I saw an interesting tweet yesterday from the Boiled Sports guys. Notre Dame is 91-67 over the past 13 years while Purdue is 92-69. That's about dead even, and when you consider Purdue choked away at least three games against the Irish in that time it could be worse. Numbers don't mean anything though. Notre Dame will always have the perception that it deserves ownership of Purdue, while Purdue fans will despise the Irish and their fans for that slight. Nothing is going to change it unless Purdue goes on a 20 game winning streak against their rivals from South Bend and wins a few National titles.
Most of this preview was talked about a few months ago when I did the summer Know thy Opponent on the Irish. Week 1 is therefore a little unique because there are no games to re-assess the teams after the summer. This game has been talked about and talked about. I am tired of talking. I am ready to actually play something.
From yesterday's little Q&A with Chris from Rakes of Mallow I am sensing some concern in the Irish camp. They are cautiously optimistic because they have never seen their team play in their new schemes. Purdue has a lot of the same people in place and hasn't changed anything from last year. Notre Dame has had wholesale coaching changes and some shuffling of personnel. While many of the weaknesses are the same (secondary, offensive line, running game) Purdue may have a slight advantage in these areas because of consistency.
What Purdue needs to do to win.
1. Hold on to the ball
This was our biggest issue last year and the reason for at least three losses. We have no chance of winning on Saturday if we hand over 17 points like we did at Oregon or have six turnovers like we did against Northwestern. We can probably survive a turnover or two, but multiple defensive scores or turnovers in bunches won't do it. Notre Dame talks about running a no huddle, fast-paced offense. It will be hard to do so if they don't have the ball.
2. Run the ball
I'm not too worried about missing Ralph Bolden because he didn't do much against Notre Dame last year anyway. Two years ago we started out running well with Kory Sheets, then quit. We have to stay committed to the run. Al-Terek McBurse will be fine. If their offense falters their defense will be on the field more, so we must use fullbacks Jared Crank and Derek Jackson to punish them for their largesse.
3. Pressure Dayne Crist
Crist has two very good targets in Michael Floyd and Kyle Rudoplh. Still, he is untested in this system. Gerald Gooden and Ryan Kerrigan must get pressure from the ends. We have experience at linebackers, so I expect to see some blitzes from Jason Werner and Joe Holland on the outside. Kawann Short might get freed up in the middle. The secondary also must cover the middle of the field, as we were vulnerable against short, quick passing games last year.
4. Stop the run
This goes without saying. Notre Dame was not a good running team last year. They still ran on us. Armando Allen is a good back, but we cannot give him room. I'd rather see us sell out to stop the run and trust a young but athletic secondary than let the Irish gash us time and again on the ground.
5. Trust the secondary
I am going to go out on a limb and say our secondary will be better than last year. I trust them, and so should everyone else. The competition in practice is good. It is close at every position, and that only makes everyone better. Rotating guys like hope plans to do keeps everyone fresh too. For the first time in years we have actual depth at every defensive position except defensive end. Sure, some of that depth is untested, but if we have eight guys in the secondary still competing to play that means we have eight potential starters in my book, rather than four guys out there on every play like last year.
What Notre Dame need to do to win
1. Run until we prove we can stop it
Let's face it, our run defense sucks until proven otherwise. We can't get teams off the field fast enough and it opens up the middle of the field in the passing game because we bring guys forward to stop the run. Just look at our craptacular effort against Minnesota last year. With six of the same seven guys we currently have in the front seven we gave up 200 plus yards to the worst rushing team in the Big Ten. This has to end from day one against a team that has struggled for years to run.
2. Prevent Marve from creating with his feet
One of the things that made Drew Brees so good was he knew exactly when to tuck the ball and run. If you watch some of those 2000 games you can see him reads the defense and know when he could take off for 10-15 yards. If Marve can do that consistently Purdue's offense adds another dangerous dimension. He proved he could do it at Miami, so Notre Dame must stop it.
3. Avoid the big play
Purdue was dangerous on big plays last year. Against Toledo, Northern Illinois, Notre Dame, Michigan, Minnesota, and Indiana they had at least one long touchdown. With more speed from receivers Antavian Edison, O.J. Ross, and Gary Bush Purdue should have the deep ball as part of its arsenal again. McBurse can be dangerous on the ground at the edge too. Don't forget Marve on the ground, either. As long as Purdue's line holds up (and I think it will) Purdue's biggest risk is turnovers.
4. Keep Crist upright
Both quarterbacks are playing their first games after knee surgeries. Protecting them will be huge too because there is zero experience behind either one. Purdue does have Justin Siller with starting experience, but he is now at wide receiver. Notre Dame has no one. If something happens to knock Crist out early The Irish are in serious trouble, though I have seen Purdue lose in South Bend to a tight end playing quarterback. Remember Gary Godsey?
5. Be aware of the trick play
Purdue has the option to do a little more in its offense than Notre Dame. Siller is a wild card that can line up all over the field like Golden Tate did last year. Rob Henry may come in for a wildcat snap or two. Keith Smith is a former quarterback who had two pass attempts last year and throw one for a touchdown. Even Dan Dierking threw the ball once last year. The onside kick at Michigan proved that Hope is not afraid to use the trick bag.
Prediction: Purdue 35, Notre Dame 31