Notre Dame vs Purdue Preview

A opening look at this week's opponent, the Purdue Boilermakers (4-0)

#12 Notre Dame vs. Purdue
Fighting Irish   Boilermakers
Saturday, September 30th
Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, IN.
2:30 EST


Purdue On Offense:

Purdue Offense '06 Rank Per Game ND Defense '06 Rank Per Game
Rushing Offense #40 164.00 Rushing Defense #92 161.25
Pass Offense #7 297.50 Pass Defense #50 181.25
Pass Eff. Offense #23 154.67 Pass Eff. Defense #63 126.59
Total Offense #10 461.50 Total Defense #80 342.50
Scoring Offense #5 40.75 Scoring Defense #94 27.75

Joe Tiller pumped life back into the Purdue program when he took over in 1997, and now he has the second most head coaching victories in Boilermaker history with a record of 67-43.  Tiller had led the Boilers to eight straight bowl appearances until the team suffered through it's first losing season (5-6) in his nine years in West Lafayette. Tiller is 4-5 against the Fighting Irish over that time period.

This season Purdue has been shaky out of the gate, but they'll enter Notre Dame Stadium with a 4-0 record with home wins over Indiana State (Division IAA), Miami University (Ohio), Ball State and Minnesota. The game against Indiana State was tight deep into the third quarter (32- 28)  before Purdue scored a touchdown at the 3:07 mark to stretch their lead to 11 points. Tiller then used the fourth quarter to add cosmetic scores and reach the final of 60-35.

The following week Miami missed a 39-yard field goal that would have won the game at the end of regulation play. Instead the game went into overtime where Purdue prevailed in the first overtime possession. The Boilermakers handled Ball State 38-28 in week three and then opened their Big Ten schedule last week with another close victory against Minnesota, 27-21.

Quarterback Curtis Painter leads the potent Purdue offense that is ranked No. 10 nationally in total offense. The Vincennes, Ind. native made a late appearance in last year's game against the Irish. He only completed four of fourteen passes for 76 yards, but Painter did get the ball in the end zone to close out the scoring in Notre Dame's 49-28 victory. Three weeks later Tiller named Painter the starter for the remaining five games of the 2005 season, as the Boilers finished 3-2 with Painter under center. 

The running backs and receivers are probably the most athletic group Tiller has ever assemble at Purdue, but unfortunately these players don't have a lot of experience. The starting tailback Saturday will be speedster Kory Sheets, but the Irish defense will also see Jaycen Taylor. Despite Tiller's reputation of slinging the ball around the field, his offense is surprisingly balanced. This season the Boilermakers have rushed the ball 126 times while attempting 133 passes. 

The receiving corps is a huge upgrade from previous year's in terms of athleticism. Junior Dorien Bryant is the best of the bunch and unlike last season he now has playmakers roaming the secondary which makes him even more dangerous. Sophomores Greg Orton and Selwyn Lymon will get most of the snaps with Bryant, but Purdue will freely rotate receivers onto the field. 

Without question the strength of the Boilermakers is the offensive line. This group allowed only 9 sacks during the 2005 campaign, while producing 187 rushing yards per contest. Mike Otto, Robbie Powell, Jordan Grimes and Sean Sester return as does former starting guard Uche Nwaneri. Nwaneri missed all of last season due to a suspension. 

Tiller has always pulled a handful of kids from the junior college ranks in order to patch holes in the Boilermaker roster. In the last recruiting class, Tiller signed nine junior college players.

Key match-ups: Can the Irish apply pressure?  The quarterback gets rid of the ball in a hurry in Tiller's offense, so Notre Dame won't pad their sack totals. They do need to get their hands up and stay in Painter's throwing lanes. 

Anticipated Depth Chart. Returning starter = +.

  +Curtis Painter, Jr.                        82-128-1,140        8/5                 64.1
  Joey Elliott, So. 1-3-15 0/0 33.3

Curtis Painter (6-foot-4, 228 pounds) is dangerous player. He's somewhat similar to Michigan State's Drew Stanton, except that he isn't quite as dangerous when he runs the ball. Last season he rushed for 251 yards on 52 attempts. Through four games this season he's only rushed 19 times for 29 yards, but he has found the end zone three times. Painter has improved his accuracy from 52.4 percent in 2005 to over 64 percent this season.  He's still young and he's still learning, but he is a dangerous player.

