After Further Review

The high of the three-game winning streak came to an abrupt end on Saturday, and Irish fans felt the jolt with each and every precision pass from the arm of Purdue quarterback Kyle Orton. The Irish defense couldn't contain the high-powered Boilermaker passing attack, and inexplicably couldn't score points against an inexperienced Purdue defense. After viewing the tape, I've gathered my thoughts on why the Irish struggled.

I hinted in my prediction article that I was worried about the Irish defense in this game. And why shouldn't I be worried? The Irish defense has struggled against many experienced quarterbacks they've faced in the Tyrone Willingham era.

Notre Dame has faced four-straight teams with quarterback problems so far this season, and managed to win three games. But an experienced quarterback seems to give the Irish fits, especially when the teams are considered about equal in talent or greater.

In 2002, the Irish faced Heisman Trophy winner Carson Palmer in Los Angeles. Palmer completed 32-of-46 passes (70 percent) for 426 (13.31 yards per completion) yards and four touchdowns in a 44-17 rout of the Irish.

Just a month later, the Irish faced what many considered an average North Carolina State team in the Gator Bowl. Philip Rivers completed 23-of-37 passes (62 percent) for 228 yards (9.9 yards per completion) in their 28-6 victory over the Irish.

In 2003, the Irish faced Michigan senior quarterback John Navarre in Ann Arbor. Navarre finished 14-of-21 (67 percent) for 199 yards (14.21 yards per completion) in their 38-0 rout of the Irish.

Later in 2003, the Irish hosted Florida State and what many considered an average quarterback in Chris Rix. Rix closed the afternoon 17-of-31 (only 55 percent), but did throw for 327 yards (19.24 yards per completion) and three touchdowns in their 37-0 blowout of the Irish.

Throw in the performance of USC's Matt Leinart last year in Notre Dame Stadium, where the Heisman hopeful finished 26-of-34 (76 percent) for 351 yards (13.5 yards per completion) and four touchdowns, and Irish fans are used to seeing talented and experienced quarterbacks have a field day against the Irish defense.

It shouldn't have come as a surprise that Purdue's Orton finished 21-of-31 (68 percent) for 385 (18.33 per completion) and four touchdowns in their 41-16 rout of the Irish.

To be fair, the Irish defense did shut down the tandem of Rob Rutherford and Larry Fitzgerald last year at Pitt, allowing Rutherford just 12 completions on 30 attempts and only 167 yards through the air.

Looking at these big numbers, one would wonder why the Irish struggled so much in the passing game against some very talented and experienced quarterbacks.

Obviously, the finger will directly be pointed at the Irish secondary—they're in coverage after all. However, it's not that simple.

The game plan was to stop the run and make the Boilermakers one-dimensional. Purdue had just 27 net yards rushing at halftime, and 201 passing yards. The Irish did make Purdue one-dimensional, but it didn't matter.

Why have the Irish been losing these games? There are a number of reasons.

First, in the six games mentioned, the Irish have managed just six sacks. While sacks usually don't tell the full story of pressure on the quarterback, it is an indication, and if memory serves me correct, I don't remember a lot of pressure on any of these quarterbacks.

Throw in a struggling secondary, and not much help on offense, and you have the makings of disaster on any given Saturday.

After watching the film, it all boiled down to this. The Irish got beat on both sides of the ball. They Irish defensive line didn't create any real pass rush, and they also didn't get much of a push up field.

The Irish also didn't get much push on offense, either. The Notre Dame offensive line would engage the opposition, and then the stalemate ensued. There were little running lanes for Irish backs and the Irish were never able to get anything going in the running game.

A note to be added: We've written about offensive line splits before, and the Irish were using very close line splits in this game. The closer the splits, the less room for running lanes. That might've been one reason the Irish struggled running the football.

There were a few positives in the game, however. Brady Quinn played his best game as an Irish quarterback in my opinion. Quinn was outstanding in the first half. He made a number of pinpoint throws with precision timing that even Orton had to be impressed with.

Anthony Fasano continues to develop into one of the best tight ends in the country. The Irish exploited the middle of the field the entire day. What they couldn't do, however, was find a way to put the ball in the end zone.

Irish fans forget that many of the teams mentioned above had outstanding seasons after defeating the Irish so it wasn't only Notre Dame that suffered at the hands of an experienced quarterback.

In the end, I think a lot of Irish fans are foolish not to give credit where credit is due. Purdue is just a better team led by one of the best quarterbacks in the country. Their offense is clicking like USC's under Leinart last season. Their defense is fast and aggressive. They are just a better team at this point in the season.

Now, the question that many will debate is why. Why is Purdue better than Notre Dame at this point? Or, maybe better yet, should they be?


IrishIllustrated.com Top Stories