Notre Dame looks to improve to 3-1 and inch back towards the top 25 this weekend as they travel to West Lafayette. The Irish will limp into Ross Ade Stadium though with a number of injuries that could limit Notre Dame against a very dangerous Purdue team.
Notre Dame on Offense
The Irish offense is limping into this weekend’s matchup. Michael Floyd was lost for the season last week with a broken collarbone. Jimmy Clausen is likely a “go” according to Charlie Weis on Thursday after nursing turf toe this week, but starting tailback Armando Allen is a game time decision. Allen’s availability could really alter what the Irish offense does this weekend. Purdue has had trouble stopping the run this year and Allen figured to see an increased role in the passing game as Notre Dame tries to replace Floyd.
Even before Weis announced that Allen would be a game time decision, I thought there was a good chance that Notre Dame could come out in a five wide set like they did against Michigan State. With Allen iffy the chances of this happening go up quite a bit. Notre Dame spread Michigan State out last week with a no-huddle multiple wide receiver package and moved the ball really well. Even without Floyd, Notre Dame has the wide receivers to pull this off again.
Spreading out Purdue will make it a bit tougher for Purdue to really key on Golden Tate like defenses did last year. Notre Dame didn’t really have the offensive line to pull off this kind of offensive attack last season though. With the Irish line vastly improved this season, Notre Dame could come out in such an attack this weekend. Notre Dame is going to need to find ways to get Golden Tate some open looks and other than just moving him around a lot this is one way to get Tate some favorable matchups.
Allen’s availability will really impact what Notre Dame does on the ground though. Weis said that Robert Hughes and Jonas Gray got the bulk of the carries with the first team with Allen unable to go full strength in practice this week. Gray is the more talented runner, but his struggles in pass protection have been well documented this week. Purdue is going to likely send more pressure than normal this weekend to get after Clausen with his mobility limited which puts a premium on having a running back that is strong in pass protection.
If Allen is able to play this weekend, Notre Dame could come out and try and establish the run early, but with Floyd out I think Purdue will key on the run early and force Notre Dame to beat them in the air. Notre Dame had a tough time doing that last year when Floyd was out and until they prove they can still throw the ball all over the field without the star receiver, defenses are probably going to stack the box to stop the run.
Allen’s status will also determine just how much of the Wildcat we see this weekend. Allen’s been the only Irish player to line up in the Wildcat so far this year. If he is unable to play it’ll be interesting to see if Weis still uses the formation or if he scraps it for this week. It would make sense to use the Wildcat liberally this weekend given its effectiveness and its ability to take some pressure off of Jimmy Clausen. Using the Wildcat could given Clausen a few plays off to help keep him fresher on his injured toe.
Without Floyd this week Notre Dame is going to need another receiver to step up. Duval Kamara and Robby Parris are listed as the co-starters opposite Tate heading into the weekend, but freshman Shaquelle Evans figures to be in the mix as do sophomores Deion Walker and John Goodman. One of them will need to step up this weekend to take some pressure off of Tate and give Clausen a reliable target. Evans has the speed to provide a deep threat, but depending on how much pressure Purdue decides to bring, Notre Dame might not have time for deep routes early on.
Kamara is probably the safest pick to be the wide receiver who steps up. He’s had an inconsistent past up to this point, but one of his best games did come in Ross Ade Stadium in 2007 when he caught 6 passes for 68 yards and his first career touchdown.
One thing to think about too is that Golden Tate did not have a single career reception before the 2007 Purdue game. Afterward he had 3 for 104 yards and a touchdown. It’s very possible that Shaquelle Evans could have a similar breakout performance if he is given a large role in this week’s game plan.
Tight end Kyle Rudolph figures to be a major part of the Irish passing game as well. Purdue’s linebackers are not very good in coverage and Rudolph is a matchup nightmare for any linebacker that tries to cover him one on one. If Purdue rolls a safety over to help cover Golden Tate, the middle of the field should be wide open for Rudolph.
This week is really going to show just how good of an offensive coordinator Weis is. If he can keep the Notre Dame offense humming after losing one of the best wide receivers in the country, things might just work out alright for the offense this year. Notre Dame has the weapons to be able to still have a very effective, if not potent, offense.
Notre Dame on Defense
Where to begin? The defense has been a major disappointment so far this year to say the least. Notre Dame’s given up 68 points combined the past two weeks after recording the first shutout of the Weis Era in week 1 against Nevada. Even in the shutout though, there were signs that the Irish defense was vulnerable in some areas. No one, however, thought the defense would be vulnerable to the extent it’s been the past two weeks.
