First off, there is an administrative thing to take care of. Samsung is asking us to post the weekly results of the Blogpoll as well as the SBNation Blogpoll wrap up column. That can be found here. I am sure the good folks at Samsung will enjoy the extra traffic generated from the Notre Dame preview post. As much as I dislike it, Notre Dame football is page view gold, so this week's preview will bring a ton of eyes to the site. If this is your first visit, then welcome.
My dislike of the Fighting Irish is long noted, but this year's version is a good team that would be -0 if it had not gotten in its own way. Through four games Notre Dame has an astounding 15 turnovers. They remind me a lot of 2002 squad. That team was 7-6 after a bowl win, but all six losses were by less than a touchdown and at least four could be attributed directly to turning the ball over at the absolute worst time. The culmination was what I refer to as the most frustrating loss in Purdue football history. We dropped a game 24-17 in South Bend in which we outplayed the Irish all day and gave up only three points on defense, only to give up a fumble returned for a touchdown, and fumble into the end zone for a touchdown on the following kickoff, and a late interception for a touchdown.
When you think of Notre Dame this year they have followed a similar path. They outgained South Florida only to be undone by five turnovers. The loss to Michigan saw more turnovers and two defensive breakdowns in the final few minutes. Last week at Pittsburgh The offense struggled mightily and Tommy Rees had two more turnovers. The Michigan State game is the only one in which the Irish have benefitted from takeways, as an interception inside the five ended a key drive for the Spartans.
Based on the way both squads have played, I don't see Purdue staying in this game long unless those turnover difficulties continue. Our Boilers have turned the ball over only three times this year, with one interception. While we haven't been particularly adept at taking the ball away (just two interceptions and a fumble recovery) we have at least held on to the ball. This area will be the largest factor Saturday night.
2010 Record: 8-5
Bowl Result: Defeated Miami 33-17 in Sun Bowl
Series with Purdue: Notre Dame leads 54-26-2 (Notre Dame leads Shillelagh portion 35-19)
Last Purdue win: 9/29/2007 at Purdue 33-19
Last Notre Dame win: 9/4/2010 at Notre Dame 23-12
Coach Hope has named Caleb TerBush the starter, but I would be shocked if we don't see Robert Marve on the field for a substantial portion of Saturday's game. I've been pleased with both so far. TerBush hasn't set the world on fire, but he also hasn't killed us with only one interception in three games. Tommy Rees has seized the starting job from Dayne Crist, but his propensity for giving the ball away has nearly sent Crist back in on multiple occasions. Rees has six interceptions plus a few lost fumbles. His sheer yardage (988 passing with seven TDs) is much higher that our totals, but our ability to hold onto the ball makes this even. Edge: Even
Yes, it was against a severely overmatched team, but against Southeast Missouri State we ran the ball with multiple options. You can take your pick of running back on our squad, but each one brings something different. Ralph Bolden is elusive. Akeem Shavers and Akeem Hunt bring sheer speed. Reggie Pegram is a tough runner. Raheem Mostert and Antavian Edison are slashback receiving types. Brandon Cottom is a beast that is all power. Notre Dame brings Cierre Wood and Jonas Gray. A third of Gray's 279 yards came on one big play last week. Wood proved he was very shifty against us last season and can turn a 3 yard loss into an 11 yard gain easily. I give us an edge mostly because the running game should be our strength more than our passing game, but the ND backs are very capable. Edge: Purdue
Wide Receivers and Tight Ends:
This is where the advantage swings back in Notre Dame's favor. Few receivers in college football are as good as Michael Floyd. Tyler Eifert also showed last week on their game winning drive exactly why I am afraid of him. Given our complete lack of ability to cover the middle on third and long situations I expect Eifert to have a huge day. We'll try to put Floyd on Rico Island, but he is still a big play waiting to happen. Theo Reddick and T.J. Jones also are more than capable second options. On our end we haven't had a receiver stand out as a move the chains type on any given play. Justin Siller has been solid and Antavian Edison can make some moves, but we have nothing close to Floyd and Eifert. Crosby Wright has been a pleasant surprise at tight end, but he is no Eifert. Edge: Notre Dame
We kept the quarterbacks clean against SEMO, but that was SEMO. Their defensive line is absolutely nothing like Notre Dame's. They have gotten to the quarterback 11 times and we gave up eight sacks against the likes of Middle Tennessee State and Rice. Notre Dame's offensive line has protected Rees well (five sacks in four games) and we haven't generated a consistent pass rush at all. Logic dictates that we should try to run the ball (our strength) and keep it out of the hands of their fast-paced offense. As we have seen from this coaching staff, logic does not always dictate. Edge: Notre Dame