Joey Elliott (6-foot-3, 210 pounds) is more of a traditional quarterback. If he's in the game, it probably won't be good news for the Boilermakers.

  RB Hgt/Wgt Rushes-Yards
  Kory Sheets, Jr. 6-0/200 59/321, 8TDs
  Jaycen Taylor, So. 5-10/174 29/227, 1 TD

Kory Sheets can hit the big play. He's a terrific athlete that does everything well. He does most of his damage to the outside. He doesn't appear to be comfortable working between the guards. Sheets is a dynamite receiver. He already has 11 receptions for two touchdowns to go along with his 321 rushing yards and eight touchdowns. Purdue isn't very deep at running back, so this guy needs to stay healthy. 

Jaycen Taylor is a juco transfer. He's more of your third down back, but he's only caught two balls for 20 yards. He has been effective carrying the ball 29 times for 229 yards. Although his rushing totals are impressive, Purdue doesn't want to rely on him carrying the ball due to his size.

  WR Hgt/Wgt Stats
  +Dorien Bryant, Jr. 5-10/175  27 rcpt/351 yds/ 3TDs
  Greg Orton, So. 6-3/191  12 rcpts/175 yds/1 TDs
  Selwyn Lymon, So. 6-4/210  9 rcpts/124 yds/0 TD
  Jake Standeford Sr. 6-2/198 3  rcpts/26 yds/0 TD
  Desmond Tardy, Jr. 6-1/192  2 rcpts/33 yds/1 TD

Tiller has done well to get this unit together and they are by far the most athletic group of receivers I've seen in West Lafayette. They have a good blend of sizes and they have playmakers that can stretch the field. This unit is young, so there will be growing pains. Bryant has the talent to pull the load until the youngsters step up.

Dorien Bryant is without question the leader of this unit. He has very soft hands and he makes something happen once he gets the ball. He has superior speed, so he's a threat to go deep, but he'll also go over the middle without fear. Tiller works to get him the ball in a number of ways; at the line of scrimmage, deep passes, he'll come out of the backfield, and even throw the ball. He led the team in receiving last season with just under 1,000 yards. Through four games Bryant has caught 27 passes for 351 yards and three touchdowns.

Greg Orton has good size and he catches most everything. He has decent speed, but he isn't going to wear you out deep. He's the Boiler's No.2 guy. As a true freshman he caught nine passes for 94 yards. He has been slowed by a hip pointer, but ND should see him.

Purdue fans have had to wait a year for Selwyn Lymon to hit the field due to grade issues. It took the Fort Wayne, Ind. product a couple games to get going, but he announced his arrival with a huge eight-catch, 90-yard performance against Ball State.  He's physically mature and he has the size to be very dominant. This kid is going to be a good one.

Andre Chattams, Desmond Tardy and Jake Standeford will mix into the line-up. Chattams and Standeford aren't spectacular, but they will catch the ball.

  TE Hgt/Wgt Stats
  Dustin Keller, Sr. 6-4/244 18 rcpts/359 yds/ 1TDs
  Jerry Wasikowski, Jr. 6-4/253 2 rcpts/17 yds/0 TDs

When you look at Dustin Keller's gaudy 19.9 yards per catch average it isn't tough to imagine that he is a converted wide receiver. He added some size in the off-season, but he has more to add. Keller is not a strong blocker. He is a very tough match-up and he'll turn linebackers around. Blend this player in with the wide receivers and it is easy to see how Painter averages nearly 300 yards passing per game. Keller did injure a wrist against Minnesota. He has been in a cast, but he is expected to play. If he remains in the cast it will be difficult to include him in the Boiler passing game. 

Jerry Wasikowski will get some action, but he won't steal much time from Keller. Purdue wont run two tight ends very often. He is a solid blocker. He does have a couple catches, but if he's in, expect a run.

