Week Three of the college football season on the Notre Dame football schedule will mark the renewal of an in-state battle against the Purdue Boilermakers. The September 18 matchup will mark the first time in seven years the two teams have faced each other after the two schools had played against each other every season since 1946, 50 years after their first meeting.
Purdue head coach Jeff Brohm is in his fifth year at the school, but has had three straight losing seasons, including last season’s 2-4 COVID-shortened campaign. Brohm came to the Boilermakers with an offensive pedigree, though he needs to make a more solid effort this season to balance the attack and not rely so heavily on the passing game.
Purdue Offense: More Ground Support Needed
The Boilermakers have experience on this side of the ball, which should be an asset. However, settling between Aidan O’Connell and Jack Plummer at quarterback is a necessity in order to provide some consistency. Each player started three games in 2020 and put up virtually identical numbers, with O’Connell showing that he can move the ball, but lacking the mobility of Plummer. Two other signal-callers who could present a challenge are UCLA transfer Austin Burton and strong-armed Michael Alaimo.
When it comes to the Purdue running game, other runners besides Zander Horvath need to step up. Horvath was the only Boilermaker to gain over 100 yards for the entire year and can also serve as a passing outlet for whoever lines up behind center. King Doerue may end up being that player, with any hope of improvement likely depending on someone answering the call.
The strength of the Purdue offense is in their receiving corps, with the duo of David Bell and Milton Wright leading the pack after combining for 77 catches and 10 scores. Bell is the standout between those two players, with Jackson Anthrop hoping for a resurgence after previously being the team’s top wideout. At tight end, Payne Durham would no doubt like more attention than the 16 reception and three touchdowns he had last year.
A trio of key members of the Boilermakers’ offensive line includes one newcomer in Western Kentucky transfer Tyler Witt at guard. Gus Hartwig will play at center or guard, the latter slot dependent upon the play of center Sam Garvin. Meanwhile, there’s some question whi=at side of the line offensive tackle Greg Long will end up on when the season starts, with Cam Craig expected to fill one empty spot.
Purdue Defense: Repairing the Damage
The pass rush for the 2020 Boilermakers was only a rumor, though the absence of defensive end George Karlaftis for four of the six games may explain part of the problem. Another factor in any improvement will be the addition of new defensive coordinator Brad Lambert, who will try and turn DeMarcus Mitchell at either an end slot or outside linebacker.
Looking at the linebacking unit, Purdue will be led by Jaylin Alexander, who was second on the team in tackles last year but needs to be more of a big-play performer for the Boilermakers to challenge for victories. The aforementioned Michell could very well spend the bulk of his time at linebacker, where players like Jalen Graham and Auburn transfer O.C. Brothers will also compete.
The Purdue secondary contributed just two interceptions to the Boilermakers’ meager total of three on the year, both of those collected by strong safety Cam Allen. One hope is that free safety Marvin Grant can give the type of jarring hits that forces turnovers, while corners Cory Trice and Dedrick Mackey need to establish a consistent presence against receivers.
Purdue Special Teams: Uncertainty Abounds
Chris Van Eekeren is a former walk-on who’s waited patiently in the wings for two years and is now expected to handle both the placekicking and kickoffs for the Boilermakers, while also showing off a strong leg. He’ll get competition from Edward Dellinger and Oklahoma State transfer Ben Freehill. When it came to punting last year, three different players handled the duties, but Brooks Cormier will be unavailable this season. That means that a likely battle between Zac Collins and Australian kicker Jack Ansell will ensue. Anthrop and T.J. Sheffield should make up the return team.
The Last Time Notre Dame Played Purdue
This rivalry went on hiatus after the 2014 game because of conference scheduling issues. That contest was won by Notre Dame, 30-14, at Indianapolis for their seventh straight victory in the series. The Irish hold a decided edge here and are hosting the Boilermakers for the first time since 2012. Purdue’s last win over the Irish dates back to 2007, a season in which Notre Dame finished 3-9 midway through the largely forgettable Charlie Weis era.