Purdue Run Offense vs. Notre Dame Run Defense
Purdue's offense, which was already replacing its quarterback and three lineman, took another major blow when Ralph Bolden, last year's leading rusher, went down with an ACL injury in the spring. Bolden will be replaced by 5 Al-Terek McBurse and 1 Keith Carlos, two players short on experience but long on athletic ability. McBurse had just four rushes for 10 yards as a freshman in 2009, while Carlos was moved from wide receiver following Bolden's injury. But both players saw success as kick returners in 2009, so they do know what to do in open space.
Quarterback 9 Robert Marve ran 59 times for 119 yards and two touchdowns at Miami in 2008. So while he may not be a major threat with his legs, he's certainly not afraid to try. Purdue's fullbacks and wide receivers only saw a handful of rushing attempts in 2009, but they will still need to be accounted for.
The Irish will again move to a 3-4, mostly due to the relative depth at line and linebacker. The move will also hopefully reignite 95 Ian Williams, who had his most success in that scheme in 2007. Unfortunately, the linbacker depth has already taken a hit with injuries to 54 Anthony McDonald and 40 Steve Paskorz. 5 Manti Te'o and 44 Carlo Calabrese will start on the inside, backed up by 48 Dan Fox and 36 David Posluszny. Both Te'o and Calabrese are hard-hitting run stuffers. On the outside, 56 Kerry Neal, 58 Brian Smith, and 46 Steve Filer are all fighting for the spot opposite 45 Darius Fleming. With the injuries on the inside, it will be interesting to see if Brian Smith returns to that position at some point this season.
Notre Dame Run Offense vs. Purdue Run Defense
Who will win this opening week matchup?
5 Armando Allen is now in his fourth season as a starter, and has blossomed into a Doak Walker Award semifinalist. He'll be joined by a trio of talented backs in 33 Robert Hughes, 25 Jonas Gray, and 20 Cierre Wood. Interestingly enough, Wood didn't even see the field last year due to the depth at this position. But the talented recruit has impressed in fall practice, and has quickly moved to the primary backup on the depth chart. It will be interesting to see how the other positions play into the running game.
Quarterback 10 Dayne Crist was a mobile threat before his knee injury. While the team will no doubt be cautious with its starting QB, all the effects of Crist's injuries are basically gone. Most spread offenses rely on end-around runs to varying degrees. 3 Michael Floyd started the spring game with such a run, but his physical abilities may not be the best match for such a game. Former tailback and current slot receiver 6 Theo Riddick seems to be an obvious choice for such plays. The Irish will also employ the wildcat, with anyone from Allen to 9 Kyle Rudolph running the show. Brian Kelly's spread doesn't call for the fullback much, but the position is used when the situation calls for a traditional under center formation. Notre Dame's roster only lists two fullbacks, and for each player (running back Hughes and tight end 41 Bobby Burger) it is his second position.
The good news for Purdue's defense is that they return six members of their front seven. The bad news is that that front seven was torched for 173 rushing yards per game last year. Linebackers 30 Joe Holland, 24 Jason Werner, and 47 Chris Carlino combined for 229 tackles in 2009. Werner added a very impressive 14.5 tackles for loss.
Purdue Pass Offense vs. Notre Dame Pass Defense
Purdue's new starter is Robert Marve, a University of Miami transfer who completed 54.5 percent of his passes with nine touchdowns and 13 interceptions as the Hurricanes starter in 2008. Marve's primary target will be 8 Keith Smith, who accounted for one-third of Purdue's receptions in 2009 and six of their 23 receiving touchdowns.
Purdue distributed the ball to a variety of receivers in 2009; tight end 85 Kyle Adams is the only other returning player to average more than two catches a game last year.
Notre Dame's 3-4 lets both 90 Ethan Johnson and 89 Kapron Lewis-Moore play their natural position of defensive end. Normally 3-4 lineman do little more than occupy opponents' lineman to create gaps for the linebackers. But Johnson and KLM are talented players who should be able to get pressure on the passer despite a numbers disadvantage.
That's especially true against a Purdue offensive line that is replacing three starters. If Notre Dame's line can get pressure on Marve, it will allow the linebackers to stay back in pass coverage, where they can help a very thin Irish secondary. Purdue's base set uses three wide receivers, while Notre Dame only has four cornerbacks on scholarship - not counting former receiver/running back Barry Gallup.
Notre Dame Pass Offense vs. Purdue Pass Defense
Dayne Crist steps into the starting role for Notre Dame after mixed success in an abbreviated audition last year. But the knee is healthy and Coach Kelly's offensive schemes appear to be forgiving on a young passer. Of course, it helps that Crist has no shortage of qualified targets. Michael Floyd and Kyle Rudolph are the big names who will get everyone's attention. But Crist will need a reliable checkdown when those two are covered, and that role hopes to be filled by senior 18 Duval Kamara.
Theo Riddick moves from running back to slot receiver, and is already looking like a natural. Talented freshman 7 TJ Jones has practiced both in the slot and in Kamara's X wideout position. Jones has shown both the shiftiness needed by the former position and the downfield ability needed by the latter. There's more good news, bad news for Purdue in its pass defense. The good news is that they return defensive end 94 Ryan Kerrigan and his 13 sacks from 2009. The bad news is that they'll be breaking in four new starters in its defensive backfield against a pass-happy Notre Dame offense.
37 Carson Wiggs returns for his third season as Purdue's placekicker. The strong-legged Wiggs hit just 14 of 21 field goals in 2009, but only one of those misses came from inside 40 yards. He also had a long of 59. 40 Nick Tausch returns for the Irish after an impressive freshman campaign that saw him hit 14 of 17 attempts. Carson Wiggs will also be taking over punting duties for the Boilermakers. Wiggs did have four punts last year, averaging 36 yards with a long of 51. 35 Ben Turk returns as the Irish punter. In 2009 Turk averaged 38 yards per punt with a long of 53. Sophomore wide receiver 13 Antavian "Beeze" Edison steps in as Purdue's punt returner this year. He'll be backed up by 3 Waynelle Gravesande, who averaged 4.6 yards on 11 punts last year. Armando Allen will return punts for the Irish in 2010 after taking a year off from all return duties. He'll be backed up by "hands" man 81 John Goodman, who had five returns for 56 yards last season. Al-Terek McBurse and Beeze Edison will return kicks for the Boilers. McBurse averaged 25 yards per return in 2009, including an 87-yard touchdown. Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick are scheduled to return kickoffs for Notre Dame. Riddick averaged 23 yards per return last year.
Notre Dame Players to Watch
Dayne Crist, Cierre Wood, Ian Williams, Carlo Calabrese, Ben Turk
Notre Dame 31, Purdue 21