"You are seeing the field be spread, the use of three, four and at times five wide receivers, is common place," said Irish secondary coach Bill Lewis, who will be very much involved in matching up personnel with the Purdue receivers. "It used to be the exception to the rule, now it's the rule. Purdue has long been into that offensive attack, that is part of what coach (Joe) Tiller and his offensive program has been about down there. I've been very impressed with what they've done to this point in their season."
How can you not be. Purdue (4-0) is averaging a shade over 40 points per game, ranking fifth in the country. They are 10th in the country in total offense, gaining 461.50 yards per game. Regardless of weak competition, they have put up impressive numbers.
Keying the attack against the 12th-ranked Irish (3-1) will be second-year starting quarterback Curtis Painter. The junior has completed 82-of-128 passes (64.1 percent) for 1,140 yards with eight touchdowns and five interceptions.
Painter likes to go to all-Big 10 receiver Dorien Bryant (27 catches, 351 yards, three TDs) and tight end Dustin Keller (18 receptions, 359 yards, one TD). Those two lead the conference in receiving yards per game.
Running back Kory Sheets keeps the defense honest, gaining 321 yards and scoring eight touchdowns, mostly out of single-back formations. Sheets' 15 points per game is atop the nation's leader board.
"(Painter) makes a lot of good throws and a lot of good reads," Irish safety Chinedum Ndukwe said. "He's the main reason why (Bryant) and (Sheets), all those guys can really light up the scoreboard."
"There seems to be a tremendous rhythm to their offense," Lewis said. "Their quarterback has done a tremendous job of managing the game, making decisions and then he is taking advantage of some good personnel when it comes to their wide receivers. Probably the biggest surprise when we've watched them through their first four games is their tight end Keller."
Keller showed signs of improvement the second half of last year after converting from wide receiver. Notre Dame didn't see too much of him in a 49-28 blowout victory a season ago.
"I've not seen a tight end that's close to him as far as his vertical speed going down the field," Lewis said. "Any time you put three wide receivers on the field and a tight end that can threaten the vertical field in particularly the middle of the field, you have real problems. He has caused problems for people throughout the year. Their quarterback is completing 64 percent of his passes, that's hard to do in seven-on-seven. He's spread them out, he has the receiver that has had all the preseason accolades in Bryant and deservedly so. With the addition of the tight end in there, all of a sudden it presents a whole different set of problems for you."
Lewis went on to say that Keller could be the best tight end the Irish see all year.
The key to stopping the Purdue offense will be stopping Sheets. If the Irish are able to do that with six men in the box, Painter and the passing attack won't be as dangerous. Another tough task with a veteran offensive line that has an averages 307 pounds per man.
"They are very big and very physical," senior tackle Derek Landri said. "They are coached by John McDonnell (offensive tackles and tight ends, who served on Tyrone Willingham‘s staff), so we know a little bit about his mentality, the way he coached, the way he's structured the offensive line. Normally when you play the Big 10 you think Michigan and their big o-line, Ohio State, but Purdue's got themselves a good offensive line and pretty big at that."
"They're really solid and very physical. They can move too, which isn't very good for a defensive lineman when they outweigh you by about 20 or 30 pounds."
Painter was sacked only nine times last season, and just three times this season. Having a good offensive line and playing out of the shotgun quite a bit goes hand-in-hand for that success.
"For one, you have to time it up and try to get there," linebacker Maurice Crum Jr. said of blitzing Painter. "You don't want to be late or you'll never get there. That's not the purpose of getting pressure."
"It's a little different," Landri said. "(Painter) can see the field a little bit more so it's more difficult. But first you have to beat the offensive linemen and that's not going to be an easy task this week."
The Irish defense can come into this game feeling good against an offense like this after yielding just six second-half points, none in the fourth quarter, in the 40-37 come-from-behind win.
"I think it helped us build confidence," Crum said. "It's a bright spot of what we can do and hopefully that carries over into this week."
Be aware of receiver Selwyn Lymon, he is scary. After missing his freshman season last year due to academics, the blue-chip recruit is a big-play threat. He ranks fifth on the team with nine catches for 124 yards, but had eight receptions for 90 yards in the 38-28 victory over Ball St.