After a shaky 32-29 win over Toledo, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish will stay on home turf to face the Purdue Boilermakers on Saturday. While the Irish are 2-0 on the year, neither of their victories should be enveloped in praise, given the near-collapse against Florida State and the desperation drive needed to beat Toledo.
Jeff Brohm is off to a 2-0 start as head coach of the Boilermakers in a pivotal year that may decide whether he stays at the school. The Boilermakers are coming off an easy 49-0 pounding of Connecticut in which Purdue scored on seven consecutive possessions to help decide the game by halftime. Notre Dame’s inconsistency thus far gives the Boilermakers more hope of springing the upset.
Below are the key matchups worth watching on Saturday:
Notre Dame Defense vs. QB Jack Plummer
The Irish defense delivered when it needed to against Toledo by cementing the game with a forced fumble. Yet they also gave up some big plays that nearly allowed the Rockets to spring a huge upset. In each of the first two games, Notre Dame has collected five sacks, with Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa and Isaiah Foskey doing most of the damage. How well they do in this game may determine if the game becomes another nail-biter.
Plummer has started strong for Purdue this season by completing nearly 74 percent of his passes, throwing six touchdowns and no interceptions. He’s dealt with injuries during his career with the Boilermakers, though he’s got the size and mobility to be a concern if the Irish can’t deliver pressure on him.
QB Jack Coan/Tyler Buchner vs. Purdue Defense
Unlike his stellar debut, Jack Coan‘s performance against Toledo was stagnant enough that true freshman Tyler Buchner was brought into the lineup to inject some life. Coan did deliver the winning score in the clutch, but the combination of his questionable mobility and the wobbly status of the offensive line will almost certainly end up allowing Buchner to see much more action.
In eight quarters, the Purdue defense has allowed just three touchdowns, though their level of competition thus far hasn’t offered much of a challenge. The pass rush for the Boilermakers has only managed one sack this season, with new defensive coordinator Brad Lambert in the midst of fixing past problems. The renewed uncertainty over who might line up under center for the Irish may present more of a challenge for Purdue defenders.
How Tommy Rees and Brian Kelly handle their quarterbacks will be the biggest storyline of the week.
TE Michael Mayer vs. LB Jalen Graham
After just two games, Mayer already has 16 catches on the season and has crossed the goal line on three occasions. In each of those games, he’s been the central component of Notre Dame’s first possession. He has the size to be a big target and knows how to get open, plus was valuable in crunch time against Toledo by grabbing the game-winning score.
Graham has the size to battle skill position players and has the speed to get into the backfield if necessary. He’ll have his hands full in this matchup, given Mayer’s strong start. He’s been active in the Boilermakers’ two games so far, collecting seven tackles, forcing a fumble and deflecting a trio of passes.
LT Tosh Baker/Michael Carmody vs. DE George Karlaftis
The combo of Carmody/Baker is part of the beleaguered offensive line that’s already had issues this year with blocking and protection. Carmody is considered questionable with an ankle injury sustained in the first half against Toledo. If he is unable to go, Tosh Baker will likely start in his place. Whoever ends up starting, they will have a daunting task ahead of them.
Karlaftis missed a good portion of last season due to a combination of injuries and COVID. However, in his first two games this season, he’s offered the type of production that Purdue needs to compete. He’s an excellent athlete who can make his presence felt, having already shared a sack, forced a fumble and swatted away a pair of pass attempts.
MIKE Drew White vs. RB King Doerue
White is one of the leaders on a defense that’s struggled in the early going. Against Toledo, Notre Dame’s defenders gave up some big plays that nearly cost them the game. White had some issues with getting past blockers and was overshadowed during the game by fellow linebacker J.D. Bertrand.
The only negative in Purdue’s rout of Connecticut is that running back Zander Horvath left the game with an injury, with Brohm indicating that he’d be out for an extended period. That’s a huge blow to the running game and puts added pressure on Doerue, who’s averaging 4.8 yards per carry this season but has yet to catch a pass and has done little since the 2019 campaign.