Despite the resistance of the past four weeks, both teams will get to show who is the superior team when they take the field this Saturday afternoon. Kickoff is scheduled for 2:43 p.m. at Notre Dame Stadium and NBC will have the national television coverage. Purdue gets their first shot at a quality opponent and it's also their first game away from Ross-Ade Stadium in West Lafayette. The atmosphere and increased level of competition will be two factors the Boilermakers have to deal with in order to win. Irish head coach Charlie Weis sees an explosive scoring machine with zero losses heading to South Bend.
"Their offense has scored over 40 points a game," Weis said. "I don't care who they've played. I could also say they called off the dogs. There are two ways of looking at that. They're 4-0. Last year, they had a rough season. They expected to beat us last season and we had a good night. They're expecting to have a good afternoon. That's just the way it goes. They are well-coached. They have a lot of pride. I expect their best effort."
For the Irish, they'll be facing one of the worst pass defenses in Division 1A. Purdue is 115th against the pass and should be an area that Weis and his offense will try to exploit. Another area that Notre Dame would like to get going is the running game. The Irish are 108th nationally in rushing offense, averaging a meager 74 yards per game on the ground. Granted, the past two games, Notre Dame has been in a passing mode. Also, fullback Asaph Schwapp has been absent from the lineup. The sophomore is "day-to-day" or "so-so," according to Weis, heading into this weekend's game.
"To say that it has no impact would be a lie," Weis said. I don't think Ashley (McConnell) has been the problem either. It affects your play calling more than your plays because what you do is use less two back sets when put into the position. That's when he's on the field in two back sets. In some ways, you get limited in the volume of plays that you can call."
Speaking of the running back position, there was a flare-up at practice today between player and coach. Darius Walker and offensive coordinator Michael Haywood were having quite the argument today at practice over the issue of the junior running back not participating in the gauntlet drill. This is a drill where the runners go through a machine that has stoppers on each side, making it tough for the player to reach the other side. Its emphasis is protecting the ball. The heated discussion was not heard by Weis but usually the coach, in these situations, gets most of the talking done.
"They had an exchange?" Weis asked. "Good, good. I'll be looking forward to hearing about it. At this point, I don't know anything about it. I'll be running up there to find out. But sometimes those things happen for one reason or another. Usually a player says one or two things but the conversations become very one-sided. I would guess that's the way that one went."
Freshman James Aldridge has been injured it seems since the day he stepped onto campus early back in January. Knee problems have hampered his progress. Now, Aldridge is practicing at full speed and the Purdue game has been the scheduled time for him to make his debut. Walker is still the starter but Aldridge would provide some depth at the position and give a power alternative to Walker's shifty, patient style.
"He looked a lot better," Weis said of Aldridge. "The thing we have to be concerned with James is the first couple of times he gets hit. In practice, we don't take them to the ground. We bang them around but we don't take them to the ground. We don't cut guys on defense and we don't take them to the ground on offense. That's the one hurdle we're going to have to overcome as we go along."
Saturday's contest will be a chance for Weis to improve his home record. Away from Notre Dame Stadium, the Irish head coach is a perfect 7-0 with his "us against the world" mentality. At home, though, Weis is just 5-3, including the humbling defeat to Michigan two weeks ago. He said it's not just the players who have to adjust to the friendly environment but the coaches as well.
"You can try all the psychological ploys of mankind," Weis said. "But it comes down to us playing better. To add on top of that, it's almost like you're giving the players up and they need to play better. It's just not playing better but us (coaches) doing a better job at home. I can't stand people who think it's all the players fault when things go wrong. I don't want to be a hypocrite. I need to work at it, too, just like the rest of the staff."