Tiller Looks for 5-0

Notre Dame is 0-4 for the first time in school history after losing to Michigan State last weekend 31-14. If coaches and players wanted to take a shot at the Irish, now would be the time. Not Purdue head coach Joe Tiller, who was not about to give Notre Dame any bulletin board material on Tuesday when asked his thoughts about the 2007 Irish team.

"They're a talented football team," Tiller said. "They always have been and always will be. I think they present different problems. They're a physical team. They have a big offensive line. On defense, they're fourth against the pass and passing is what we like to do. It's another week with another challenge to us."

So far this season, Purdue hasn't seen a lot of challenges. The Boilermakers have scored at least 45 points and racked up over 500 yards of total offense in each of their four contest, all victories. The closest game was last weekend's 45-31 win at Minnesota. Purdue is 7th in scoring offense and 8th in total offense. The balance is there, too. The Boilermakers average 324 yards per game through the air and 202 more on the ground.

"We've been playing pretty well and I base that on our quarterback play," Tiller said. "We've been pleased with the way Curtis had performed to date. We've been pleased with the way our offensive line has come around. It was a big concern for us during training camp. We've got a couple of youngsters in there who've never played before."

Curtis is Curtis Painter. The senior quarterback has been on fire this season, throwing 16 touchdowns to just one interception while completing 68 percent of his passes. Painter's main target is Dorien Bryant, who does a little bit of everything. The senior wide receiver leads the team with 32 catches for 368 yards and three touchdowns. Bryant also is averaging 35 yards per kickoff return, including a 91-yard touchdown in the win over Toledo.

"I don't see a next step," Tiller said of Bryant. "I see him continuing his performance at a high level. He's taken that next step in what we wanted from Dorien. We wanted him to help us as well in the kicking game and he's done that."

At running back, Jaycen Taylor is out for the season with an injury. In three games, Taylor averaged seven yards per carry. In his place, Kory Sheets has assumed the starting duties. Last weekend in the victory over Minnesota, the senior ran the ball 21 times for 111 yards and a touchdown and caught seven passes for 60 yards and another score. Tiller thinks Sheets has "unshakable confidence" in his playing ability and his effort versus the Golden Gophers was high.

"I think he knew his intensity level was greater," Tiller said. "I was actually more impressed by what Kory contributed in the passing game than in the running game. He caught a couple of balls that were high and wide and they were tough catches. He did a nice job picking up the blitz and putting his nose on the rusher. The running game is the running game. I wish he didn't get tripped up as much as he does and picking up his feet. But it was his best game."

An area where Purdue can improve is on defense. The Boilermakers are 61st against the run and 62nd in pass defense. Minnesota ran for 232 yards last weekend and ended up scoring 31 points. Also, Purdue's opponents have a combined record of 5-11. Tiller definitely thinks there is room for improvement for his 4-0 squad.

"We have come close to playing a complete game yet," Tiller said. "Maybe we won't during the season. I don't know. Certainly, that's our goal and that's what we strive for."

Purdue might be able to play less than perfect this weekend and still come away with a victory against Notre Dame. The Irish have had a myriad of problems this season, most notably on offense. Notre Dame has struggled to run the ball and protect the quarterback. The Irish did have a 100-yard rusher in James Aldridge in the loss to Michigan State but the offensive line allowed four more sacks for a grand total of 27 through four games this year.

Defensively, teams have been able to run on Notre Dame. The Irish are allowing 232 yards per game on the ground, good for 111th in the country. Against the pass, Notre Dame is 4th nationally but that's because most opponents have abandoned the pass and just played smash mouth football with the rushing attack. Last weekend, the Irish allowed four touchdown passes from Brian Hoyer. For all of the troubles in South Bend, the Boilermakers have been installed as a 21.5 point favorite. Tiller doesn't give gambling lines too much thought.

"I never think about that," Tiller said. "I've always played and coached with fear of failure because in competitive athletics you always want to succeed regardless of the situation. To me, it doesn't matter who the opponent is. You have to prepare to succeed and you can't be concerned with your opponent. You want to get better. That's what we're trying to do this week."

Tiller does not expect his team to have a letdown against Notre Dame. Purdue has a chance to start 5-0 for the second time since Tiller arrived in West Lafayette and only the third time in school history. After facing the Irish, the Boilermakers have Ohio State, Michigan and Iowa in subsequent weekends. A victory over Notre Dame would give the team an added boost heading into the tough three-game stretch. Tiller expects the Irish's best on Saturday.

"They're a program of tremendous pride," Tiller said. "They're always a talented team, more some years than others. They're a good football team and always a good test for your team regardless of your circumstances."


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