Can Purdue Pull Off a Rare Win at Notre Dame? Sandra Dukes-US PRESSWIRE
Purdue (+14.5) at Notre Dame
Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Indiana
Kickoff: 3:30 PM ET
Last Meeting: 38-10 Notre Dame
The Notre Dame football team returned home late last Saturday after their flight from Dublin and after a day of rest began preparations for their second game of the season. After a quality and uplifting blowout of Navy in Ireland, the Irish now turn to in-state rival Purdue to keep their perfect record in tact.
Here's the One Foot Down preview of the 2012 Notre Dame home opener.
50.5 & 587
That's the average margin of victory and average number of total yards gained by Purdue in each of the last two games prior to facing Notre Dame. This obviously makes it difficult to judge how good the Boilermakers really are. For the second straight season Purdue is coming off a blowout of a FCS team with their team spirits riding high and wild talk of selling more tickets to home games with a strong effort this weekend.
That is current Purdue head coach Danny Hope's record against Notre Dame. The 2009 game was close (remember Clausen's game-winning touchdown to Kyle Rudolph?) but the games have gotten less competitive since then with the Irish winning by 11 and 28 points the last two seasons under the direction of Brian Kelly.
Ishaq Williams Played Excellent Last Week. Barry Cronin/Getty Images
That is Notre Dame's record against Purdue since 1976 while playing inside the House that Rock Built. The Boilermakers did win their first ever trip to Notre Dame in 1896 and won 10 of 22 games in South Bend (including going 9-9-0 inside ND Stadium once it was built) up until 1974, but they've had major problems winning on the road against the Irish for nearly 40 years.
That was the total rushing yards for Purdue last year against Notre Dame---the worst output for the 2011 season for the Boilermakers. If Notre Dame wants to continue its success against Purdue another similar effort is needed. The Irish also held the Boilermakers to a season-low 276 total yards last season as well.
That's the total number of turnovers Purdue had last weekend against Eastern Kentucky---the most from all FBS teams in week 1. Both quarterbacks in Robert Marve and Rob Henry threw interceptions while Marve lost one fumble and Henry lost two. The Boilermakers did recover a pair of fumbles and picked off two passes so there turnover ratio is at -1 after one week. After a turnover hell in 2011, the Irish are sitting in a tie for 4th nationally with a +3 ratio following the win over Navy.
4 Players to Watch
Purdue elder statesman Ralph Bolden tore up his knee late last season for approximately the 23rd time of his career and is not healthy for this game. As such, the Boilermakers turn to senior Akeem Shavers who came to West Lafayette last season as a JUCO transfer and rushed for 519 yards and 6 scores in 2011. Shavers has good size (5'11" 203) and has shown some flashes in is short career so far. He should get the bulk of the carries this Saturday with another Akeem (Hunt), a true sophomore, getting some touches as well. Shavers had 74 yards and a touchdown on just 11 carries last weekend, but was held to 4 yards on 5 carries last season against Notre Dame.
TE Gabe Holmes
A major complaint from Purdue fans is that their offense doesn't utilize the tight end often enough. The Boilermakers bring back starting tight end Gabe Holmes (and Crosby Wright who is essentially a co-starter) but these two only combined for 27 receptions all of last season. In their first game of 2012, the pair caught 6 passes with one touchdown so they are way ahead of their pace from last year. With a lack of a down field passing game, it appears Purdue is making an effort to get their tight ends more involved in the offense this season.
Advanced Stats Profile
Football Outsiders' Fremeau Efficiency Index (FEI) doesn't consider games involving FCS teams, so there is no data for Purdue after week one. However, their ratings for Notre Dame after one week of football suggest a truly dominate performance against Navy. The Irish are 9th nationally in FEI, 2nd in Game Efficiency, 5th in Offensive Efficiency, and 12th in Defensive Efficiency. Those are truly outstanding numbers.
WR Antavian Edison
There were some worries that Edison would be suspended for some games this year but the Fort Meyers, Florida native had his concealed weapon charges dropped earlier in the summer. That's good news as Edison was Purdue's leading receiver last year (584 yards, 3 touchdowns) and allows the Boilermakers to bring back an experienced trio of receivers. He's not very big (5'11" 175) but he's shifty and is his team's biggest playmaker at wideout.
DT Kawann Short
After taking a redshirt in 2008, Short has been one of Purdue's best defender. After a freshman All-American season in 2009 and All-Big Ten honors in each of the past two seasons, he's now clearly the Boilermakers best defender as a 5th year senior. Like many of his teammates, Short was neutralized last year against Notre Dame (just 2 tackles) but he comes into this weekend with 143 tackles, 35 tackles for loss, and 12 sacks for his career. He's a lot like Louis Nix in that he has great size in the middle, can stuff the run, but also has really good agility and can get into the backfield and disrupt offenses.
There are more talented and heralded athletes in the Purdue secondary---including corners Ricardo Allen and Josh Johnson who seem to have been starting in West Lafayette since 2003---but Feichter might be a Jordan Kovacs-like former walk-on for the Boilermakers. He played sparingly last season but did have his best game (8 solo tackles) against the Irish. This past weekend Feichter managed just one tackle, but did take an interception back for a touchdown and received a lot of praise from head coach Danny Hope. He's the type of gritty athlete who might make a handful of plays this weekend.