Purdue’s offense is vastly different under new head coach Randy Hope than it was under Joe Tiller. “Basketball on grass” has given way to a power running attack that has looked very strong at times this year. In Purdue’s season opening win over Toldeo, they ran the ball for 315 yards. That total has decreased each of the last two weeks though to 193 two weeks ago and then to 147 last weekend. Those totals are a bit skewed by the fact that Purdue got into shootouts both of those weeks and had to throw the ball more than they’d probably like.
Sophomore running back Ralph Bolden could give the Notre Dame defense fits this weekend if they don’t improve on their tackling. Bolden is a very quick back that excels at making people miss. That’s not a good combination for a defense that has been missing tackles at an alarming rate through the first three games. Bolden has run for 421 yards on 62 carries with four touchdowns so far this year. That’s an impressive 6.8 yard per carry average. Notre Dame is going to have to be much more fundamentally sound this weekend or Bolden will run wild on the Irish. Bolden was held to 64 yards last weekend, but he was only given 12 attempts with Purdue falling behind 28-7 to North Illinois.
Notre Dame is going to have to be very aware of Purdue quarterback Joey Elliot as well. Elliot isn’t known as a mobile quarterback, but he was still able to run for 68 yards on 6 carries with a 58 yard touchdown run off a broken play last week against Northern Illinois. Given Notre Dame’s problems getting to and bringing down opposing quarterbacks, this is another cause for concern for the defense.
Purdue isn’t as strong in the wide receiver department as they’ve been in the past. Keith Smith and Aaron Valentin are the top receivers for Purdue, but neither has been much of a deep threat this year with Smith averaging only 13.1 yards per catch and Valentin averaging 8.7. Notre Dame will need to be aware of tight end Keith Adams though.
I think we’ll see Notre Dame play more press coverage this weekend when they send pressure. The last three weeks the corners have been giving huge cushions which has allowed opposing quarterbacks to play pitch and catch at times. When Notre Dame pressed Michigan State’s receivers last week the defense was much more effective. Look for Notre Dame to key on Bolden and try to stop the run early.
In terms of generating more pressure, it’s anyone’s guess as to whether or not Jon Tenuta will be able to fix the Irish pass rush this week. Notre Dame’s blitzes have been frequent this year. The problem is that they’ve been frequently ineffective. Joey Elliot has thrown five interceptions in the first three games this season so look for Notre Dame to try and get some pressure on him in hopes the secondary can come down with the picks that they dropped last week.
Like Northern Illinois last week, Notre Dame’s best defense could be a good offense. If Notre Dame can get out to a similar lead and force Purdue to play catchup they will be able to limit Bolden’s impact. Given the injuries on offense though, counting on them to build such a lead is asking a lot. The offense has carried the Irish the past two weeks, but with Clausen and Allen banged up, the defense is going to have to step up and carry some of the burden this weekend.
Notre Dame on Special Teams
Notre Dame will have a solid edge in the special teams game outside of field goal kicking. Purdue has an outstanding kicker in Carson Wiggs. Wiggs has a big leg and has connected on a 59 yarder this year. His only miss in three attempts was from over 60 yards.
In the return game though, Purdue’s return and coverage teams have been inconsistent. Aaron Valnetin fumbled away two costly punts last weekend and their coverage units have been suspect. Theo Riddick’s had a couple nice returns so far this year and nearly broke one against Michigan State last week so watch for a possible big return out of him again this weekend.
So far this year I’ve been pretty good at predicting how many points Notre Dame will score. I was only off by 7 in week 1, was dead on in week 2, and was only off by a point last week. Unfortunately, I’ve been dead wrong in how many points the Irish defense would give up.
This game scares me because of all of the injuries and in the back of my mind I’m concerned Weis might try to get too cute in his play calling with Floyd out. This is a game that Notre Dame should win and should win fairly easily. So were the last two games though.
Considering how poorly the defense has performed the last two weeks I think it’s a stretch to think they’ll suddenly become dominant and hold Purdue down. I can see Bolden having a big day with the way Notre Dame’s been tackling. In the end though, I think Notre Dame will win another high scoring affair.
Notre Dame 38, Purdue 31
Week 1 – Notre Dame 42, Nevada 21 (W, Notre Dame 35-0)
Week 2 – Notre Dame 34, Michigan 21 (L, 34-38)
Week 3 – Notre Dame 34, Michigan State 23 (W, 33-30)