Coming off their seventh loss in eight tries at The Big House, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish sure could use a reprieve. Luckily, if the first two weeks of the season are any indication, the Irish should get one when they travel to Ross-Ade Stadium for a clash with in-state rival Purdue.
The Boilermakers head into their second consecutive home game superficially equal with the Irish with a 1-1 record.
How they've gotten there is a completely different story. Purdue opened its season with a 42-7 shellacking at the hands of Cincinnati, with the offense creating just as many points for the Bobcats as they did themselves. The contest looked like the entire roster was playing Mess-Up Bingo, each player trying to fill their cards up as much as possible.
Last week, Indiana State came to town, an FCS school that allowed 73 points to Indiana a week prior. The Sycamores wound up pushing Purdue to the brink, taking over on their final drive at the Boilermaker 41-yard line with a chance to win. Quarterback Mike Perish threw an interception on the second play of that drive, allowing Purdue to escape with a 20-14 win.
You can understand why Notre Dame is nearly a three-touchdown favorite despite being on the road.
The Irish didn't look great in last week's 41-30 loss to Michigan, but they valiantly battled even after digging themselves a 27-13 halftime hole. They were within four points with just over nine minutes remaining after a Kyle Brindza field goal but watched on as Devin Gardner marched down the field with what became a game-clinching touchdown.
The loss pushed Notre Dame back from No. 14 to No. 21 in the Associated Press poll, putting Brian Kelly's team in a precarious position this week. There's little doubt they'll win; a closer-than-expected contest against a struggling Purdue team may strike a critical blow to that Top 25 standing.
With that in mind, let's take a quick look at the top storyline and make a prediction for ABC's nationally televised battle for the Shillelagh.
When: Saturday, Sept. 14 at 8 p.m. ET
Where: Ross-Ade Stadium in West Lafayette, Ind.
Live Stream: WatchESPN
Betting Line: Notre Dame -18.5 (Covers.com)
Can the Irish Defense Recover From Michigan Beatdown?
Last week was supposed to be a low-scoring affair. Based on anything you read from experts or heard come out of the mouth of Kelly or Brady Hooke, the prevailing wisdom was that landing somewhere in the mid-20s would be sufficient. Tommy Rees and Gardner both carried certain levels of understandable skepticism, while the Wolverines and Irish both carry a ton of talent on the defensive side.
We all know at this point how it worked out.
Gardner went off for five total touchdowns and 376 total yards of offense in perhaps the finest game of his career. He worked the Irish defense like a speed bag through the air and on the ground, pulling Michigan away as Rees valiantly tried to keep his team in the game.
The performance was jarring considering the level of talent on this unit. Notre Dame has one of the best front sevens in the nation and returned eight starters from last season's top-notch unit. The secondary, which looked lost at multiple points against Gardner, was expected to help atone for the loss of players like Manti Te'o, whose absence has been more noticeable than anyone thought.
Louis Nix was a non-factor, and Stephon Tuitt was beat on almost every possession by Michigan tackle Taylor Lewan. Tuitt did, however, provide the one moment of defensive excellence for the Irish when he picked off Gardner in the end zone and scored a critical touchdown. But Lewan helped keep Gardner off the turf, bottling Tuitt up with a performance that will go right to NFL scouts at season's end.
OK, enough gloom.
If there's any week that the Irish can right the ship, it's this one. Through two weeks Purdue has scored more points per game than exactly eight FBS schools. The Boilermakers have produced 27 total points, and let me remind you again that Indiana State gave up the equivalent of 10 touchdowns a week before playing them.
Fifth-year senior quarterback Rob Henry has a long completion of only 29 yards and has averaged just 5.4 yards per attempt. He's yet to throw a touchdown. And while Akeem Hunt has the talent to be an explosive scatback, he's facing loaded boxes and getting minimal open holes from his offensive line. With Tuitt and Nix more than motivated to atone for their nondescript performances last week, I tend to think those struggles will continue.
The Irish defense looked fantastic in Week 1 against Temple, and just about all signs point to last week being more a credit to Michigan than anything else. Look for Tuitt, Nix and Co. to get back on track and continue the stagnation of Purdue's offense.
There may be a bunch of history between these two in-state rivals, but the actual, you know, on-the-field intrigue is minimal. Purdue is going on about a decade of college football irrelevance, when Joe Tiller's innovative spread offense began showing its age.
The Boilermakers are on their second coach in the five years since Tiller retired, and the opening two games of the Darrell Hazell era have made folks start longing for Danny Hope. While it's still far too early to cast aspersions on the hire, suffice it to say that Hazell is in the early stages of a fixer-upper.
Notre Dame isn't headed back to the national championship game; last week's loss in Ann Arbor proved as much. But this is a football team light years ahead of where Purdue is at the moment.
The ACC throwing this of all games on the national stage is a bit perplexing. On the bright side, Irish fans, you should probably just make celebratory plans for the second half—this one is going to get ugly.
Score: Notre Dame 34, Purdue 7
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