Things could get very ugly Saturday night under the much-despised-by-Morgan-Burke-lights at Ross-Ade Stadium. For most of the summer Purdue fans were looking at this game as a chance for Darrell hazel to put Purdue back on the map nationally by winning a game with a nationwide audience. We knew the Cincinnati game would be tough, but we expected a close game there and a blowout of Indiana State before Hazell turned the clock back to 1997 with a similar upset.
Well, a funny thing happened on the way to our night game. Purdue's offense came out and looked like the Nordfense would be an improvement as the Boilers got blown out in Cincinnati and barely squeezed past Indiana State. Now, most fans would be shocked if Purdue stayed within 20 points of the Fighting Irish.
What was once a developing rivalry game under Joe Tiller has swung largely back in favor of Notre Dame. The Irish have won five in a row and seven of the last eight since Purdue's record-setting victory in South bend in 2004. In that time, Purdue has come close to wins in 2009 and 2012, but bizarre coaching decisions cost the Boilers each time. The rest of the games have been comfortable Notre Dame wins. Purdue is not largely changed form last year's team that pushed the Irish to the brink in South Bend, but based on what we have seen on the field this year a similar result would be even more surprising.
|George Atkinson III||2||13||71||35.5||5.5||1||2||27||13.5||13.5||0|
|George Atkinson III||2||2||27||13.5||13.5||0|
Notre Dame Offense Vs. Purdue Defense:
The Irish have one of the country's better passing offenses so far at 334.5 yards per game. It is led by the prodigal son, Tommy Rees, who regained the starting job after Everett Golson was kicked out of school. Rees has been solid with a near 61% completion rate and 660 yards and five touchdowns against only two interceptions. Those interceptions were long an issue for him, and Saturday against Michigan they were once again costly. His first pick set up a Michigan touchdown, while the second occurred in the end zone as the Irish were attempting a desperate comeback in the closing minutes.
Purdue fans have a more painful history with Rees. Last year he came in like a baseball closer and led the Irish on a drive for a game-winning field goal after Purdue tied things at 17. In 2011 Rees was 24 of 40 for 254 yards and three scores as the Irish cruised to a 38-10 win. This is a player that has struggled against other teams, but seems to have Purdue's number.
As receivers T.J. Jones has been his top target with 15 catches for 232 yards and a touchdown. DaVaris Daniels and Troy Niklas each have a pair of touchdown catches. Jones vs. Ricardo Allen should be a fascinating matchup because he lacks the size advantage that Michael Floyd had on Allen two years ago. Niklas, a 6'7" 270 tight end will be a huge problem, however, especially after Purdue struggled so mightily with Tyler Eifert. It doesn't help that Landon Feichter is out with a broken leg, meaning sophomore Anthony Brown will likely get the start. Evan Feichter and Austin Logan may also play.
Purdue was able to keep last season's game so close because the defensive line had a dominant day. Notre Dame only had 52 yards rushing and the front four was pretty dominant, which covered up Purdue's deficiencies at linebacker. Kawann Short is gone, but Greg Latta had his first career sack against the Irish and both Ryan Russell and Bruce Gaston had good days. They're going up against a line that has only surrendered two sacks this year. As usual, the Notre Dame line has a lot of good size led by 6'5" 315 pound senior guard Christian Lombard. For Purdue to have any chance its defensive line has to replicate last year's success, especially against the run.
Notre Dame's running game has been okay, but not great so far. Amir Carlisle has 132 yards rushing while George Atkinson III has 71 yards and the only rushing TD. A key player for Purdue could be Joe Gilliam. Last week he had two very nice pass breakups and so far he has been okay at middle linebacker. He needs to continue being decent against both the run and the pass.
Purdue Offense Vs. Notre Dame Defense:
This is where the game will be won or lost, or in Purdue's case, most likely lost. There is no denying that the entire offense has been a massive disappointment so far. It has produced only two touchdowns in eight quarters, one of which came when it was given the ball on the 11 yard line. A few players like Dalyn Dawkins and B.J. Knauf have looked speedy and dangerous, but those speed guys are not getting into space because the blocking has been so bad.
