Boilermakers Look to Get Back on Track

It was there for the taking. Purdue's first real test of the season last Saturday at Minnesota appeared to be going the Boilermakers way. A 29-yard interception return by Dan Bick put Purdue up 28-20 with just under six minutes to play. But the Boilermakers from this season looked a lot like the Boilermakers from last year.

A late Gopher touchdown and two-point conversion sent the game into overtime, and two extra sessions later, a Brandon Kirsch incomplete pass sealed a 42-35 loss. It was another close defeat for Purdue coach Joe Tiller, which is unfortunately becoming the norm down in West Lafayette. The Boilermakers lost five games in 2005 by a combined 14 points. Kirsch knows it's a play here or there that is the difference.

"I think it's just been the case of making plays on both sides of the ball," Kirsch said. "In the game this past Saturday, there were chances for both the offense and the defense to make plays and win the game before the clock ran out in regulation. We just have to get better at pulling together, making the plays and winning these close games."

What went wrong in the Minnesota game?

"We just weren't ready to go both defensively and offensively," wide receiver Dorian Bryant said. "We turned it on later in the game, but you can't expect to flip the switch and win the game, because that doesn't usually happen. I was ready for the defense to go back on the field (after the loss) because I didn't feel like the game was over yet. They outplayed us. They came with their A-game, and they deserved to win. We aren't going to make any excuses. We just need to move on and be ready for Notre Dame."

One of the big reasons for the loss was the inability to stop the run. Going into the game, Purdue was allowing less than 20 yards per game on the ground. This could be attributed to the fact that the Boilermakers played cupcakes Akron and Arizona in their first two contests. Minnesota exploited the supposed strength of the defense for over 300 yards rushing. Leading the way was Laurence Maroney, who carried the ball 46 times for 234 yards. Tiller did a double take on film to make sure he was believing what he saw.

"I went back and watched the tape again yesterday, and I rarely do that, if ever," Tiller said at his Tuesday press conference. "I did it so I could see what we need to do differently, though; there aren't a lot of things to do differently, but there are a few. I think we played harder in that game than what we gave ourselves credit for.

"We drew (Minnesota) on a bad night, too. (Maroney) had never touched the ball 51 times in a night before. Minnesota had the best blocking offensive line that I've seen since I've been in the league, but that's what happens when you have a great runner and you put him with an outstanding line. We had some miscommunication in the secondary and had a bad play or two. But overall our secondary did not play that poorly."

In comes the 3-1 and 13th ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish this weekend, who have been lighting it up on offense against opposing defenses. Darius Walker has four straight 100-yard rushing performances, Brady Quinn looks like a new man in head Charlie Weis's offense and Jeff Samardzija has emerged into a number one receiver, catching six touchdowns in four games. Tiller, 4-4 against the Irish while at Purdue, expected big things from the Notre Dame offense this year.

"They are somewhat what we expected them to be this year because of the fact that they have multiple starters back on offense," Tiller said. "We were first exposed to Brady Quinn when he started in the game that was here a couple of years ago, and he has continued to improve and become a very good quarterback. They have an outstanding tight end and overall have a lot of tools to work with offensively. I'm impressed with Notre Dame and I look forward to the game this Saturday."

Quinn especially has liked to see the gold and black of the Boilermakers. He has had two huge games against Purdue in his first two tries, including a 432-yard performance last season. Despite the big numbers, Quinn is 0-2 versus the Boilermakers. Defensive end Ray Edwards knows the Purdue defense must be in the face of Quinn to limit Notre Dame's offensive production.

"Last year, even though we got to the quarterback eight times, he still threw for almost 400 yards," Edwards said. "If we don't stop him this year, he might decide to throw for 500 yards. We need to pressure him. He's a great quarterback, and if he finds a hole in the defense, he'll throw to whoever is open and make us pay all day."

This is a big game for both teams. Notre Dame goes into a bye week after Saturday's contest and the difference of being 4-1 and 3-2 heading into USC is enormous. For Purdue, it's a chance to bounce back after a tough overtime loss and restore dreams of a big bowl appearance. Tiller feels that anytime you play the Irish, it's a special occasion.

"I told the team, 'There are 117 Division-I football programs in this country, with two of them matching up in Ross-Ade Stadium this Saturday," Tiller said. "The other 115 programs are going to wish they were here.'"


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