The Irish defense had one of their best performances of the year against Purdue. They held the Boilermakers under 100 yards rushing, held them to only 127 yards passing, recorded five sacks and held them to 2-of-15 on third down opportunities. At least some of the credit has to go to the Irish defensive line.
Mattison said he was pleased with the performance of his unit against Purdue but says the Irish have been getting healthier and that has made a difference in how effective his unit can be. "I don't know if there's any team, the teams we play, that we will ever just completely shut them down. I know we're not 100 percent healthy. Darrell (Campbell) had the best game he's had since he's been here last week. He was finally getting healthy and now that took toll on his ankle. Luckily we have an open date."
Cedric Hilliard has also been banged up all year. Mattison said Hilliard was ready to play against Purdue but ended up getting injured again. "Ced, it's just been one of those years where he just can't get healthy. Hopefully this break will get him back to where he was. He, again in that game, the first 12 plays was kind of like the old Ced; he was really starting to look good. You can see him moving, he had some vibrancy and then he got rolled up on again."
The Irish depth at offensive line has helped them stay in the games this year. "The good thing about us this year is like it happened with Darrell in the Michigan State game. To play a guy who's half-injured, we've got guys that are close anyhow so we can put another guy in there. That's allowed us not to get them hurt any worse."
The ankle problems for both Hilliard and Campbell have really impacted this defense and neither player can get the leverage they used to get last year. "When you have an ankle problem, you get started standing up. I don't care how strong you are and how big you are, you stand up against the people we play against and you're going to get knocked back. That's been a big thing we've really tried to work on the last couple of weeks--staying lower. When your ankles, your knees, your hamstrings, you're not allowed to bend and go. That's been a big key for us."
One player who has filled in for Hilliard has been Derek Landri. Landri saw a lot of minutes against Purdue and Mattison likes what he's seen in Landri. "Derek did a good job. One thing that Derek Landri gives you is that he can make plays. There's one play for example where he got knocked out there and you thought it was Kyle's (Budinscak) play but it really was that the nose got knocked out of there. But, there's other plays where all the sudden he shows up and is making a great play."
"When he really gets everything together which is coming really fast for him now, he's going to be one of those guys that's really a play-maker," Mattison continued. "One of those guys that might be in the wrong gap but all the sudden is making the tackle which you see a lot of good nose guards who can do that."
The sacks against Purdue were a welcomed addition to the defense. Justin Tuck hasn't had the kind of season Irish fans had hoped for but Mattison says Tuck hasn't been healthy either. "I wasn't surprised at all at Justin, I expect that out of Justin every game. I fully expect him to keep improving and keep doing that. He's been banged up too and I think now he's finally gotten back."
Victor Abiamiri and Greg Pauly are two players who didn't see as much action as they had in previous games. Mattison said he would've liked to get both more snaps but went with what was working. "I would've liked to get Victor in a little bit more--to kind of roll him with Kyle more. Victor's very, very talented and the same thing with Greg Pauly, he didn't play at all because Darrell was playing so good. I'd love to rotate guys but when a guy is fresh and he's going hard, why do it?"
Mattison has a point about the ankles and leverage and exactly why I asked the question. Both Hilliard and Campbell will probably struggle until they become fully healthy again. Mattison has the luxury of inserting Landri and Pauly as solid backups if need be—something he hasn't had at Notre Dame since he's been here. Hopefully Hilliard and Campbell heal quickly because the Irish will need both in the next four games.