Saturday night, all eyes are on West Lafayette, IN, for the primetime showdown between Notre Dame and Purdue. This is easily the biggest game for Purdue so far this season; it also gives the Boilers a big chance at exposure on national television. While the season has been a rocky start for Purdue, their performance this past week brought some optimism.
While my personal views of Danny Hope as the future coach at Purdue are less than confident, this game could be a game changer in his career and potentially save his job as head coach. If Purdue can get to 3-1 in their non-conference schedule, it will give them a good chance to get to a bowl game this season.
If the Boilers want to get a win on Saturday, they will have to stop an improved Irish team from what everyone saw the first two weeks. The Irish are getting their confidence built up, while their defense is starting to fully click on all levels. Kelly is building his team to be physical and impose their will on teams, instead of how the team had strategic advantages under Weis.
With Saturday coming quick and these being the two teams I follow most, here are some points from both sides that will key to a win for the Boilers, or if they don't execute, possibly a terrible disappointment.
Last week, the Purdue Quarterbacks were a combined 21-25 against SEMO. The combination of TerBush and Marve made smart throws around the field to keep the offense moving and compliment the run game quite effectively. While it wasn't against the strongest of opponents, the productivity and improvement in this area is a big step in showing that this team can turn the corner and possibly get to bowl eligibility this season.
For Purdue to have consistency and be able to have a chance at winning moving forward needs to decide on a pressing debate, Marve or TerBush. One of these players needs to step up to be the leader and be the guy who is going to take all the snaps, barring an ACL tear...it is Purdue after all.
Unfortunately for Purdue, the secondary of Notre Dame is just a tad bit more talented than SEMO. If Purdue wants to be successful, they will need to follow a few quick hits for their passing game.
- Watch out for Harrison Smith: Smith is potentially on an All-American season pace, and his presence will be felt all over the field on Saturday. He is quick and is a ball hawk always looking to make an impact-full play.
- Pick on Gary Gray: One common theme throughout the first four Notre Dame games was Gray getting picked on by each opposing offenses. Offenses doing this also were successful in doing so, see the end of the Michigan game.
- Make quick, smart reads: Notre Dame's pass rush is exquisite; that is the only way to put it. Make the quick read, hit the open receiver and they better hold on if the team wants to win on Saturday.
393. Albeit it was against a weaker, less physically imposing defense, the Boilers run game put up monster numbers against SEMO. While this is an impressive feat, the Boilers will need to execute even more so against the Fighting Irish on Saturday.
Notre Dame might have the best and most physical front seven in college football, bias and no bias here. I have watched 18-year-olds tear through experienced offensive lines and apply pressure to quarterbacks and drop running games for negative yards. Ishaq Williams, Stephen Tuitt and Aaron Lynch have all been integral parts in their rookie campaigns in South Bend and are maturing by the week. On top of this, there is a linebacker core led by some guy named Manti Te'o, who is supposed to be pretty good.
If there is any way the Boilermakers want to keep their offense on the field against Notre Dame, they will have to have balance on offense. To do this, Purdue should look to do a few, or all, of these things, and do them well.
- Win the push up front: If Purdue can get the push against the Notre Dame front seven, they will have holes open up to allow them to move the ball on the ground.
- Discipline, discipline, discipline: The Boilers cannot afford any stupid penalties in their game on Saturday. If they want to have a shot at the upset, they will need to play smart and avoid stupid penalties, especially on big plays.
- Keep the fresh legs rotating: Purdue showed against SEMO that they have three able bodied running backs to carry the load. While Bolden should be featured, don't hesitate to give Shavers and Hunt 10 carries each to keep fresh legs running and push the Irish defense.
While Notre Dame has begun to get on a roll as of recently, there has been one thing that has struggled, and that is the play of quarterback Tommy Rees. While all the arguments of the kid being a winner, there are many things he has done that show that this Notre Dame defense and running game are carrying him.
Against Pitt, Rees locked onto his obvious favorite target, Michael Floyd, multiple times throughout the game and held the ball too long in the process. He then had to adjust to the fact that he couldn't throw to Floyd every play and then rushed his decisions, which led to turnovers.
If Purdue wants to be successful at containing the passing game and not allowing Notre Dame to get into a rhythm, here is what I would look to do.
- As the title says, come at Tommy Rees early and often: If you can bring different blitz packages while still containing Floyd on obvious passing downs, Rees will get flustered in the pocket and, based on past games, turn the ball over.
- Follow the eyes: Rees likes to lock on at occasions to a receiver, especially Floyd. I would really like to see a just wandering safety who is just watching Rees and reacting to where he is looking.
- Get pressure with defensive line: Yes, Ryan Kerrigan is not here anymore, which makes this a little more difficult to pressure with four linemen. However, the front four need to be able to start making a successful push against opposing offensive lines to disrupt the quarterback.
Here is the final point that Purdue needs to watch come Saturday against the Irish. Do not let the Notre Dame offense strike for a big play on the ground or through the air. Ross Ade Stadium is going to be rocking with excitement and hilarious costumes from the early hours of breakfast club. If you allow for a big play, you could take the crowd out of it early.
Last week, Jonas Gray broke free for a 79 yard run against Pitt in the first half that kept Notre Dame in the game. To make things worse, they have a two-headed horse led by Cierre Wood, who is quietly putting together some great numbers.
So, if Purdue wants to have a chance, here is how the Boilers should look to avoid controversy on Saturday.
- Wrap up tackling: Cierre Wood and Jonas Gray have a habit of bouncing runs outside when they get into trouble. This is a problem if Purdue can't tackle because they have the burst and strength to take it to the promised land if they can break a tackle.
- Physical play by Purdue Secondary: Ricardo Allen needs to stop being the only household name on the Purdue secondary. Josh Johnson needs to step up this week, and the Purdue defense needs to be physical at the line, as well as going after the ball to prevent big plays from happening.
- Smart Coaching: While this isn't a big play concern, it is a big concern for killing momentum or killing Purdue's chances. The Boilers and Danny Hope need to play smart and utilize their timeouts properly. If we see another episode where Hope calls timeout on 4th and goal for Notre Dame, the Ross Ade Brigade might be charging the field after him.
While I want this game to be as entertaining as possible, I feel my gut telling me that it isn't going to be pretty. Purdue showed two weeks ago that they can pull their team together and do the right things. However, I feel that Notre Dame is going to be dangerous this week. That being said, for some reason, this rivalry game is always a lot closer than anticipated.
I expect this to be a close game through the first three quarters, with Notre Dame pulling ahead late. The Irish just seem too good to logically pick against on paper; however, I can see Hope trying to pull a miracle out and possibly striking gold.
Final Score: Notre Dame 27, Purdue 17