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Know Thy Opponent 2021: Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Notre Dame returns to the schedule after a 7 year absence.

NCAA Football: Rose Bowl-Notre Dame vs Alabama Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

I think one of the strangest things over the last few years is that Purdue fans have gotten used to not having Notre Dame on the schedule. The teams played every year from 1946-2014. Purdue managed to mostly hold its own against one of the most storied programs in college football in that time, but by around 1986 the Irish really dominated the series. Purdue only won five of the 29 games since 1986. It was very close in several of those affairs, but 5-24 is 5-24.

After 2014 the series faded. That was the final year of the contract and Notre Dame even moved it off campus to Lucas Oil Stadium for their Shamrock Series game. There are various reasons as to why the series was discontinued, but the largest was Notre Dame’s half-in relationship with the ACC. That contract guarantees them five games per season vs. ACC foes. With Navy and USC also guaranteed to take up two more spots each season that left them with only five scheduling slots left. Sure, that is more than the usual three or four that most teams have, but the desire for a national schedule didn’t have room for all their traditional long-standing series with Stanford, Purdue, Michigan, Michigan State, etc., especially when they wanted their own buy games like everyone else.

So a lot of those series were going to go on hiatus for a time. Thus, Purdue has not played the Irish in seven years. We get them for one year this year, then a five-game series from 2024 to 2028 as a six-game contract. From there, who knows, as the Irish have non-ACC games scheduled out to 2034 and ACC games as far out as 2037.

In the mean time Purdue gets a national TV date with Drew Brees in the booth on NBC. Should things go to plan, the Boilers should be 2-0 with a chance to pull off what would be a a major upset.

Notre Dame Fighting Irish

2020 Record: 10-2, 9-0 ACC (their lone Conference season in history)

Bowl Result: Lost 31-14 to Alabama in the fake JerryWorld Rose Bowl

Blog Representation: One Foot Down, UHND

Series with Purdue: Notre Dame leads 56-26-2

Last Purdue win: 33-19 at Purdue on 9/29/2007

Last Notre Dame win: 30-14 at Lucas Oil Stadium on 9/13/2014

Head Coach: Brian Kelly (81-39 in 12th season at Notre Dame, 252-96-2 overall)

Last Season for the Fighting Irish

How weird was last year? Well, Notre Dame nearly won the ACC in a special one-off year where they actually played as part of a conference for the first time in their 124 year history. They did not play Navy for the first time since 1926 or USC for the first time since World War II. They also lost the Rose Bowl to Alabama and the game was played in Arlington, Texas and not Pasadena.

That entire paragraph is filled with statements that 18 months ago would have seem ludicrous. Regardless of those strange statements, Notre Dame still had a very good year. It was a fourth straight 10-win season, their first such run in school history. They made the College Football Playoff (one of two 2021 Purdue opponents that did so) for the second time and had a legitimate shot at a national title for the third time under Brian Kelly. They were even good enough to take down one of the Death Stars of college football in a thrilling double overtime win over Clemson.

After a revolving door of post-Lou Holtz coaches the Irish are seeing stability pay off with Brian Kelly. Only a 4-8 blip in 2016 has been the real down year since 2010. Every other season in that time has seen 8 wins or more. They are not quite in the stratosphere of the Alabama-Clemson-Ohio State (when they aren’t in West Lafayette) trio, but they are more than good enough to be on that second tier right below them and make the playoff. When looking at Purdue’s 2021 schedule, going from UConn to them in the span of a week is about as wild of a swing you can have in terms of bad to team to good team.

Notre Dame Offense

The good news is that Notre Dame loses a whopping nine starters on offense. The bad news is that they still have significantly more talent than Purdue and should be able to fill many of those holes. Leading the charge will be a familiar face to Purdue fans. Jack Coan, the engineer of Wisconsin’s comeback in their triple overtime 2018 win at Purdue, is now at Notre Dame and is expected to start at quarterback. He completed 16 of 24 passes for 160 yards and 2 TDs in that game, but it was a pair of TD passes to Danny Davis III in the final 7 minutes of that game that allowed the Badgers to erase a 14 point deficit. He played well against Purdue the next year too, completing 15 of 19 passes for 203 yards and 2 scores.

