Joe Tiller made the Notre Dame-Purdue rivalry fun, mostly because Purdue won on occasion. Notre Dame leads the all-time series by 30 games, but a large portion of that leads comes from the Irish going 28-6 against Purdue after the Boilers had a very nice 16 year run (11-5) in the 50s and 60s. Purdue has beaten a No. 1 ranked team seven times in its history, surprisingly the third most such wins of ANY school. The Irish were quite charitable in that regard, giving us four of those wins. I guess it pays to have one of the traditional powers of college football on the schedule for almost 70 years.
The changing nature of the game forced a hiatus in the series though. Despite playing every year from 1946-2014, Purdue has not played them since a Shamrock Series game in 2014 at Lucas Oil Stadium. We managed to get a six game contract (three home, three away) to get them back on the schedule this year and 2024-28. The days of them being on the schedule year-in, year-out are over though. Their commitments to the ACC (five games per year), their annual game with Navy as a hallowed (and rightful) tradition, and desire to schedule nationally mean that several of their regular opponents will have to take breaks, and Purdue is one of them. I don’t know what the future holds after 2028, but neither does anyone else.
As I said above, Tiller made it fun because Purdue won on occasion. All five wins over Notre Dame in the last 35 years came under Tiller, and there were several other close calls. Purdue has won just once in South Bend since 1974, but it came very close in 1998, 2000, 2002, and 2012. Purdue has not won a road game over an AP Top 25 team since at Wisconsin in 2003, so the odds are against us. Still, there is a chance, and a Purdue victory would be a gigantic boost to a somewhat stagnant program.
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
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 (83-39 in 12th season at Notre Dame, 254-96-2 overall)
Line: Notre Dame by 7.5
The Season So Far
Notre Dame started the year in the top 10 after making last year’s College Football Playoff. They haven’t quite returned to the lofty heights of multiple national titles under Brian Kelly, but there is little doubt they have been very good. They are in the tier right below Alabama, Clemson, and Ohio State in that they are a regular threat to make the playoff.
This year has been dicey, however. They escaped with a three point overtime win against Florida State in the season opener, which looks worse in retrospect after the Seminoles dropped their second game to FCS Jacksonville State. Then last week they struggled to beat Toledo despite being a huge favorite in their home opener. In fact, if the Toledo runner has simply gone down at the one instead of scoring a touchdown with just over a minute left the Rockets could have run down the clock and won the game with a short field goal.
This Irish team has some major questions so far. If Purdue can exploit those questions, there is a real chance at an upset.
Who to Watch on Offense
Jack Coen – QB – Coan is a familiar name as a Boiler killer. He went 16 of 24 with two critical fourth quarter TD passes for Wisconsin in 2018 as the Badgers saved their long winning streak with a come-from-behind 47-44 triple overtime win. He earned the starting job and has been okay so far with 605 yards and 6 TDs against two picks. He has completed 69% of his passes, but his biggest problem has been the line in front of him. Notre dame has given up a whopping 10 sacks so far. Purdue has only bagged one, but George Karlaftis has been incredibly disruptive. That is one of the huge keys to the game. If Big George can cause havoc, it helps Purdue tremendously.
Kyren Williams – RB – Williams has struggled a bit to get going with only 120 yards and a TD behind that line, but had an 1,100 yard season last year with 13 TDs and another 300+ yards and a score as a receiver. Notre Dame’s running offense is currently 110th in the nation, which is concerning, but it is just a two game sample. Conversely, Purdue run defense has been surprisingly stout. Yes, I know, UConn, but Oregon State ran for 256 yards on Hawaii after just 78 against Purdue, so that is… something.
Michael Mayer – TE – Mayer is the leading receiver with 16 receptions for 2-1 yards and 3 TDs, so with Payne Durham you have two of the most productive TEs in college football this year in this game. Kevin Austin Jr. is a big target on the outside for a passing offense that has generated more than 300 yards per game despite the sacks, so it is a dangerous offense. Even in the struggles last week, it still went down the field very quickly for the game-winning score.
Who to Watch on Defense
JD Bertrand – LB – Bertrand is officially a problem. He leads the team with 23 tackles, 1.5 sacks, and a fumble recovery. The Florida State game was his first career start and he answered the call with 11 tackles. He will be all over the field, especially up against the run.
Isaiah Foskey – DL – Foskey weighs in at 6’5”, 260 pounds and will be a major riddle for Purdue’s offensive line to solve. Notre dame has evened out their poor offensive line performance by being able to get after the quarterback on defense. They have given up 10 sacks, but they have gotten 10 sacks, led by three from Foskey. This game could come down to who has the better game: Foskey or Karlaftis. Purdue has to find a way to keep Plummer clean with 3 sacks or less.
Kyle Hamilton – S – Hamilton has already picked off a pair of passes and has patrolled the middle of the field with 11 tackles, two for loss. Overall, the pass defense has been good, giving up 199.5 yards per game, so something has to give with Purdue averaging 344 per game, 11th in the nation. Purdue will also need to get at least something on the ground with King Doerue and Dylan Downing.
Who to Watch on Special Teams
Jonathan Doerer – K – Doerer has been good as a kicker, going 3 of 4 so far on field goals and 8 of 8 on extra points. His only miss was from 55, so theya re not afraid to try him from long range. Purdue’s Mitchell Fineran has been equal to the task.
Jay Bramblett – P – Purdue has yet to figure out the punting game with three different punters getting action and none averaging over 40 yards per kick. Bramblett is at almost 43 yards per punt, so they have an edge.
Purdue has a chance. I think Purdue has a chance even without playing an absolutely flawless game, but it still has to play extremely well. Notre Dame’s run defense has been extremely suspect at nearly 200 yards per game, so Downing and Doerue should be able to have some room. That can only help a passing game that has been lethal, especially with David Bell. Purdue has committed only one turnover so far, and that was on a trick play that was more the result of the receiver bobbling the pass than it being a poor throw. If Jack Plummer has another clean game, it helps tremendously.
As far as Purdue’s defense, Karlaftis needs to have a big day. I have been very impressed with the run defense so far. It was actually better against Oregon State than Connecticut. When BJ Baylor had a huge game against Hawaii and was mostly held in check by Purdue except for two short yardage TDs, that is an encouraging sign. Purdue needs to make the Irish one dimensional and get after Coan, who is not a mobile quarterback.
The best case scenario is that Purdue has about 300 yards passing and 100 yards rushing offensively, doesn’t turn the ball over, and Karlaftis continues to live in the backfield, especially since injuries have gotten the Irish down to their No. 3 choice at left tackle. If Purdue then can also win the turnover battled by 1 or 2, even better.
There is a chance here. It is more of a chance than I originally gave us. If Purdue can seize it, the first top 25 ranking in 14 years may come our way, if not this week, but the following weekend with a follow up win over Illinois. At worst, Purdue needs to keep it competitive into the fourth quarter and not get blown out. Notre Dame is still a very good team with a wealth of talent. They can get it together at any time, but I just hope it is not this week.