We have finally reached that point in the Notre Dame Fighting Irish football offseason where we can talk about this year’s opponents without thinking about it all as an event still months away. The conference media days are underway (lol conference things) and camp is just right around the corner. So, we’re dedicating each day (other than Chick-fil-A Day) to Notre Dame’s 2021 opponents, and starting off those days with a quick look preview. Join the conversation in the preview and the editorial in their respective comment section, and/or use the FanPost/FanShot feature to share something more in depth.
Game 3 — Notre Dame vs Purdue
Where: Notre Dame Stadium, Notre Dame, Indiana
When: September 18th at 2:30pm ET
How to Watch: NBC
The Purdue Boilermakers
The Boilers are in an interesting spot right now as a program. Jeff Brohm took the job in 2017 after the incredible work he put in at Western Kentucky, going 30-10 in his three seasons there. He was taking over a program that had gone 3-9 in 2016 and had won 8 total games from 2014 to 2016 under Darrell Hazell, and so his 7-6 first season that included a Foster Farms Bowl victory was considered a really nice start and a sign of Brohm being the guy to finally take Purdue back to the glory of the Joe Tiller years.
2018 did very little to squash that thought — Purdue finished the regular season 6-6 and got trounced in the Music City Bowl by Auburn, but coming off of the Darrell Hazell era, going .500 in his first two seasons was a big stride forward — especially considering one of those 13 wins was a SHELLACKING of Ohio State.
So, it’s pretty surprising to see where Purdue is now under Brohm, considering the very positive improvements he brought about in years one and two.
Purdue went 4-8 in 2019 and then 2-4 in the shortened COVID season last year, managing to defeat Iowa and Illinois to begin the season before losing 4 straight to Northwestern, Minnesota, Rutgers, and Nebraska, largely because their top-20 passing offense was overshadowed by a last-in-the-Big-Ten rushing offense and some rough defensive performances from the unit fielded by some guy y’all might have heard of named Bob Diaco.
Diaco has since been replaced by Brad Lambert, who was DC at Marshall the last couple seasons and coached up the Thundering Herd to be the #1 scoring defense and the #2 total defense in the nation in 2020.
Now, as Brohm stands with a 19-25 record over four seasons, he enters an interesting crossroads in Year 5. Purdue would maybe be foolish to pull the plug on him if the Boilers struggle again in 2021, just considering some of the talent he has and some of the flashes his teams have shown. However, they’ve gotta be thinking that the once-promising young coach has stagnated and fallen behind where the program should now be this far into his tenure, and that maybe it’s going to take someone else to rediscover the time when they were competing for Big Ten titles.
It’s a bit of a “show me” season for Brohm and the Boilermakers, even if it’s not necessarily a do-or-die one — so plenty is at stake for these guys as they come to South Bend for this showdown.
Notre Dame — Purdue All-Time
Notre Dame hasn’t played Purdue since the 2014 Shamrock Series game at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, but historically this is a program the Irish have faced 84 total times and used to face essentially every year.
The Irish have a strong lead in the series (56-26-2), and have now won 5 straight against Purdue, having not really struggled to beat them regularly since the early 2000s, when Drew Brees was roaming the Boilermaker sideline.
The Top 3 Players
- David Bell — WR
- George Karlaftis — DE
- DeMarcus Mitchell — DE
David Bell returns to Purdue this season as one of the best receivers in the country and should be the focal point of Brohm’s offense, no matter who ends up starting at QB. He reeled in 86 passes for 1,035 yards and 7 touchdowns as a true freshman in 2019, and then again displayed his prowess in 2020 by catching 53 passes for 623 yards and 8 touchdowns in just 6 games of action last year.
Karlaftis has had 9.5 sacks in his first two seasons with Purdue, and should thrive in the 4-3 defense that Lambert is installing. He’s considered a likely first round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft.
Mitchell (6 TFL, 1 sack, 1 FF in 2020) should be a solid bookend opposite Karlaftis and will be key in helping him pressure opposing QBs and turn around the direction of the defense this season.
Bonus Top Players: WR Milton Wright, DT Anthony Watts, CB Corey Trice, LB OC Brothers
Brohm has actually done a good job recruiting at Purdue over the last 4-5 years, as evidenced by the 4-star guys he’s brought in like Moore, Karlaftis, and Bell. So, it’s hard for me to completely dismiss the Boilers considering they have some guys who can really make plays against anybody (Bell vs. some unproven Irish corners makes me uneasy, no doubt).
However, I just don’t think Purdue is in a spot to really compete with the Irish for 60 minutes of football. They’ve got question marks at QB and RB, their offensive line isn’t anything to write home about, and although Lambert has the coaching ability to turn the defense around and some good talent to work with (including some SEC-level-talent transfers from Auburn and South Carolina), I just don’t think Purdue will be able to:
- Stop the Irish offense more than a handful of times at most, especially the 1-2 punch of Kyren “Bellyman” Williams and Chris Tyree — I think those guys will have a field day against Purdue
- Get David Bell behind Kyle Hamilton very often (if ever), making their offense much less lethal and forcing them to rely more on a shaky QB and an inadequate ground game (which I also expect to be shut down by the Irish front seven, the strength of the defense)
So, although it’s nice to get Purdue back on the ND schedule and I think they’ve got some future NFL players who will give the Irish at least a little trouble (Karlaftis will be a great test for ND’s tackles, especially if he ever goes up against Blake Fisher), I think the Irish will be up by 3+ scores midway through the 3rd quarter, if not earlier, and lots of young guys will get PT in the 4th to help the starters rest up for the Wisconsin-Cincy-VaTech-USC-UNC stretch of games to immediately follow this one.
Difficulty 1-10: 4
Early win or loss prediction: Irish win