti Te'o and left tackle Zach Martin, two players who shouldn't make those kind of mistakes. Notre Dame doesn't have a lot of margin for error - especially on offense - so those penalties need to stop.
3. Turnovers. This is more of a carry-over for last season, but Notre Dame needs to protect the football. The Irish are off to a good start - +4 on the year - but I'm sure the minute they turn the ball over, there will be a "here we go again" feeling. And in a night game in a hostile environment, turnovers could be the difference between a win and a loss.
5. Give me a score prediction and why. (Related: Give me an over/under on how many times Brent Musberger will make a Golson/Gholston joke)
Before the season, I predicted the Irish would split their two games with the Michigan schools, and, even though the Purdue game left me less confident in that prediction, I'll stand by it. And even though my brain tells me this is stupid because Denard Robinson still plays for the Wolverines, I think Michigan at home is more beatable than Michigan State in Everett Golson's first true road game. I'll say the Irish defense keeps the game close even though the offense has trouble moving the ball. A late touchdown by Le'Veon Bell against a tired Irish defense puts the game away.
Michigan State - 24
Notre Dame - 13
And I suggest Irish and Spartan fans incorporate Golson/Gholston jokes into the Brent Musberger Drinking Game. I'll put the over/under at "drunj" on that one.
Thanks to Jon for answering our questions. Make sure you check out One Foot Down for all your Notre Dame info.