Robert Maci has been a nice surprise so far and the defensive tackles are solid against the run. Kawann Short and Bruce Gaston played well against the Irish a season ago, while Brandon Taylor and Ryan Russell are coming into their own. That said, the Irish defensive front manhandled us last season and gave Marve very little time to throw. We can expect to see Darius Fleming and Kapron Lewis-Moore causing consistent trouble when we elect to throw. Edge: Notre Dame
Joe Holland is a tackling machine and I really like the development of Will Lucas, but once again our weakness is pass coverage, specifically on third down. Notre Dame loves to blitz, and Manti Te'o has been the expected terror with 2 sacks and 40 tackles. He is easily one of the best linebackers in the country. While we have been effective against the run, MTSU and Rice threw all day on us. Notre Dame is giving up over 100 yards on the ground per game and almost 250 through the air, so we should have some success. The teams are just about dead even against the run (2.7 per carry for Purdue and 2.9 for ND), and the pass (6.9 yards per pass given up by ND vs. 6.5 for Purdue) but our own numbers are skewed by the SEMO shutout. Slight Edge: Notre Dame
Ricardo Allen showed what he can do against SEMO when he was challenged on the first play and physically ripped the ball away from a much bigger receiver. That is why I am excited to see what he can do against ND. He was also very effective in a nickel back position over the middle, a new wrinkle I liked against SEMO. Josh Johnson and Albert Evans are also effective tackles, but I still feel the other safety position has been a gaping hole. Logan Link, Landon Feichter, and Max Charlot have to be better against the pass. Fortunately, Notre Dame has not been a rock, either. Harrison Smith is a long-time safety with a lot of tackles, but he's not great in pass coverage. Robert Blanton already has a pair of interceptions to lead the Irish. Gary Gray and Zeke Motta also have picks. If we can cover the middle of the field this should be about even, but we haven't proven we can do that yet. Slight Edge: Notre Dame
We are blessed with two of the best specialists in the country. Carson Wiggs (when he's allowed to) can hit from anywhere and Cody Webster can punt for 50 yards on nearly every kick. We want Carson to keep kicking out of the end zone for touchbacks because George Atkinson III is a huge difference-maker in the return game. Waynelle Gravesande has been adequate on punt returns, which is good because the Irish have gotten virtually nothing there. David Ruffer is only 50% on field goals and Ben Turk has only a 36.5 average on punts. As long as Wiggs kicks it through the end zone (I don't trust our coverage) and we can protect Webster (will this be the game Gibboney's dumbass protection gives up its block?) We should have a major advantage. We've down 10 of 15 punts inside the 20 so far. Edge: Purdue
This says everything: Brian Kelly would never call the ridiculous timeout that Danny Hope did two years ago. Kelly would also never go ultra-conservative like we did offensively in South bend a year ago. I felt that Hope called a very good game except for the final drive in 2009. Then we went into prevent, they moved down the field, and we bailed them out with that timeout. Kelly has the Irish moving the ball. Once they figure out the turnover issues, watch out. Edge: Notre Dame
My gut tells me we can pull the upset. My heart tells me that a rare night game and two weeks to prepare means we can overcome out talent differential and at least keep this close. My head tells me that if Notre Dame holds on to the ball they will have little problem beating us. This is a very, very good Notre Dame team with only one major flaw. That flaw has prevented them from going 4-0 to start.
In talking with Matt Grecco of SBNation Indiana a few weeks ago he felt that Notre Dame should be favored by about 14, minus seven points for each turnover they make. I think that is about accurate. I don't see us winning this unless we pick off Rees at least three times and force a fumble or two. Should we do that, we absolutely must take advantage of these mistakes. It is also clear to me that our running game works and we should be able to have some success there. That goes hand-in-hand with defeating their offense. It is hard for them to move the ball and score if they don't have it, so we should pound the rock and keep pounding it until they stop us. Their quick-strike offense with the no huddle is very dangerous. We can't allow it to get in a rhythm.
We desperately need an upset to erase the awful Rice loss. I would love for it to come this week and I think it can happen. Unfortunately, Notre Dame is the better team. Unless they beat themselves, like they did in the first two weeks, they should win. Notre Dame 30, Purdue 17