Brian Kelly put any concerns to rest that the team was tired after getting back from Ireland late Saturday night. He did say the coaches would not be made available to the media because they are busy, but the players remain in high spirits and have had energetic and quality practices so far this week. A few players will only be made available to the media once this week, which means the 10 newspapers covering the team are going to have a tough time spinning the mindless answers the athletes give into articles. Nevertheless, we won't know how the team reacts to the travel and jet lag until they start banging pads against Purdue on Saturday.
Sticking with the "New" Offense
We had an entire offseason with the staff strongly hinting at a run-heavy/using tight ends left and right/power offense gameplan. Against Navy, that's exactly what we saw. The question now remains if this is really going to be the base offense for the entire year of if the heavy running was just exaggerated due to Navy's lack of size and Golson's first foray into college quarterbacking.
I'm interested to see if this is really a core identity of this 'new' offense or if it's just a function of the opponent and Golson's lack of experience. In other words, if the running game is slowed down against Purdue and the Irish get behind by 7 or 10 points, will Kelly & Martin stick to the ground or will we see the offense revert to its 65% passing plays that we've seen in the past when the team gets down? This question becomes more pressing as the season moves along and Golson gets his feet wet.
Matching Purdue's Physicality
Who wasn't excited to see Notre Dame push Navy around? Now the bigger test comes against a Purdue team (especially on the defense line) that brings BCS size to the table. It's one thing to dominate a 260 pound defensive linemen but now they're coming at the Irish 45 pounds heavier and more talented.
2 Sides of the Line
Notre Dame is still bigger, stronger, faster, more talented on the lines but the Boilermakers are a significant upgrade than what Navy was able to throw at the Irish.
The Purdue defensive line averages over 6'2" 309 on the inside and 6'5" 284 on the outside, so there's plenty of size and strength there. The offensive line is equally large with some really big boys up front---averaging out to just under 6'6" and 305 pounds.
Notre Dame Dominated Up Front Last Week. Barry Cronin/Getty Images
The Boilermaker offensive line is much weaker than their defensive line as they are breaking in one inexperienced left tackle and a new JUCO transfer at right guard. The Purdue line really struggled last year being in the bottom half of the country in sacks allowed, and losing productivity on the ground against their tougher competition. In addition to the 84 yards rushing last season against Notre Dame mentioned above, the Boilermakers ran for just 685 yards and 3.49 per carry against the top 5 Big Ten teams in conference. The Irish also tallied 7 tackles for loss and 3 sacks last year in West Lafayette.
For Notre Dame, they gave up just 4 tackles for loss last season and zero sacks against Purdue. What's more, the Irish had their most productive game of the season on the ground against the Boilermakers last year cruising for 287 yards and two touchdowns on 40 carries.
This should be a pretty good Purdue defensive line that returns 3 starters including one legit early round NFL pick in Kawann Short. Their defensive gameplan last year was dreadful so I would expect the Boilers to perform a little better (especially against the run) than last year.
I don't see the same success for the Purdue offensive line. They may have improved from last year but the Irish defensive line looks even more improved and the Boilermakers should have a very hard time running the ball and protecting their quarterback.
My initial prediction was that this is going to be an improved Purdue team with enough returning starters and a solid enough defense to play Notre Dame tough for a full game. I'm concerned that the Irish power running game is going to be a lot less explosive than in the opener, Purdue's going to have a much better defensive gameplan than last year, and a conservative passing attack is going to cause some offensive sputtering. On the other side, I fully expect the Irish corners to play way back in soft zone coverage and allow Purdue to complete their fair share of short passes---which is their bread and butter.
However, after digging into some of the finer details this should be a comfortable win for Notre Dame, with a slight chance of a convincing blowout-type victory similar to last year.
Purdue should struggle to run the ball and even if they complete a bunch of high percentage passes their offense will surely become one-dimensional and struggle to sustain long scoring drives. That's what has happened over the past two meetings in which Purdue has scored zero touchdowns through the first 3 quarters, and I don't see any reason why things will be drastically different in 2012.
After a solid opener Robert Marve will once again start on the bench while the Boilermakers turn to Caleb TerBush at quarterback after his one-game suspension. Head coach Danny Hope has also mentioned that change-of-pace guy Rob Henry may also see the field, which means there's a decent chance we see 3 quarterbacks for Purdue. Each of these guys are talented in their own way, but none of them are particularly striking fear into a defense and the juggling of quarterbacks is likely to lead to bad chemistry and more turnovers for Purdue's offense.
Last year the Irish piled up a near school-record 34 first downs and gained 551 total yards almost evenly split between run and pass against Purdue. That type of production will be hard to match again, but Notre Dame should be very successful running the ball and able to give quarterback Everett Golson another simple gameplan to execute.
After last Saturday's beat down of Navy I am sure many people think the Irish are going to steam roll Purdue this weekend, but this should be a more methodical and closer game. We may see the playbook open up a little more and Golson running the ball a few times, but things should stay pretty close to the vest.
I like Notre Dame to have a big advantage in rushing and win the turnover battle---two major keys to winning this game. At some point, Purdue will get a big pass play for a touchdown but it won't be enough. The Irish continue to rely on their strengths on the lines, at running back, and tight end for the win.
Notre Dame 35