In the third installment of a 12-part series previewing Notre Dame's 2013 opponents, I'll break down the Irish's second of two road games against Big Ten Conference foes. This contest is against traditional rival Purdue.
A small fact of the Brian Kelly era that often goes unnoticed and seems to have been forgotten is that his first victory as the head coach of Notre Dame was a 23-12 win against Purdue at Notre Dame Stadium on Sept. 4, 2010.
Kelly and Co. have since won the ensuing two matchups against Purdue, extending the Irish's winning streak against the Boilermakers to five.
Their last loss to the in-state rival occurred in West Lafayette, Ind., during the throes of the program's disastrous 2007 season.
Presently, Purdue finds itself in a period of transition, as former head coach Danny Hope was fired at the conclusion of the 2012 regular season despite having led the Boilermakers to a 6-6 record and an invitation to the Heart of Dallas Bowl.
Athletic director Morgan Burke moved quickly in the hiring of a new head coach, nabbing Darrell Hazell, one of the brightest and most attractive head coaching candidates on the market.
The 49-year-old guided Kent State to an 11-3 record last season, winning the East Division of the Mid-American Conference.
With Notre Dame being the first marquee opponent of Hazell's tenure at Purdue, this contest has all the makings to be a statement game for the Boilermaker program.
Game Day Information
Who: Notre Dame at Purdue
When: Sept. 14, 8:00 p.m. EDT
Where: Ross-Ade Stadium (West Lafayette, Ind.)
Purdue Team Information
Head Coach: Darrell Hazell (First season)
Conference: Big Ten
Returning Starters: Offense (5), Defense (9)
2012 Record: 6-7 (Lost 58-14 to Oklahoma State in Heart of Dallas Bowl)
The fortunes and successes of this season's Boilermaker offense will begin and end with the quarterback position.
Gone are last year's main contributors, Robert Marve and Caleb TerBush, though the replacement options aren't anything to scoff at. The competition for the starting job will likely boil down to true freshman Danny Etling and fifth-year senior Rob Henry.
Henry has the upper hand on paper, having appeared in 11 contests while starting seven as a redshirt freshman in 2010.
The 6'2", 200-pound quarterback likely would have been Purdue's starter in 2011, but suffered a season-ending knee injury the week prior to the season opener against Middle Tennessee State.
While questions remain at quarterback, the certainties lie in the running game.
The Boilermakers return a veteran offensive line that will pave the way for a running back duo that is best described as a thunder-and-lightning one-two punch.
Akeem Hunt will provide the explosive, highlight-reel plays while Brandon Cottom will plow ahead like a Mack truck between the tackles to grind out the tough yards in the trenches.
Due to a lack of proven receiving threats, the amount of support Hunt and Cottom get from the passing game is still up in the air. The return of indefinitely suspended wideout O.J. Ross could add another dimension to the revamped offense.
The first thing that comes to mind when dissecting the 2013 Purdue defense is how the Boilermakers will overcome the loss of All-Big Ten defensive tackle Kawann Short.
Bruce Gaston, Short's partner in crime for the past two seasons, will spearhead the effort to replace Short, though a committee effort will be necessary. Michael Rouse, Ryan Isaac, Brandon Taylor and Eric McDaniel will form a group of interior linemen that will help offset the lack of talent and experience left behind by Short's departure.
However, the undeniable strength of the Purdue defense will be its secondary.
The unit finished last season ranked 42nd nationally in passing efficiency defense. With returning starters in safeties Landon Feichter and Taylor Richards as well as cornerback Ricardo Allen, expect this group to contend for top conference honors.
On the whole, the level of success the defense achieves will be determined by the defensive front seven's ability to consistently stop the run in a rugged Big Ten Conference.
The last time Notre Dame made the trip to Ross-Ade Stadium, the Irish left town with a 38-10 victory in tow—a result largely due to the rushing attack.
Former Irish running backs Cierre Wood and Jonas Gray combined for 285 of the team's 287 rushing yards on the evening.
With an even better offensive line and what is perhaps the deepest group of running backs in the nation, Notre Dame may run wild against an inexperienced Purdue defensive line in prime time.
Add in starting quarterback Tommy Rees—the sophomore completed 24 of 40 passing attempts for 240 yards and three touchdowns while not turning the ball over during the teams' 2011 matchup—and the Irish have reason to believe that a victory is in store.
Score: Notre Dame 31, Purdue 14