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OFD Game Day Countdown: Notre Dame vs. Purdue

Notre Dame returns to Purdue for another Saturday night in-state rivalry game.

Sandra Dukes-USA TODAY Sports

Notre Dame (-20.5) at Purdue

Ross-Ade Stadium in West Lafayette, Indiana

Kickoff: 8:00 PM ET

Television: ABC

Series: 56-26-2 Notre Dame

Here is the One Foot Down preview for the game against Purdue:

5 Factoids

  • -210

This is the total yardage differential for Purdue through two games this season. The Boilers were out-gained by 199 yards by Cincinnati and by 11 yards by Indiana State last Saturday.

  • 2

Through two games this is the amount of offensive touchdowns Purdue has scored. Quarterback Rob Henry had a rushing touchdown against Cincinnati and freshman receiver B.J. Knauf added an end-around rushing touchdown last week. Thus far, Purdue has not thrown a touchdown pass in 2013.

  • 8-2

That's Notre Dame's record against unranked Purdue teams while playing in West Lafayette since the meeting in 1987. The Boilers picked up wins against the 9-loss 2007 and 6-loss 1997 Notre Dame teams in that time span.

  • 47.67

This is the kick return average after 3 attempts by Purdue's Akeem Hunt. Last Saturday Hunt took the opening kickoff to the house in what ended up being the difference against the Sycamores.

  • 2.93

New head coach Darrell Hazell came to West Lafayette this year intent on establishing a strong run game like he had at Kent State (a pair of 1,000+ yard rushers in 2012) but the results through 2 games have been disastrous. Junior Brandon Cottom has been mysteriously benched, the veteran Akeem Hunt has 103 yards on 29 carries and true freshman Dalyn Dawkins has 61 yards on 15 carries. The team as a whole is averaging just 2.93 yards per carry.

4 Players to Watch

  • RB Akeem Hunt

Yeah, I've already mentioned him a couple times. Hunt is a small speedster who came into the season with a decent amount of experience but was never the main ball-carrier in the Purdue offense. He's now that guy for the Boilers. Given the major offensive struggles for Purdue this year Hunt has totaled a decent 289 all-purpose yards in 2013.

  • TE Gabe Holmes

The fifth-year senior is Purdue's returning starter at tight end and has led the team through two games with 9 receptions. For an offense that is struggling to move the ball and doesn't have a great passer at quarterback he should be an often used option this Saturday. Through his career Holes has a solid 46 receptions. EDIT: Holmes has been ruled out this weekend after suffering a significant wrist injury in Tuesday's practice.

  • DT Bruce Gaston

The senior from Chicago comes into Saturday's game with 34 career starts on the interior of the Purdue defensive line. Gaston isn't super explosive but he's one of the better tackles the Irish will face this season and he played really well last year in South Bend. For his career he has 95 tackles, and he's currently leading the Boilermakers in tackles (12), tackles for loss (3.5), and tied for the lead in sacks (2) for 2013.

  • DE Ryan Russell

Russell is a redshirt junior from Texas who is part of a very good defensive line for Purdue. He's not off to quite the hot start as teammate Bruce Gaston but he's not far off some of those stats. Through his career he has 77 tackles, 15 tackles for loss, and 7 sacks.

3 Concerns

  • Getting Bryant & Folston Playing Time

I don't really want to just hand playing time to Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston if it's unearned, but I'd hate to see them grow restless on the sideline. Paired with the very strong recruiting along the offensive line these two freshmen represent a huge chunk of the future on offense for Notre Dame.

Kelly mentioned that it would take until game six for the freshmen to make an impact so perhaps Bryant and Folston will have to wait another month for more reps. From my vantage point far away from the decision making process I sure would like to get both of these some carries Saturday. At the very least sprinkle a couple in during the first half.

  • Being Productive on the Ground

Last year's game against Purdue was perhaps the worst effort on the season for the Irish offensive line. Lombard was beat off the edge several times, while Cave & Golic were consistently beat in both pass protection and run blocking. The narrative following the close victory was that Kelly abandoned the run game but the truth was more along the lines of Kelly trying to establish the passing game early. Without the services of the suspended Cierre Wood it was up to Theo Riddick to carry the load and he did end up with 11 carries in the second half but overall he had a below average game of 53 yards on 15 carries. Add in the rushing from Golson---who spent most of the game scrambling around---and the Irish only netted 52 rushing yards on 36 rushing attempts.