  Offensive Line Hgt/Wgt Experience
  +LT Mike Otto, 5th, 6-5/304 39 Starts
  +LG Uche Nwaneri, 5th 6-3/300  
  +C Robbie Powell, Sr. 6-5/297 14 Starts
  +RG Jordan Grimes, Jr. 6-3/325 15 starts
  +RT Sean Sester, Jr. 6-8/309 14 starts

This group isn't going to blow a defense off the ball, but they are crafty blockers. Last year this unit produced 186.7 yards per game and 4.9 yards per rushing attempt. Although Purdue is only averaging 164.0 yards per game this season, they are now averaging 5.2 yards per carry.  

Kokomo, Ind. native Mike Otto, is in his fourth season as the starting left tackle. Otto isn't really powerful, but he certainly is an effective blocker...solid technician. He moves his feet really well and maintains his balance. Otto is a very good pass blocker and a solid overall player. This will be a tough match-up for Chris Frome, but Otto won't drive him off the ball. 

Robbie Powell wasn't expected to start last season, but he was thrust into duty because of the suspension of Uche Nwaneri.  The added experience Powell brings will be huge throughout the season.  He really isn't an overly strong or powerful run blocker, but he is capable of steering his man away from the play. He does do very solid job of protecting Painter. 

Although Otto is the gray beard of the group, at 325 pounds, Jordan Grimes might be the best player up front. He moves and pulls really well. He's able to block defensive backs in space, which is very difficult for offensive linemen, let alone a 325-pound lineman. Grimes gets into defenders and finished his blocks. He's starting to develop a real nasty streak.

Sester has added about 25 pounds to his frame from this point last season and with a year of playing experience under his belt he will frustrate a lot of defensive ends. At 6-foot-8 he has an enormous wingspan. He did a commendable job last year against Victor Abiamiri and the two will lock horns again on Saturday. 

Like Notre Dame, Purdue is very thin behind their first unit.

Purdue On Defense:

Purdue Defense '06 Rank Per Game ND Offense '06 Rank Per Game
Rushing Defense #59 126.00 Rushing Offense #108 74.75
Pass Defense #115 284.75 Pass Offense #16 273.25
Pass Eff. Defense #90 137.92 Pass Eff. Offense #47 134.04
Total Defense #105 410.75 Total Offense #55 348.00
Scoring Defense #99 28.75 Scoring Offense #39 29.00

What the heck happened to this group? In 2004 the Purdue defense allowed 18.7 points per game. In 2005, with all 11 starters returning from the '04 defensive unit it ballooned to 28.1 points per contest. Purdue replaced over half of the starters this season and the results are even worse. Through four games, the Purdue defense is surrendering (literally) a whopping 28.75 points per game and they've yet to play the meat of their schedule. 

Brock Spack likes to rotate his front seven as much as he can during the game in order to keep fresh legs on the field. I don't think he'll be able to do that this weekend because Purdue just doesn't have quality depth. They have bodies, but there is a drop-off when they reach to the second front. Anthony Spencer is the lone returning starter up front from last year's defense. Alex Magee, Ryan Baker and Mike McDonald (juco) have very limited experience. 

The linebackers are probably the strength of the defense. Cliff Avril, Dan Bick, and Stanford Keglar all have playing experience, although Bick's history is limited. 

The "book" on Notre Dame is to bring as much pressure as you can. The trouble with that game plan for Spack is that several of his secondary players will be in difficult one-on-one situations. If it's Samardzija and McKnight I don't think there is a defensive back on the Purdue roster that can slow them down. I wouldn't be surprised to see both Irish receivers with over a hundred yards receiving.

Purdue's cornerbacks are freshman Royce Adams and junior Terrell Vinson, The safeties are freshman Brandon Erwin and junior Justin Scott. So, the heart of the problem for Spack is an issue that Notre Dame fans have discussed endlessly over the last several years; Do you blitz to get to the quarterback before he can deliver the ball accurately, which exposes the defensive backs, or is it best to sit back in a zone and let the quarterback pick you apart? 

