For 69 straight years Purdue and Notre Dame have met. The series has often been one-sided, but the Boilermakers, despite what many in the reversible jacket crowd want to believe, have held their own over time. The 26 victories all-time over the Irish is more than any other team in the country other than Michigan State (28) and USC (35). The Irish hold a 57-26-2 lead in the all-time series and a 38-19 lead in the Shillelagh portion, but there was a time where Purdue was quite dominant over the neighbors from South Bend. From 1954 until 1969 Purdue went 11-5 against the Irish and even led the early Shillelagh portion of the series (which started in 1957) 9-4 after 13 years.
Unfortunately, since 1970, it has been virtually all Notre Dame. Purdue is just 10-34 in the intervening time, and aside from five wins (and several very close calls) under Joe Tiller, the Boilers are only 5-23 against Notre Dame since 1985. That includes an 11-game losing streak before Tiller's first win in 1997 and a currently active six game losing streak. Only twice since 1970 has Purdue won in South Bend: 1974 and 2004.
The good news is that the teams have only met once on a neutral field, and that was 30 years ago to open the brand new Hoosier/RCA Dome. Purdue won 23-21 for their first of two straight victories over the Irish. When Purdue and Notre Dame play in the home of the Colts the Boilers are a spotless 1-0, so hopefully that trend can continue.
Who to Watch on Offense:
Everett Golson - Quarterback - After sitting out a season due to academic issues Golson has not missed a beat. He is already garnering some Heisman hype and has played extremely well in Notre Dame's first two games. He has completed 66% of his passes for 521 yards and five touchdowns against no interceptions. He only has 27 yards rushing, but has added three touchdowns on the ground too. Golson is far different from the unpredictable Tommy Rees we faced last year. Purdue did we against him two seasons ago thanks to solid play from the defensive line. Unfortunately, that was a freshman making one of his first career starts back then. This is a seasoned vet that has played in a National Championship game and appears to have not missed a thing after sitting out last season.
Will Fuller - Wide Receiver - Fuller has had a big couple of games to start the year and leads the Irish with 13 catches for 174 yards and two scores. Since Purdue always seems to give up a deep touchdown (DeVaris Daniels, Golden Tate, Michael Floyd, etc.) he is a dangerous threat. The play of Frankie Williams and Taylor Richards will be critical in slowing Fuller.
Amir Carlisle - Wide Receiver - The former USC transfer is also off to a good start with 9 catches for 115 yards and 2 touchdowns. He is a smaller receiver than Fuller, but still very good.
Greg Bryant, Tarean Folston, and Cam McDaniel - Running Backs - Individually they are each averaging less than 50 yards per game, but combined they have been effective in keeping defenses honest. Bryant and McDaniel each have a touchdown while Malik Zaire (the backup QB) has some speed, breaking a 56-yard run for his season long.
Who to Watch on Defense:
Sheldon Day - Defensive Line - The big lineman from Indianapolis is exactly the type of player that can cause havoc against Purdue. He has yet to notch a sack, but was one of the leading tacklers for a defensive lineman in 2013.
Drue Tranquill - Safety - Yes, he is playing, and playing well. The former Purdue commit plays a lot on special teams and as a reserve safety, but he already has five tackles with half a sack. It really is a shame he switched before signing day. We could certainly use a player of his caliber. As much as he is playing as a true freshman for Notre Dame he would be playing even more for us.
Jaylon Smith - Linebacker - Smith has a pair of tackles for loss and has been effective all over the field for the Irish. He is tied for second on the team in tackles with 13.
Joe Schmidt - Linebacker - Schmidt, a senior linebacker, leads the team with 15 tackles.
Elijah Shumate - Safety - Shumate is a major player in the secondary. He has 13 tackles to go with an interception, two pass break-ups, and a quarterback hit, so he can be all over the field. He's not afraid to come up against the run, either.
Who to Watch on Special Teams:
Kyle Brindza - Kicker - The man who kicked the game-winner against us as a freshman in 2012 is still there, and he is as steady of a kicker as you can ask for in the college game. He is already 3 of 4 on the season with a long of 43 yards. He also has 12 touchbacks on 15 kickoffs.
Cody Riggs - Punt Returner - If we're punting a lot it is already bad enough, but Riggs has five returns for an average of 13.8 yards per return.
What to see overall:
I think it is clear that if the same Purdue team that played Central Michigan last week shows up the Boilers don't stand a chance. In my game wrap I noted 10 absolutely critical mistakes that doomed Purdue. If Purdue makes even 2-3 similar mistakes against a much better Notre Dame team we're in for a very long night. Regardless of who starts, Danny Etling or Austin Appleby, we need more accuracy from the quarterback position.
The Notre Dame defense has only given up 17 points thus far, but they aren't exactly slamming the door defensively. You can move the ball on them. They have been greatly helped by creating six turnovers while the offense has yet to surrender the football. In fact, Notre Dame hasn't even so much as fumbled. Like Central Michigan, this is a team that is patient enough to wait for a mistake, then pounce.
So what does Purdue need to do? First, it needs to match the effort it had last season against Notre Dame. That game should have been a blowout too, but for three quarters Purdue was the better team. We didn't get much on the ground, but Akeem Hunt had a big day in the passing game and we were generally able to keep them off balance with shorter passes. So far, that seems to be the specialty of this passing game.
Raheem Mostert and Hunt need to be better on the ground too, and one of them springing a big kick return could be huge too. It seems like Mostert and Hunt are the biggest assets we have if we can get them the football with some space to move. Getting that space was hard against Central Michigan though, and Notre Dame's defense is a lot better.
Finally, there is Golson. The kid has been excellent so far. In 2012 he was making his first start at home and needed Rees to come out of the bullpen for the game-winning drive. He still wasn't bad with 289 yards and a touchdown on 31 attempts. While Notre Dame's ground game hasn't done a lot, it has done enough to keep teams honest and Golson proved against Michigan that he can straight up beat you. He can run if pressured and he is making all the right throws so far. Even if Purdue forces a 3rd and 12 I have zero confidence that we can stop him from converting the first down and keeping the drive alive.
This game should be a blowout in Notre Dame's favor. They are the far more talented team and Purdue looked like a mess last week. Of course, last year was a similar situation. Purdue looked terrible in barely beating a bad Indiana State team and still nearly pulled off the upset. Two years ago in South Bend the Irish went undefeated, but if not for pulling Robert Marve in favor of Caleb TerBush to start the second half the Boilers might have won. There is no logical explanation for the last two games in this series being close. The key, if it is close, is to get over the hump.
As a program, Purdue desperately needs a win over a team like Notre Dame to boost morale. If you had told me Purdue would be 3-1 after four games I would have absolutely taken it. A surprising win over Notre Dame does a lot of good to erase the steaming turd left last week on the field at Ross-Ade. It would be the type of win that could completely turn around Darrell Hazell's tenure, which is obviously not off to the best of starts.
Keys to the Game:
- Win the turnover battle
- Get improved play from the quarterback position, be it Appleby or Etling
- Get third down stops
- Take advantage of Hunt and Mostert's speed
- Limit stupid mistakes from the Central Michigan game
- Don't let Golson beat you single-handedly either through the air or with his legs.
- Get another big day from the defensive line, specifically Ra'Zahn Howard and Ryan Russell
Prediction: Coming in tomorrow's Big Ten Preview