What to Watch For – Notre Dame at Purdue

Notre Dame travels to West Lafayette to take on the Purdue Boilermakers this weekend.  Here’s a guide of what to watch for and a couple matchups to keep an eye on this weekend.

With Michael Floyd out for the rest of the season, Golden Tate and Armando Allen are going to need to elevate their games to keep the Irish offense humming. (Photo - Icon SMI)

How Purdue covers Golden Tate. How Purdue decides to cover Golden Tate is really going to set the tone for the game on Saturday. With Michael Floyd out, they can double cover Tate and try to take him out of the game. Should they do this, the rest of the field will open up for Notre Dame’s other wide receivers and Kyle Rudolph over the middle. Clausen  has come close to hitting Rudolph right down the middle of the field a couple times, but hasn’t been able to connect. If Purdue rolls a safety over to help cover Golden Tate, watch for Weis to attack the middle of the field with Rudolph. Should Purdue choose not to give Tate extra attention for some unknown reason, look for Notre Dame to call Tate’s number on a go route pretty early. Weis also said that he plans on moving Golden Tate around a bit to create some favorable matchups for him.

How much of a limp Jimmy Clausen has. All signs are pointing to Jimmy Clausen playing this weekend, but turf toe is one of those injuries that can really be a pain in the butt. Clausen doesn’t have great mobility normally so I would expect Purdue to dial up a lot of pressure for Clausen early and often. If Clausen isn’t limping much it should be a sign that he should be fine for the game. If he’s limping in warm-ups though every Notre Dame fan is going to be holding their breath every time Clausen gets hit.  And if Clausen ends up not being able to play at all, then all bets are off and this offense will change quite a bit.

What formation Notre Dame comes out in. Purdue gave up a ton of yards on the ground last week and Notre Dame is playing with Michael Floyd and an injured Jimmy Clausen so it would make sense that they would come out and try to pound the football with Armando Allen right? Maybe not. Purdue is probably going to do what defenses did to Notre Dame last year when Floyd was out – load up the box to stop the run and roll a safety over to help cover Tate. I could see Notre Dame coming out in another five wide attack to spread out the Purdue defense and give Clausen plenty of options if Purdue sends pressure. This attack worked really well against Michigan State last week and I think we’ll see it again as spreading out the Purdue defense would also help prevent them from loading up on Tate.

Purdue is also looking to run the football this year. If Notre Dame could jump out early and force them to throw the ball, they would take them out of their comfort zone even if that means having them throw into a secondary that gave up 350+ yards to Michigan State last week.

The Wildcat. I really wasn’t a fan of the wildcat when I saw it against Nevada, but it’s hard to argue with the two touchdowns Notre Dame scored from it against Michigan State. This is another formation I think we’ll see a lot of this weekend for a couple reasons. First off, it worked like a charm against Michigan State and kept them off-balance. Secondly, it gets Clausen out from under center where he has only a slight change of getting hit. Using the wildcat could be a good way to ease some of the workload off of Clausen and keep him a little fresher with his gimpy toe.

Armando Allen. Allen recorded the first 100 yard game of his career last year when Purdue traveled to South Bend with a 17 carry, 134 yard performance. He is coming off of back to back 100 yard games and is really coming into his own as the Irish running back. Purdue is likely going to try and take the run away early, but if the Notre Dame passing attack can open things up for him, he could have another big game. Purdue gave up 280 yards rushing to Northern Illinois last week including a 67 yard touchdown run by Me’co Brown. Allen’s career long is still only 24 yards. It’s about time he breaks loose for a long run and this could be the week.  I think we’ll also see Allen worked into the passing more this week.

TACKLING. In short, tackling has been awful this year outside of Kyle McCarthy. Notre Dame has to do a better job of tackling if the defense is going to improve at all this year. Brian Smith and Toryan Smith have combined for just 25 tackles in three games this season – that’s two less than McCarthy has by himself. The two have combined for 6.5 tackles for loss which isn’t bad, but they need to do a better job of making stops in the running game. All together, Notre Dame’s linebackers have just 49 tackles in 3 games. Michigan State’s Greg Jones has 38 by himself for the Spartans. The linebackers aren’t the only group guilty of poor tackling though. The defensive backs outside of McCarthy and Harrison Smith haven’t been much better either.

Purdue put the ball on the ground three times last week against Northern Illinois. If Notre Dame can improve on their tackling and make some sound hits on Purdue ball carriers, they might be able to force a couple turnovers.

Notre Dame’s defensive tackles. In rewatching the Michigan State game, I was a little bit optimistic about Ian Williams and Ethan Johnson. I had been screaming for the staff to shift Ethan Johnson back to defensive end – something I still think would be beneficial – but against Michigan State Johnson played his best game at tackle and started to come on a little bit.  Ian Williams came alive for the first time this season well. Notre Dame was substituting a little liberally last weekend so maybe they were just fresher as the game worn on. Whatever it was, both played their best game of the year against the best offensive line the Irish have faced so far. Purdue’s starting left guard Zack Reckman is suspended for this weekend’s game so watch for the interior linemen to take advantage of facing a backup.

