Trouble Spot #8 – Purdue

The Irish kickoff October and conclude a five-game stretch vs. BCS conference foes with a prime time trip to West Lafayette.

Click here for the introduction and an explanation of the rankings.

Trouble Spot No. 8 – Purdue

I doubt the Boilers are the eighth-best team the Irish will face this fall, but Week Five in prime time in Ross-Ade is the definition of a Trouble Spot – a game in which the inferior team rises to the occasion for one special Saturday evening in the fall.

Situation (date, time, location): Week Five, 8:00 PM ET at Ross-Ade Stadium, West Lafayette, Indiana. The game will be televised by ABC, ESPN, or ESPN2.

Purdue/Irish Game Slot: The Boilers have two weeks to prepare for the contest thanks to a Week Four Bye. They'll likely enter the contest 3-0 with home dates vs. Middle Tennessee State and FCS-school Southeast Missouri State, plus a road game vs. Rice, preceding their matchup with the Irish.

Notre Dame will conclude a two-game road trip with its evening in West Lafayette, playing three of five outside of South Bend to begin the season. The preceding contests: South Florida, at rival Michigan, vs. Michigan State, and at Pittsburgh, play a major role in the slotting of this Trouble Spot. After facing Purdue, the Irish host Air Force for the first of three straight in South Bend.

Numbers/National View of Purdue

Lindy's ranks the Boilers No. 58 and ninth in the Big 10 while Athlon's projects Purdue as the nation's 64th-best team, fifth in the newly-formed "Leaders" division of the now 12-team league. Phil Steele ranks Purdue as his ninth-most improved team, nationally, with a bowl projection for the veteran squad.

My View of Purdue: A borderline bowl team but a veteran group that, despite its frustrating 0-6 finish, improved as the season ended last fall. The Boilers were hit by the injury bug at key positions (RB, QB, WR) and let's face it – do not have a program that can withstand a healthy dose of bad luck during the season.

With nine starters returning to its defense; both quarterbacks – Rob Henry and Robert Marve – to contribute under center, and 2009 star runner Ralph Bolden back in the fold after sitting out last season with a torn ACL, Purdue has a shot at six, possibly seven wins next fall.

The Boilers "should have" won both of their last two contests (Michigan State and Indiana), the former an upset that would have put them on the radar entering 2011.

Coaching Element

Head coach Danny Hope's eternal gift to Irish fans: an ill-advised timeout with a four-point lead and the clock ticking down, thereby allowing the Irish to regroup for Jimmy Clausen's heroics in a 2009, 24-21 victory.

As an observer, it's hard to trust a coach after such an inexplicable late-game strategy blunder – then again, I think Brian Kelly and his staff rank among the nation's best, and the Irish head man produced a far worse end-game decision in a 2010 loss to Tulsa. One decision rarely defines a contest.

Hope enters his third season at Purdue with just 9 wins in 24 contests. A 6-6 mark and lower-tier bowl victory would likely appease the fickle masses. Seven wins in 2011 would show true growth after a tough second season.

Though subjective and admittedly a fluid opinion in examination of the now-transient college coaching profession, I'd rate at least 10, if not 11 opposing head coaches ahead of Hope, among Irish foes this fall.

Trap Game Potential

Extremely high, 8.5 on a scale of 1-10. The game's slotting on the teams' comparative schedules, its prime-time kick-off and location moved it from No. 11 on my initial list to No. 8, and I could have stretched it as high as No. 6, though that's a bit much as I expect an Irish victory.

Two recent contests illustrate the unknown entering this Week Five tilt:

  1. In 2005, a surging, 4-1 Irish team entered West Lafayette for an evening ESPN battle with Purdue as a slight underdog (+3) and destroyed the Boilers, racking up seven touchdowns in a 49-28 rout (a game that was never close).
  2. In 2009, a (2-1) Irish squad limped into Purdue as mild favorites (-2) and escaped thanks to the heroics of Clausen, winning on a 4th-down touchdown pass to Kyle Rudolph.

After a decade of dominance in West Lafayette, Notre Dame has won just three times (2001, '05, '09) in its last seven trips dating back to a 1997 upset loss. After a South Bend loss ('04) and three close calls ('98, '00, '02) in the post-Holtz years, the Irish have righted the rivalry's ship in home games, (consecutive wins in '06, '08, '10), and Notre Dame may continue to pound Purdue in South Bend throughout Kelly era, but their bi-annual trip south will prove a tough test more often than not.

Key elements to the Boilers' Defense/Offense

Gone is All-America DE Ryan Kerrigan, whose two-year reign of terror vs. the Irish offense included 15 tackles, 4.5 of which were hits for lost yardage, with two sacks, a safety, and a forced fumble. But nine starters return, including five of seven up front and the entire defensive secondary led by underrated, undersized, future All-Big cornerback Ricardo Allen. Purdue can stay in games with a solid defense this fall.

The offense will feature either Henry, a run-first option, or Marve, a former dangerous runner/scrambler that's endured two knee surgeries, under center. Henry led a poor Purdue offense in rushing last season, though the Boilers should have a two-back attack with the return of Bolden JuCo transfer Akeem Shavers.

The Irish defense will handle the Purdue offense in West Lafayette, but this could be a slug-fest if Kelly's attack isn't yet consistently clicking on all cylinders, offensively.

Advantage Irish? Notre Dame will be (severely) battle-tested entering the matchup while the Boilers will have yet to face a team with a pulse when the Irish hit town. Bob Diaco's defense will be far and away the best Purdue faces through the season's first two months. If the Irish are healthy entering the contest, they could hold the Boilers under 250 yards of total offense.

Relevant Storylines

It's the host's litmus: Purdue should enter the contest undefeated (a paper-thin 3-0) for the first time since 2007, when, as an absurd 21-point favorite, it handled winless Notre Dame, 33-19 in West Lafayette. The Boilers inexplicably earned a #23 ranking after the disjointed victory before stumbling to a 2-4 regular-season finish – but with a bowl game victory and an 8-5 campaign as an end result.

Purdue has finished with between 7-9 victories during each of the five seasons in which it defeated the Irish ('97, '99, '03, '04, '07).

Puncher's Chance for an upset? Scale of 1-10? About 6.5 again, similar to South Florida. I think Purdue will play a strong game defensively in front of a frenzied crowd, but Notre Dame shouldn't lose as much as struggle, vs. the fired up, confident, veteran group.

Final Verdict/Prediction

I don't think Notre Dame will lose, but I do think they'll encounter trouble under the lights in West Lafayette. Look for the Irish defense to play the role of hero, limiting the Boilers and their All-America caliber kicker, Carson Wiggs, to more field goals than his team scores touchdowns for an 8-12-point Irish victory. Top Stories