Notre Dame Football Pre-Spring Opponent Preview: Purdue
Notre Dame and Purdue have met on the gridiron 84 times. Purdue trails only Navy for the honor of being the Irish's most frequent opponent. More than two-thirds of those meetings have been won by Notre Dame, including each of the past five.
The Boilermakers welcome a new leader this season, as Darrell Hazell, formerly at Kent State and an assistant at Ohio State under Jim Tressel, replaces Danny Hope. The three-year quarterback derby may finally be over with both Caleb TerBush and Robert Marve departing, with senior Rob Henry the only returning quarterback with any experience.
Purdue gave Notre Dame fits last season in a 20-17 Irish victory. Like last year when it played the Boilermakers the week after returning from Ireland, Notre Dame could be on a bit of a letdown this fall, as the trip to West Lafayette falls just one week after the Irish visit Michigan.
Let's look at how Hazell's first team is shaping up heading into spring practice, which begins on March 19.
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Date: Sept. 14
Site: Ross-Ade Stadium (West Lafayette, Ind.)
Last Meeting: Notre Dame 20, Purdue 17 (2012)
Last Meeting in West Lafayette: Notre Dame 38, Purdue 10 (2011)
Current Win Streak: Notre Dame, 5
Record: 6-7 (3-5 Big Ten)
Bowl: Heart of Dallas Bowl (lost to Oklahoma State, 58-14)
Leading Passer: Robert Marve (Sr.), 166-of-253, 1,734 yards, 15 TDs, 5 INTs
Leading Rusher: Akeem Shavers (Sr.), 181 carries, 871 yards, 6 TDs
Leading Receiver: Antavian Edison (Sr.), 58 receptions, 652 yards, 8 TDs
There finally might be some clarity under center for the first time since Joey Elliott left following the 2009 season. The only experienced quarterback is now Rob Henry, a fifth-year senior who has had to overcome a torn ACL which cost him the 2011 season.
Despite the knee injury, Henry is a threat with his legs, having amassed over 600 yards on the ground in his career. The Florida native is far from the prototypical Division I quarterback, but he has overachieved to get where he is. He won't be handed the starting job, but his experience could put him over the top.
Behind Henry are redshirt freshmen Austin Appleby and Bilal Marshall. If you could design the ideal pocket passer, it would look much like Appleby, who stands 6'5" and 235 pounds. Appleby is the future, but it remains to be seen whether he can be the present.
Ralph Bolden's long, injury-riddled career has finally come to a close. Bolden missed all of 2010 and half of 2012 due to knee injuries, and totaled just 80 yards on 23 carries in two career games against Notre Dame. Akeem Shavers also departs, leaving the Boilermakers with an inexperienced backfield.
Junior Akeem Hunt is a small speed back who rushed for 335 yards and a pair of touchdowns last season backing up Shavers. He can hit a home run when given a crease, but lacks the size and power to succeed without a complement.
That complement could be Brandon Cottom, a 255-pound junior who is ideal in short-yardage situations. The wild card here is Raheem Mostert, who could play either running back or wide receiver. He has drawn comparisons to Dri Archer, who Hazell used in a variety of ways last season at Kent State.
Like running back, there are some concerns at wide receiver for Purdue. Antavian Edison is gone after making 58 catches last season (two for touchdowns at Notre Dame), and senior O.J. Ross is currently suspended from the team. He could return in the fall, but this is his second suspension.
Senior Gary Bush is the most experienced receiver, with 81 catches over three years. Mostert could slide over to wide receiver, but he's not polished as a route-runner and does most of his damage once the ball is in his hands. Behind those three players is a whole lot of nothing in terms of production.
Tight end Gabe Holmes could end up being the team's leading receiver. He had 25 catches as a junior and is poised for a breakout season in Hazell's new offense.
The 2012 Boilermakers offensive line were about as mediocre as you can get. The team ranked No. 58 in rushing offense and No. 60 in sacks allowed, both right in the middle nationally.
Three starters return this season, including both tackles—seniors Trevor Foy and Justin Kitchens. Purdue does lose one of the better guards in the Big Ten in Peters Drey, as well as its man in the middle, center Rick Schmeig.
