Notre Dame will try to rebound from last weekend’s 23-7 loss at Michigan on Saturday when intra-state rival Purdue travels to South Bend to take on the Irish. Last week Notre Dame’s offense sputtered and struggled from start to finish and managed just seven points. Will a matchup with the Boilermakers be just what the doctor ordered for the ailing Irish offense?
Last week’s loss was a tough one to take because of the mistakes the Irish made which really cost them in the end. You can’t turn the ball over twice in your opponent’s red-zone, once in your own red-zone, and miss two field goals and expect to win against a solid team like Michigan State. Notre Dame’s inability to run the football with any kind of success outside of one 24 yard end around to Golden Tate was equally troubling. Still, there were enough signs of life from the Irish offense to give me hope that there is still a chance this offense gets it going in the very near future.
A year ago when Notre Dame’s offense set school records for offensive futility, one of the few defenses the Irish had success moving the ball against was Purdue. The Irish racked up 426 yards of offense – 377 of them through the air – when they traveled to West Lafayette almost exactly a year ago. Jimmy Clausen showed signs of life for the first time before getting relieved by Evan Sharpley after injuring his hip. Both quarterbacks were able to move the ball through the air on Purdue with greater ease than any other Irish opponent last year.
With the Irish offense showing some signs of improvement but still very much struggling, a matchup with Purdue might be just what they need to get back and track.
Notre Dame on Offense
In last year’s game the Irish were able to throw the ball up and down the field at times. Clausen and Sharpley combined to complete 34 of 52 passes for 377 yards and two touchdowns (with 2 INTs) and Golden Tate emerged as a deep threat with three catches for 104 yards and his first career touchdown. The Irish tried to establish the run early, but struggled early and fell behind – sound familiar?
So far this year the Irish have been able to throw the ball much better than they have been able to run it and while Purdue hasn’t been great at stopping the run, they have held their own. Michigan State wrote the script for defending Notre Dame this year though – crowd the line, stop the run, and force the Irish to pass. Against Michigan, the Irish were able to hit deep throws early to soften up the defense. Against Michigan State, however, the Irish decided to try and run the ball early to set up the pass. That turned out to be a bad idea.
Notre Dame’s problems running the ball aren’t as simple as improving along the offensive line because while the offensive line shoulders a lot of the burden for the struggles, there isn’t a single aspect of the running game clicking right now. Play calling has been uninspired at times, backs aren’t seeing cut back lanes, and linemen are just missing assignments. That all isn’t going to get worked out in one week so look for Notre Dame to come out throwing the football.
Golden Tate torched the Purdue defense last year and is off to a fast start already this year with 303 yards in three games so expect Purdue to know where #23 is at all times. So far Tate is the only receiver to show the ability to be a deep threat so they will likely try and take him out of game and force Notre Dame to throw to other receivers. David Grimes will be back this week and Michael Floyd caught 8 passes for 87 yards last week and is tied for the team lead in touchdowns so they will have plenty of options at receiver to target, but the name I think we’ll hear often is Kyle Rudolph.
Notre Dame’s freshman starting tight end should find himself with some favorable matchups this week. Purdue has given up some big games to opposing tight ends already this year and if they key in on Tate, Rudolph is going to have a lot of room to work with over the middle. The Irish, however, will be very short at the tight end position this week with Will Yeatman sitting out while his off the field issues are settled. Still, look for the Irish to target Rudolph early.
If Notre Dame can soften up the Purdue defense early with the pass, they should be able to run the ball as the game wears on. Of Notre Dame’s three headed monster at running back, I think we might see quite a bit of Armando Allen this week. If the Irish do come out and spread out the Purdue defense, Allen would make the most sense for early playing time because of his receiving potential out of the backfield. I think we’ll see quite a bit of Allen in the first half with Robert Hughes and James Aldridge seeing more time in the second half once the Irish have the pass working.
Purdue surrendered 291 yards to Central Michigan through the air last week, but have also picked off four passes the last two weeks.
Notre Dame on Defense
Joe Tiller loves to spread out a defense and throw the ball, but the Boilermakers have also had some success running the ball this year. Against Oregon two weeks ago, Purdue ran the ball 45 times for 201 yards before struggling with just 83 last week against Central Michigan. Of those 83 yards last week, 46 came on Kory Sheets game winning touchdown run with a minute left in the game.
Tiller’s “Basketball on Grass” has not put up the type of numbers through the air that we are used to seeing though. Senior quarterback Curtis Painter has not passed for over 300 yards yet this year after throwing for 300+ in three of his first four games last year before the Notre Dame game.
Last year the Irish defense was able to contain Painter somewhat. He threw for 252 yards and tossed two interceptions to go along with his two touchdown passes. If the Irish are to win this weekend, the defense will need do a similar job of containing Painter. Based on his early season performances, that could be very possible for the Irish defense. Painter has just three touchdowns through three games to go along with three picks and has a quarterback rating of 118.63 – his lowest rating since his freshman season in 2005.
Pressure will be the key to keeping Painter from having his breakout game of the season this weekend. Notre Dame’s increase blitzing this fall has been effective at times in forcing opposing quarterbacks to get rid of the ball earlier than they’d like, but it has also produced just one sack in three games. Notre Dame got to Painter twice last year and will to at least match those totals again this weekend to keep Painter from getting comfortable in the pocket. Painter is not a mobile quarterback at all so expect to see Notre Dame send blitzes his way early and often in hopes that things start to click for the Irish pass rush.
Notre Dame’s secondary has held up pretty well so far this season, but this will be their biggest test to date. One thing to watch will be junior nickel back Sergio Brown. Brown has had chances to make some plays on balls in the air this year, but has not done a very good job of turning around to locate the ball. If he continues to do so, Painter and Purdue have the ability to get a couple deep plays on the Irish. Corners Terrail Lambert and Raeshon McNeil will find themselves in a lot of man coverage this weekend if Jon Tenuta and Corwin Brown decide to come out blitzing. If they can handle covering the Boilermaker receivers one on one, it will allow the Irish to keep bringing pressure all game.
Notre Dame on Special Teams
Purdue has allowed some big returns already this year so this could be the week where the Irish special teams make an impact. Purdue allowed an 87 yard punt return and 45 yard kick return in week three against Oregon. The Boilermakers were much more solid in their kick coverage against Northern Colorado and Central Michigan though allowing a long of just 22 yards in 9 returns.
Armando Allen has shown more ability on returns this year than we last year though and against Michigan State, he nearly turned the corner on a long kick return late in the game. Against San Diego State, Allen also busted a long punt return which could have been a horse collar tackle away from going all the way. Look for Allen to make some plays in the return game this year. Won’t go so far as to predict a touchdown in the return game for Allen, but I do think Allen will help the Irish win the field position battle with his returns Saturday.
Purdue has returned just three punts all year, but they do have a 68 yard kick return of their own on their resume this year. Notre Dame’s return units have been very solid this year though and I don’t expect them to let up this weekend.
When it comes to kicking for Notre Dame, who knows what to expect? Brandon Walker is 0 for 3 this year kicking field goals, but he has yet to kick anything under 30 yards and the snapping has been less than ideal each time he’s kicked. Purdue has been pretty good keeping teams out of the endzone once they have reached the red-zone this year, however, so Walker will likely get called upon.
I picked Notre Dame to lose last weekend because I didn’t like the matchup, but this weekend I feel a lot better. I think Notre Dame will be able to pass the ball early and score some points. I think the defense will be able to pressure Painter into a few mistakes and hold Sheets in check.
Notre Dame 31, Purdue 17