Notre Dame is not the team we should expect vast improvement against, either. Louis Nix, a massive 6'3" 357 pound nose tackle is a huge problem right in the middle of the line. He allows the Irish to play a very effective 3-4 defense that is often good against both the run and the pass. Michigan had success because Devin Gardner was very accurate at finding holes in the zone, but Rob Henry has not shown anywhere close to that accuracy yet.
Surprisingly, teams have run well on Notre Dame. They are giving up about 150 yards per game on the ground, but Purdue's blocking up front has got to get better. Nix alone is probably better than the entire Indiana State front four, and we struggled with that.
I don't know what else to say except that Purdue has got to look night and day better on offense at every single position than it has from the first two games. Notre Dame is too good of a defensive team otherwise. Stephon Tuitt is a solid defensive end up front with Nix and he has both a sack and an interception. Dan Fox and Carlo Calabrese are sure tacklers at linebacker to go with safety Bennett Jackson.
In truth, Notre Dame doesn't even have to be that great defensively in this game. If Purdue's offense continues to get in its own way they won't have to be. Akeem Hunt had four carries for 19 yards and one 10 yard catch last season, while Henry has played (but hasn't thrown a pass yet) against them before. There could be some running lanes available and Henry will have some targets to throw two against the zone, but no one has confidence that the line can open those holes or that Henry can hit those receivers. If things drastically change and both happen, Purdue has a chance. The same Purdue offense of the last two weeks has no chance.
Like Brandon Cottom, Raheem Mostert has been a virtual no-show in an area where we expected him to have a large impact. Hunt was able to do some damage on a kick return last week and earned his second career return for a score. These may be some of Purdue's best plays because it allows speed guys like Hunt, Knauf, and Mostert to get in space. It is unfortunately that Purdue has to give up scores to return all but one kickoff.
On Notre Dame's side Atkinson is just as dangerous at returning kickoffs as Hunt is. T.J. Jones has also been an excellent punt returner, while Purdue has at least shown some signs of having a punt return game for once.
Kyle Brindza has been 3 of 4 on field goals with a long of 44 yards. That gives the Irish an edge over Paul Griggs, who is only 50%. Brindza also handles punting, but he is no Cody Webster. Webster has punted nine times and is averaging just under 50 yards per kick, which is needed.
When I look at this game from a Purdue defense vs. Notre Dame offense perspective I feel like we have a chance. In the first half of games so far the Purdue defense has performed admirably, giving up only 14 points. Unfortunately, since the offense does nothing to help them out they have wilted on the field in the heat. That has led to 35 second half points given up over two games.
The defense is creating turnovers too, and it helps that Rees and ball security have been issues before. Ryan Isaac, Allen, and Frankie Williams each have interceptions, but again, the offense has done nothing with them even when they have come at critical moments of both games.
Fortunately, heat won't be the issue it has been the past two weeks. Unfortunately, the Purdue offense will. It has looked so bad that I feel like the defense has to pitch a shutout in order to give us a chance against good teams, and even then we had better hope for a Special Teams score like last week. I would feel better had Purdue turned both First and Goal situations into touchdowns last week (thus making it a better 31-14 win), but they couldn't do that. Instead they left 11 points on the field against a defense that is far weaker than the one it faces this week.
That is what will likely be the difference. If Purdue's defense produces some early stops the Notre Dame offense knows I can be patient and something will likely develop. The Boilers are like Michigan State with a worse defense. Eventually, cracks start to show like Anthony Brown getting burned twice for touchdowns last week. If Purdue's offense racks up three-and-out after three-and-out early on it will only be further demoralizing. Notre Dame was able to patiently grind Temple into powder and I fear the same for Purdue.
Purdue's only chance lies with an offensive breakout, and nothing I have seen so far has given any indication one is coming.
Remember 1997's stunning upset if:
- The defensive line dominates as it did last year
- Rees is careless with the football
- Purdue gets a special teams or defensive score
- The offensive line produces holes for Hunt, Dawkins, and Henry
- Henry is able to exploit the soft spots in the zone
The ND record of victory in the series is 48-0 in 1992 and 1970 and may be in jeopardy if:
- We see the same terrible offense of the past few weeks
- Atkinson and Carlisle are able to run free
- Rees throws for 300+ yards and no interceptions
- Notre Dame gets a defensive score
- Nix rips Henry limb from limb (it is in play)
Prediction: Coming in Friday's Big Ten preview.