With Purdue looking to run the ball more this year, the play of tackles is going to be critical this week. If the interior line can create some penetration and clog some running lanes, Notre Dame might be able to slow down the Purdue rushing attack just as Northern Illinois did last week. Purdue has run for 632 yards as a team this year, but their weekly totals have decreased each week from 315 yards week 1 against Toledo to 193 yards week 2 against Oregon to 147 yards week 3 against Northern Illinois.

Shaquelle Evans and Duval Kamara. Someone has to step up for the Michael Floyd and my best guesses are Kamara and Evans. Kamara has shown flashes over his career, but has never found consistency. Everyone remembers Golden Tate breaking out in the 2007 Purdue game, but people forget that was the first game that Kamara started to establish himself in as well. Kamara caught 6 passes for 68 yards and recorded his first career touchdown in West Lafayette in 2007. Those 6 catches still tie for his career high though. Evans meanwhile is the speedy freshman everyone’s been waiting to see. Weis hinted that his role in the offense will expand in the wake of losing Floyd for the season. I thought we’d see more of Evans last week though after seeing him playing on the critical offensive series against Michigan. If Purdue doubles Tate, Evans is the wide receiver with the best speed to be able to burn them deep.

Theo Riddick on kickoffs. Purdue’s kick coverage this year has been pretty suspect according to the scouting report we received from Hammer and Rails. Theo Riddick has looked pretty good on returns so far this year and nearly turned the corner on one last week against Michigan State. If the kick return unit can give him a seam it looks like Riddick has the extra gear needed to exploit the hole and make a big return.

The running back rotation. It will interesting to see how the running back rotation works out this week. Jonas Gray has been going in as the second back, but his pass protection has been highly suspect and protecting Clausen this week will be even more important than most weeks. Taking Armando Allen out of the game has been tough because he’s played so well, but when they do it will be interesting to see if Gray still goes in as the second back or if Robert Hughes gets some reps at RB in a one back set.

The Notre Dame pass rush. The pass rush has been largely ineffective this year, but whenever the Irish have gotten pressure good things have happened. Can Jon Tenuta figure out why the blitzes he is dialing up aren’t working like he draws them up this weekend? The few times Notre Dame got pressure on Kirk Cousins last week he either nearly threw picks or actually threw one like he did at the end of the game. If Notre Dame keeps sending blitzers right into a wall of blocks like they’ve been doing most of the time this year though, Purdue’s Joey Elliot will be able to play pitch and catch just like Cousins did when he got time to throw.

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  1. I think our defense is young and we have seen some growing pains. I predict this unit will have it’s great moments and it’s low points. I think overall each week we will see improvment with the younger players getting more playing time. The offense needs to focus on running the football with backs not only AA but Gray and Hughes. Another question I have is whatever happened to Ragone. How about some two tight end sets in the power eye play action. I think Ragone and Rudolf can give defenses some trouble. All in all the offense has playmakers and the line has looked good. We should be able to move the ball on any team on the schedule.

  2. If we see anything like “the bone” and it isn’t successful who will be the first to jump on CW? I can guess. I haven’t counted but two back sets and “the bone” have not been used all that much by Charlie over the past 5 years. If you have to protect Jimmy he should not be playing. He will deal with this toe for several weeks.

  3. All- this should be an interesting game…we will learn alot about our team in this game….its away, our start WR is out for the season, and some of our key guys are banged up. I predict a ND win with someone like Goodman steping up and having a breakout game.

  4. T-Mill Good point. The Irish shouldn’t count on turnovers. But our guys and coaches should be looking to make them happen.

    ND can protect Clausen quite simply with mixing more two back running sets, as well as a wishbone form time to time. Hughes, Allen and Gray all back there could freeze a defense as effectively as the wildcat. I always liked the “Bone” when mixed in sporadically.

    If I were Weis, I’d force more balance toward the run. That will shorten the game give the team time to look at different options than just how to keep the passing game going without Floyd. Don’t get me wrong. They need to make the other guys step up. But reducing Clausen’s chances of aggravating the turf toe needs to be considered. AND that offensive line still needs more run blocking practice.

    So keep passing, but dial up a few more runs.

    On defense – The Irish just need to start playing better. Frank pretty much pinpointed it.

    MSU was a much harder hitting team than Michigan. While Purdue doesn’t appear to be as difficult an opponent as MSU, they are tough and if they really can run the ball, are a hard hitting team. ND coaches and players need to give this team all the respect.

    1. C-Dog,
      I think you hit the nail on the head with protecting Claussen. Mich.St seemed to go after him more after he came up lame. Gray seemed to have his hands full picking up the blitz. They say that Allen is good to go but I know he has had a sore ankle.
      Maybe Hughes is the better choice at this point.
      With Floyd out I suspect they will double up on Tate and try to bring more pressure. If they can protect Jimmy, I’m sure he will get the job done.

  5. About Purdue’s three fumbles last week. Two were dropped punts by Aaron Valentin. He simply failed to catch the ball without even being touched. The third fumble was on the final play of hte game as we were trying to lateral the ball around in desperation.

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