As spring practices commence around the nation, I’ll be looking at each of Notre Dame’s 12 opponents in the 2012 season and addressing some key questions and some potential breakout players.
In this edition, we’ll look at Danny Hope and the Purdue Boilermakers, who will be looking for their first win against the Irish since 2007. They took the field for the first time on March 6, with their spring game coming on April 14.
On Monday, we’ll look at Michigan as they prepare to start practice on March 17.
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Date: Sept. 8
Location: Notre Dame Stadium (Notre Dame, Ind.)
Last Meeting: Notre Dame 38, Purdue 10 (2011)
Last Meeting at Notre Dame: Notre Dame 23, Purdue 12 (2010)
Current Streak: Notre Dame (4)
Bowl: Little Caesar’s Bowl (defeated Western Michigan, 37-32)
Leading Passer: Caleb TerBush (Jr.): 171-for-277, 1,905 yards, 13 TD, 6 INT
Leading Rusher: Ralph Bolden (Jr.): 148 rushes, 674 yards, 6 TD
Leading Receiver: Antavian Edison (Jr.): 44 catches, 584 yards, 3 TD
If you thought the Notre Dame quarterback situation was a disaster in 2011, you didn’t see Purdue’s. The Boilermakers lost projected starting quarterback Rob Henry before the season to a knee injury, but managed to get to a bowl game behind the platoon of Robert Marve and Caleb TerBush.
Marve was granted a sixth year of eligibility after sitting out the 2009 season as a transfer from Miami (FL) and missing most of 2010 with a knee injury. It is expected that the 2006 Mr. Football in Florida will compete with Henry for the starting role in the fall. Both quarterbacks should play regardless of who wins the starting job.
While Marve has some mobility, Henry is a legitimate threat as a runner. Henry will participate in non-contract drills this spring, so both will get an opportunity to earn the top spot. TerBush also returns, and if history is any indication, the Boilermakers may need all three quarterbacks this season.
Ralph Bolden showed great promise as a sophomore in 2009, but a torn ACL cost him the 2010 season. Bolden did not return to his pre-injury form in 2011, but did lead the team in rushing with 674 yards before another ACL tear in the regular season finale shut him down for the season.
Bolden is out for the spring, and his status for the fall remains uncertain. He would almost certainly receive a sixth year of eligibility in 2013 if he can’t return this season, and that could be the best option with JUCO transfer Akeem Shavers set to depart after this season.
Shavers enrolled at Purdue last spring and was a key contributor to the running game with 111 carries and six touchdowns, matching Bolden for the team lead. The rising senior has great speed and good size, but there remain questions about his ability to be a 200-carry running back.
Of Purdue’s four 300-yard receivers a year ago, only Justin Siller departs. However, the status of junior O.J. Ross remains uncertain. Hope announced earlier this week that Ross would not participate in spring practice after he had missed the bowl game due to academics.
The absence of the 6’4” Siller leaves a major void in the receiving corps. Siller’s size made him a threat in the red zone, but no returning contributors top six feet. 2011’s leading receiver, Antavian Edison, will be back. He’s capable of stretching the field and helping utilize Marve’s arm strength.
The Boilermakers have produced some elite tight ends over the years, and Gabe Holmes hopes to be the next in line. The junior-to-be needs to add some strength to his 223-pound frame, but may be the team’s best option in the red zone.
The big uglies were a little too porous last year, allowing 29 sacks. Losing a mobile quarterback like Henry to injury certainly didn’t help matters. The unit was much stronger in the running game, the fourth-best in the Big Ten.
Three starters return from last year’s group, but the loss of left tackle Dennis Kelly is big. Nick Mondek had to shift from tackle to guard prior to the season after an injury to Ken Plue, with allowed Justin Kitchens to emerge as a competent right tackle.
With Mondek departing, the move prevented the Boilermakers from losing both of its bookends. Left guard Peters Drey and center Rick Schmeig are both versatile players who can play all three interior line positions.
It appeared that Kawann Short was headed to the NFL after the 2011 season, but the star defensive tackle had a change of heart and decided to return to West Lafayette for his senior season. The 300-pound Short will be one of three returning starters on the defensive line, with only end Gerald Gooden departing.
Notre Dame running back Cierre Wood had one of his best games of the season in last year’s blowout win over the Boilermakers, including a 55-yard touchdown run right up the middle that broke the game open in the second quarter.
The defensive end position has been a concern for Purdue since first-round NFL draft pick Ryan Kerrigan left after the 2010 season. Most of the expected contributors are on the smaller side. The line was too often pushed around by big offensive lines last year, highlighted by a 62-17 loss to Wisconsin.
What looked to be a possible position of strength for Purdue is now in a state of limbo, with starting middle linebacker and leading tackler Dwayne Beckford suspended for spring practice.
Should Beckford return in the fall, the Boilermakers will have two of their three 2011 starters returning, but like the defensive line, it’s a bit of an undersized unit. Redshirt freshman Armstead Williams has the talent to be a contributor on the weak side, but must get stronger to be able to last a full season in the Big Ten.
Will Lucas will return on the opposite side of Beckford. Lucas had a productive sophomore season in 2011 with 82 tackles after only seeing spot duty as a freshman. This group should help improve a rushing defense that finished ninth in the Big Ten 82nd in the FBS last season.
Michael Floyd set the tone for his matchup with Purdue cornerback Ricardo Allen right away last season, catching a touchdown pass from Tommy Rees on Notre Dame’s first offensive play. Allen will be thrilled to not have to cover Floyd in September and should have a fine junior season as the Boilermakers' top cornerback.
Josh Johnson returns on the other side of Allen. The pass defense should be much improved under new coordinator Tim Tibesar, who comes to Purdue from the pass-happy Canadian Football League. The safety position will be a concern, however, as both 2011 starters depart.
With a fair amount of depth at cornerback, redshirt freshman Frankie Williams is one candidate to switch to safety this spring. With Tibesar changing schemes, even veterans would have a learning curve. Therefore, it’s not a bad year for the position to experience some turnover.
Carson Wiggs connected on 19-of-25 field goal attempts last season, capping a tremendous career with 293 points. Junior Cody Webster is expected to perform double duty this season as placekicker and punter.
Webster and Wiggs split the punting duties last year, with Webster assuming the full-time role with Wiggs’ departure. Although he was ineligible to be ranked with only 45 punts, Webster’s 43 yards per punt would have been in the top 25 of the nation.
The Boilermakers biggest weapon might be in the return game, as freshman Raheem Mostert led the nation with an average of over 33 yards per kick return. Mostert did not return punts last year, but could do so this year with the departure of last season’s primary punt returner, Waynelle Gravesande.
Hope was squarely on the hot seat going into last season, but upsets of Illinois and Ohio State in the second half of the season allowed Purdue to reach a bowl game. With the issues at quarterback, 7-6 was a solid result for Hope and the Boilermakers.
Getting Henry back up to speed is a goal for the spring, as well as continuing to develop Shavers with Bolden’s availability for the fall uncertain. Defensively, even if Beckford returns in the fall, having their middle linebacker behind in learning the new defense is a concern for the Boilermakers. Short and Allen should be All-Big Ten performers, however.
The game does come just seven days after Notre Dame plays in Ireland, but the Boilermakers don’t appear to have the horses to seriously threaten the Irish. The injuries and suspensions to key players will likely hinder the team’s progress over the coming weeks of spring practice.