Key mach-ups: Brady Quinn vs.the Purdue secondary. Quinn has averaged 390 passing yards in three games against Purdue, his last two games against the Boilers, he passed for more than 430 yards in both outings. Although it will be tempting for Weis to try to establish the running game, his modus operandi is to attack a team's weakness. Look above at Purdue's pass defense numbers and Notre Dame's offensive passing numbers. 

Anticipated Depth Chart. Returning starter = +

  Defensive Line Hgt/Wgt Experience
  +DE Anthony Spencer, 5th 6-3/261 23 Starts
  NT Alex Magee, So. 6-5/275 6 Starts
  DT Ryan Baker, Jr. 6-5/282 6 Starts
  DE Mike McDonald, Sr. 6-2/248 2 Starts

Anthony Spencer is having another huge year for the Boilermakers. Spencer already has 28 tackles, nine tackles for a loss and five sacks. For a defensive end, those numbers are solid numbers for a season let alone four games into the year. Spencer is fun to watch. He is all over the field and he plays to the whistle. Not only can he apply pressure to the quarterback, but he is also stout against the run. Sam Young will  have his hands full.

Alex Magee has two sacks and 11 tackles on the season. He battles, but the sophomore still needs to add size and strength. Ryan Baker
is in the same boat. He battles but he has a lot to learn in addition to increasing his strength. 

Mike McDonald is one of the junior college transfers that Tiller brought in over the summer. McDonald works hard, but it looks like he's still adjusting to the jump in competition or maybe still getting a feel for Purdue's scheme. 

Spack has no trouble rotating his second group of lineman into the game. Senior defensive end Eugene Bright is a very solid player and he is the best of the second unit. Junior defensive tackle Jermaine Guynn is capable. Spack also has sophomore Mike Neal, and fifth-year senior Nick Cavallo to work with, but this group is not nearly as deep as it has been in the past.

  Linebackers Hgt/Wgt Stats
  +SLB Cliff Avril, Jr. 6-3/ 240 31 tackles - 6 TFL
  +MLB Dan Bick, Jr. 6-1/218 38 tackles - 1.5 TFL
  +WLB Stanford Keglar, Jr 6-2/240 26 tackles - 1 TFL

Cliff Avril is second on the team in tackles with 31. Six of those have been behind the line of scrimmage. Avril has two sacks on the season, and he can cause trouble coming on the blitz.

Dan Bick isn't big, he isn't tremendously athletic, but he makes plays. Bick leads the Boilermakers in tackles.

Stanford Keglar had been at SAM backer, and that might be his best position, but Spack needs to get the best players on the field. Keglar is fourth on the team in tackles.

  Defensive Backs Hgt/Wgt Experience
  CB Royce Adams, Fr. 6-0/180 2 Starts
  CB Terrell Vinson, Jr. 5-9/175 2 starts
  FS Brandon Erwin, Fr. 6-0/180 4 starts
  SS Justin Scott, Jr. 6-0, 200 3 starts

This has to be a major concern for Purdue. Last season this group was horrible and three of those starters moved on. To compound Purdue's troubles,  Zach Logan, the cornerback Brady Quinn picked on in last year's game, is still struggling to defend the pass and he has been replaced in the starting line-up by Terrell Vinson. Vinson received his first start against Ball State.

Aaron Lane was scheduled to start at the cornerback spot opposite of Vinson, but Lane broke his shoulder blade and will miss six weeks of action. Taking over for the injured Lane is true freshman Royce Adams.  

Is that the last of the bad news? Not yet. Starting strong safety Torri Williams suffered a season ending knee injury and he is lost for the season. Standing in for Williams is junior college transfer Justin Scott. 

Finally, true freshman Brandon Erwin will start at the free safety spot.

Additional information: The best match-up to watch is the Notre Dame defensive line against the Purdue offensive line. Both units are very good. If Notre Dame doesn't apply pressure to Painter, he's good enough to make Notre Dame pay and he has the skill position players to assist him. 

That being said, this game shouldn't be close. Purdue is undermanned on the defensive side of the ball. They are green and they do not have the depth to run with Notre Dame.

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