Following the lack of rushing attempts against Michigan a lot of eyes will be on the Notre Dame running game against Purdue. Brian Kelly typically will take what the defense gives him but this should be a game in which the Irish have a good ground game---even if they're not running the ball 70 times. Last year Purdue really made an effort to stop the run and it largely worked although they did give up 324 passing yards. Two years ago the Boilers practically begged Notre Dame to run the ball and the team responded with one of the best efforts of the Kelly era (40 carries, 287 yards) in an easy win.

  • Putting Up a Dominating Defensive Performance

So far this season Notre Dame has given up 822 yards through two games which is over 100 yards more than the average surrendered last season. The yards-per-play metric is a little more promising at 5.55 compared to 4.78 last year but following Michigan's 41 points the panic about the Irish defense is gaining steam.

A strong defensive performance, and especially a dominant defensive performance, will go a long way to soothing people's fears. The only problem is this won't be a very fun game unless the Irish are dominant on defense. God help us if the Boilermakers score more than 10 points.

2 Side of the Line

The aforementioned Bruce Gaston (6-2, 310) and Ryan Russell (6-5, 275) are leaders on the defensive line but there is more quality talent there as well. Senior Ryan Isaac (6-4, 294) is the third returning starter but was replaced last week at nose guard by redshirt sophomore Ryan Watson (6-2, 306).

The other defensive end spot is occupied by former JUCO recruit and senior Greg Latta (6-5, 260) while junior Jalani Phillips (6-4, 260) offers more depth along the line as a hybrid pass rusher. There is no question that the Purdue defensive line is the strongest part of the entire team.

On the offensive line there is a lot of experience returning but the unit as a whole has struggled big time adjusting to Hazell's new system.

Fifth-year senior Kevin Pamphile (6-5, 315) made 9 starts at left tackle last year and is back on the edge for 2013. Senior Devin Smith (6-7, 341) is a former JUCO recruit who came to Purdue last year and is back at left guard after making 6 starts there in 2012. At center, redshirt sophomore Robert Kugler (6-3, 284) moves from right guard where he made the final 7 starts last season.

On the right side are a pair of veterans. Fifth-year senior Trevor Foy (6-7, 300) made 8 starts last year and is slotted in at right guard, while fifth-year senior Justin Kitchens (6-4, 290) is at right tackle coming into the weekend with 14 career starts.

1 Prediction

In my summer preview of Purdue I said they'd be a solid team on defense and struggle on offense with the transition to a new coaching staff. In my Big Ten preview last month I thought I was giving Purdue the benefit of the doubt by bumping them up to 4 wins instead of 3 wins. I may have been too generous.

With the way Purdue has performed through their first 2 games they will be fortunate to win another game against a major conference team. Right now, the Boilermakers look like the worst team in the Big Ten.

Football Outsiders Advanced Stats

FEI 16 85
GE 32 113
S&P Overall 12 77
S&P Offense 5 110
S&P Defense 53 26
F/+ 15 84

So this should be a big time blowout, right?

Well, maybe.

Offensively, Purdue might be less threatening than Temple. They're replacing 60.9 percent of their rushing from last year (even more when you factor in Brandon Cottom not playing), 64.8 percent of their receiving yardage with Holmes injured, and 93.0 percent of their passing. Rob Henry has plenty of experience (259 pass attempts entering Saturday) but he's been a poor passer (54 percent career accuracy, 56 percent this year) and seems to have lost some of his athleticism behind a shoddy offensive line.

On the other side of the ball Purdue hasn't been terrible (5.18 yards per play isn't awful even though they've played a FCS team) but still not very good. The defensive line should be good but many Purdue experts don't like their linebackers and the secondary took a bit hit with the broken leg of safety and 2012 leading tackler Landon Feichter.

Purdue plays Notre Dame tough, except when they don't. The last visit to West Lafayette was an easy victory and this Purdue team looks in even more disarray than 2011. In addition to breaking in a new coach the Boilermakers are dealing with too many injuries and lost lettermen to win this game. All hope is not lost because there are still some nice pieces on defense and Notre Dame's offense could do some...strange things to make this closer than it should be.

I'll say this is a comfortable victory but not quite a blowout.

Notre Dame 37

Purdue 10