Of course, he had the assistance of one of the greatest tormentors of Purdue football in Jonathan Taylor in both games. At Notre Dame he will have Kyren Williams, who rushed for 1,125 yards and 13 touchdowns as a redshirt freshman last season. Williams is balanced with Chris Tyree, a speedy back who had 496 yards and 4 TDs on only 73 carries. Much of the offensive line must be rebuilt, but Purdue’s defensive line against the run has been a weakness for years. Jarrett Patterson is the one returning starter on the line.

In the passing game Notre Dame has one of the nation’s best tight ends in Michael Mayer. He caught 42 passes for 450 yards and two TDs a season ago. Avery Davis (24-322-2) is an experienced senior in the slot. The loss of Javon McKinley as a leading receiver is big, but again, there is a lot of young talent returning. Overall the Irish have excellent balance offensively and in general take care of the football.

Notre Dame Defense

Overall the Notre Dame defense was pretty good, finishing 25th nationally at 343.6 yards per game. They were 14th in scoring at 19.67 points per game, which is more than enough to win a lot of games. I have often said that if Purdue could have a defense that just held teams under 20 it should have more than enough offense under any coach we have had to score 21.

We’ll see a familiar face on the defensive side of the football as Marcus Freeman takes over as defensive coordinator. Freeman’s work with Purdue’s linebackers was one of the very few bright spots of the Hazell era and he probably should have been carried over to the new staff. He did very well at Cincinnati and now heads to South Bend where he can thrive.

First of all, Freeman gets four very good linebackers in Drew White, Bo Bauer, Marist Liufau, and Shayne Simon. They will anchor the defense in the middle, and safety Kyle Hamilton, the team’s leading tackler with 63, is excellent behind them. Clarence Lewis bring experience at corner, but the Irish only had 7 interceptions as a team.

Up front there is a lot of experience at defensive tackle and Isaiah Foskey returns after grabbing 4.5 sacks a year ago. Overall there were a lot of drafts picks from a very good defense, but there is also a lot of experience coming back.

Notre Dame Special Teams

Tyree has the speed to be a difference maker on kick returns and considering Purdue’s season fell apart by giving up a kickoff return for a touchdown to Rutgers that is not a good sign.

At the specialist spots Jay Bramblett was solid at 42.7 yards per punt, which is significantly better than… whatever it was Purdue ran while attempting to punt. Jonathan Doerer is entering his fourth year as a kicker and was excellent in hitting 18 of his first 21 kicks his first two years, but faltered last year to 15 of 23.

Game Outlook

As I said above, Notre Dame is a significant step up in opponent just a week after facing UConn. If the Boilers struggle in the Nutmeg State it is going to be a very long afternoon in South Bend. We know Purdue is relying on a bevy of transfers and has at least upgraded its defensive coaching to “competent” with the departure of Bob Diaco (who somehow won Assistant of the Year at Notre Dame just nine years ago). It still has a long way to go to be on Notre Dame’s level.

We’ll see in the first two weeks if Purdue is at least going to make Notre Dame sweat a little in this one. I think Purdue absolutely has to be 2-0 heading to South Bend against a mediocre Oregon State and an abysmal UConn. Anything less can probably erase any hopes of a shocker in South Bend. If Purdue does dispatch both opponents with relative ease and shows some fight, then maybe some things go our way against a Notre Dame team replacing a lot of starters from last year.

Way-too-early Prediction

It is still a very tall order to ask for a win here, and a Purdue victory would be utterly shocking to me. It would hopefully vault us into the top 25 for the first time in 14 years and set the stage for a 5-0 start (and nothing awful has ever happened when Purdue has started 5-0 with a win at Notre Dame. Nope.). I am hoping we can at least make a game of it for a half before fading late. Show me enough with a 2-0 start and a frisky outing at Notre Dame to make me think we can beat Illinois and Minnesota the following weeks to get to 4-1. Notre Dame 38, Purdue 21