The offensive line assistant position also experienced some transition this offseason, as Jim Bollman left last month for Michigan State. Hazell matched the Spartans' intra-conference poach by luring Jim Bridge away from Illinois, after Bridge had just been hired by the Illini.
Purdue's defensive line was thought to be among the best in the Big Ten heading in 2012. That isn't exactly what played out, even with star tackle Kawann Short.
Short departs, but three starters are back, led by senior tackle Bruce Gaston and junior end Ryan Russell. Gaston disappointed a bit in 2012 and now will be the focal point of interior offensive linemen with Short no longer beside him. There will be a significant drop-off in both size and production from Short to whoever wins the battle to replace him.
Russell had a breakout season as a sophomore with four sacks, including one against Notre Dame that stalled a red-zone opportunity for the Irish. Seniors Ryan Isaac and Greg Latta both return and will battle for the other end position.
New coordinator Greg Hudson, formerly at Florida State, has some decent pieces here with which to work, but needs consistent production from Russell and Gaston for this unit to be a strength.
Dwayne Beckford just couldn't stay out of trouble during his time in West Lafayette. Despite his talent, Purdue will be better off without his on-again, off-again status as a distraction. Hazell brought in former Ohio State linebacker Marcus Freeman, a starter on the Buckeyes' 2006 and 2007 teams that played for the national title, to coach this unit.
The Boilermakers have three players returning who started at least six games a year ago in junior Sean Robinson and seniors Will Lucas and Joe Gilliam Jr. Robinson has made the switch from quarterback and has become a quality weak-side linebacker despite not being much of a pass-rusher.
Lucas lost his job to Robinson at midseason, and could either move to the strong side or again serve as Robinson's backup. Redshirt freshman Jimmy Herman is a decent option on the strong side as well with his athleticism.
Purdue has lacked an elite linebacker for a long time now, but there isn't one on this roster.
Ricardo Allen, who seemingly was on the team when Drew Brees was still in school, returns for a final season after starting 36 of 38 games at cornerback over the past three seasons. He has seven career interceptions, but none have come against Dayne Crist, Tommy Rees or Everett Golson.
The Boilermakers do lose Josh Johnson at the other cornerback spot, who Irish fans remember most for forcing a Golson fumble that led to Purdue's game-tying touchdown last year in South Bend. Sophomore Frankie Williams made two starts in place of Allen last year, so the drop-off should not be too steep.
At safety, both starters return in juniors Landon Fleitcher and Taylor Richards. Feitcher's four interceptions and 80 tackles last season both led the team. He's a bit undersized for a strong safety at just 189 pounds, but plays bigger than he actually is. Richards came on late last season after some early struggles and should be a more consistent player in 2013.
Purdue had to replace four-year starting placekicker Carson Wiggs after the 2011 season. The Boilermakers signed one of the best kickers in the 2012 class in Paul Griggs, but Griggs ended up sharing the job with redshirt freshman Sam McCartney.
The duo combined to make just nine of 14 attempts last season, with McCartney made the team's lone field-goal try against Notre Dame. These two will again battle throughout the offseason.
The Boilermakers might have the best punter in the Big Ten in senior Cody Webster. Hunt should again handle kickoff returns after a strong 2012 season that included a touchdown at Ohio State. Williams is expected to be the full-time punt returner after splitting time with Johnson last year.
Hope never could get Purdue over the hump, and after an 0-5 start in conference play last year, a change was inevitable. In comes Hazell, who turned Kent State from MAC doormat to potential BCS buster in just two years.
Skill position talent is currently lacking, and that can only be fixed through recruiting. The schedule is tough, as the Boilermakers will face five teams that won 10 games last season, three before the end of September. In addition, there are difficult trips to Michigan State and Penn State.
While Golson appeared a bit tentative last year against Purdue in his first Notre Dame Stadium start, that shouldn't be the case this year. Even bad Notre Dame teams have fared well in West Lafayette, and the Irish should make it six straight over their in-state rivals.