After a two-week emotional rollercoaster, Notre Dame gets ready for Saturday with BCS hopes restored and national title hopes still on life support. For the fifth consecutive week, they will take on an undefeated team with big-play receivers. The Irish secondary will again be challenged and Purdue is good enough to win. Here is a breakdown of how the two teams match-up.
Irish Passing vs. Purdue Secondary
This is where Notre Dame can really take advantage. If the line can provide protection and Quinn finds his rhythm early, they’ll put up a lot of points. Purdue has been struggling to find four starters in its defensive backfield. Safety Torri Williams is likely gone for the season, and freshmen will start at cornerback and free safety. Purdue was shredded for 386 yards through the air in their overtime win over Miami (Ohio), and they have not faced an offense that is even comparable to the one they will see Saturday. Quinn has been inconsistent, but looked like a Heisman candidate during the second half against Michigan State. The offense cannot continue to let penalties and turnovers kill drives, especially early on. The no-huddle will likely send Purdue reeling, so expect to see it early and often.
Edge: Notre Dame. This is where they can separate themselves early on in the game.
Irish Rushing vs. Purdue Rushing Defense
ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit said it best when he referred to Notre Dame’s inability to run the ball “crazy” during the Michigan State broadcast. It is crazy. The offensive line should be one of the country’s best and Darius Walker is in his third year as a full time starter. One reason that Notre Dame currently ranks 108th national in average rushing yards per game is that for two weeks in a row, they have been down by 17 points or more. When you get down by that much, you go to the air. Walker carried a total of 21 times against Michigan and Michigan State, after having twice that many carries the first two games. If they can improve on the 2.7 yards per carry, the offense will click.
On the other side of the ball, the defensive experience of the Boilermakers lies with its front seven. They did, however, give up 193 on the ground to Minnesota. 5th year senior Anthony Spencer is good, and the linebackers are decent. Overall, this unit is mediocre at best.
Edge: Notre Dame. There is no reason to think Purdue’s front seven are better than Georgia Tech’s or Penn State’s. If Notre Dame can finally take the lead early in the game, they will show the pollsters that they can run the ball.
Purdue Passing vs. Irish Secondary
Again, Notre Dame will see a talented group of Wide Receivers. TE Dustin Keller and Junior WR Dorien Bryant have been solid all year. Keller is a big target, and came up with big catches against Minnesota. Both are averaging close to 90 yards receiving per game. QB Curtis Painter is developing into a solid starter, averaging 285 yards per game. He is also somewhat mistake prone, but was incredibly efficient against Minnesota. The Purdue passing game has serious big-play potential, and the Irish have given up a few of those the last two weeks. The key will be getting them early.
After getting shredded for six quarters of football, the Irish secondary came up big during the second half against Michigan State. Ndukwe seems to make a big play every game, and Terrail Lambert is a new favorite of Irish fans after two huge game changing plays. The key will be not giving up the big play early.
Edge: Purdue. If Purdue is going to contend, it will have to be through the air. Painter looked good against Minnesota and he has several good targets. Notre Dame needs to avoid giving up the long ball.
Purdue Rushing vs. Irish Rushing Defense
JUCO transfer Jaycen Taylor compliments Kori Sheets well. The Purdue coaching staff is still deciding on the roles of both players, but combined they are averaging 137 yards per game. Sheets has already found the endzone 8 times this season, and will get the bulk of the carries.
Notre Dame’s rushing defense had their hands full with Caulcrick and Ringer last week, and gave up 124 yards to Michigan’s Mike Hart. At times they have looked solid, and definitely have talent in the front seven. They have also been on the field quite a bit all season, and after a while that starts to take effect. If they can take away the run early, Purdue will be forced to put it up in the air. They also need to get pressure on Painter and force mistakes.
Edge: Tie. Notre Dame’s rushing defense is better than it looks on paper. They have seen better backfields this season, but the Boilermakers are solid. The balanced attack keeps the defense honest. If Purdue can establish a running game, their entire offense will be a threat. This will be the key battle of the game in my opinion.
Notre Dame has been its own worst enemy. They are clearly the better team this week, but Purdue has the weapons to take advantage of mistakes (especially early ones). Brady Quinn needs to start the game sharp and try to get the lead early. If the passing game can be consistent, the rushing attack will reappear. I expect Notre Dame to avoid an emotional let down because this is their biggest game until USC. They need to prove that Michigan and the first half at Michigan State were flukes. Maybe then they will catch up in the polls.
Final Score: Notre Dame 34