Beware the Boilers?

Matchups on paper are often misleading. Consider Exhibit A below:

Team #1 is one of the nation's most confident squads, fresh off a 31-0 whipping of its hated rival. It enters its next game as a four-touchdown favorite, on the cusp of the nation's top 10, and possesses a dark horse Heisman Trophy candidate at the trigger.

Team #2 just got waxed by Central Michigan. It doesn't know who it's quarterback will be Saturday much less for the rest of the season, and it's beaten just one FBS foe since November 2012.

To the majority of college football fans, Team #1 (Notre Dame) should be poised to put an epic beating on Team #2 (Purdue).

Wary Irish fans that watched the teams battle in both 2012 and 2013 might see something different.

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly certainly does.

"We know our opponent, and we know about the resolve that they'll play with," said Kelly. "It's an opportunity for them to play at Lucas Oil Field on national television. They'll get a lot of enthusiasm and emotion on their side, so we know what's going to happen Saturday night from Purdue's end.

"Now it's about what we do and how we respond to that. I think it's pretty clear that our players understand what they're going to get from Purdue and that is their very, very best."

Their best gave Notre Dame all it could handle last season, a 31-24 Irish win in West Lafayette in which the Boilermakers led at the end of the first, second, and third quarters, and had possession with a chance to tie in the final eight minutes.

Thereafter, Purdue beat, well, no one, at least not until a season-opening victory over Western Michigan two weeks ago. The Boilers followed with a loss last week to Central Michigan by 21 points.

At home.

But Kelly knows the team they see Saturday night in Indianapolis won't resemble the unit he's seen on film this week.

"If you watch the film and turn it on you really see two different teams," he admitted. "Last year they had a game that went right down to the end against (FCS foe) Indiana State, it was 20-17.  The week before they got blown out against Cincinnati, and then they play us to obviously a tight ballgame.  It's just in-state rival. Just throw out all of what happened before, and they just played very, very well with a great deal of enthusiasm and emotion, and we're going to have to meet and exceed that."

Notre Dame hasn't lost a game to Purdue since the Irish couldn't beat anyone, 2007. In his four seasons, Kelly's Irish squads have played two to the wire (2012-13), another close (2010), and one in which it dispatched of the Boilers with ease (38-10 in 2011.)

The point spreads for those four contests (2010-13) were 11.5, 11.5, 14.5, and 17.5, respectively.

This week? 28.5, the largest of the Kelly era against any foe and the greatest for the Irish program since Brady Quinn's 2006 crew took on a woeful Stanford program as 29-point favorites in October 2006. (Times sure have changed.)

A letdown in emotional pitch is inevitable for Notre Dame, both between the lines and in the stands. But game week focus and practice preparation -- two things under Kelly's purview -- promise to be present.

"We have really begun this process in January, and we've talked about, 'We don't rise to the level of our competition, we sink to the level of our preparation,'" said Kelly. "That is really where we are.  Our players know it. It's been on the back of our shirts and in our conditioning. We knew what this schedule looked like. We know what it looks like. Each and every week it's a challenge for us, and you can't rise to the challenge if you can't rely on your preparation."

"I think with this football team…they just enjoy playing," he continued. "Whether it's Purdue or North Carolina, it's always been about preparation for this group and not about the opponent, per se.  So as long as we keep that as central to how we play each and every week and not rise to a particular opponent, then I feel really good about going into this week and our opponent.  It just seems like this group in particular has really set themselves apart in a sense that they really just love playing the game. As long as we prepare properly and do the right things leading up to it, we should play the same way week-in and week-out."


IrishIllustrated.com Top Stories