"I wouldn't say it's our first true test, we've played great receivers every week so far," sophomore defensive back Raeshon McNeil said. "But I think as far as them coming out and throwing the ball on a consistent basis, I think it will be basically the first time the game will be more riding on our shoulders."
We'll see if that's a good thing.
The Irish (0-4) are giving up just 119.25 yards passing per game. Purdue (4-0) on the other hand, ranks eighth nationally in total offense (527 yards per game), with 324.25 yards of it coming through the air.
The senior Painter is posting Heisman-type numbers, completing 114-of-166 passes (68.7 percent) for 1,290 yards, with 16 touchdowns and just one interception that was tipped. The Boilermakers and head coach Joe Tiller like to spread defenses out, dink-and-dunk, mix in a little run, throw a lot of screens, and they have the playmakers to hit a big play on every snap. Of all the regular players on offense, only one, the backup tight end Kyle Adams, is not a junior or older.
Five players in Purdue's prolific offense have 14 receptions or more. Four players have over 144 receiving yards, with the ever-dangerous Dorien Bryant leading the way with 32 receptions for 368 yards and three touchdowns. By comparison, Notre Dame's top receiver David Grimes has just 12 catches for 83 yards.
"They don't try to trick you," Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis said. "They just release four or five guys out there, and you better cover them. If you're just worrying about covering them, they're going to hand the ball off and try and gash you inside. I don't think they're trying to base the offense off of trickery with the exception of a couple options they run, which are tough. As far as the passing game, it just spread you out and get the ball in your hands. This quarterback gets the ball out in a hurry, and when he does, you're having to tackle a guy in space."
"They put up some scary numbers," defensive backs coach Bill Lewis stated. "And they're playing real well, they really are. The thing that they've done, if you look at their offensive team across the board, not just their skill players, but they're playing basically with a junior/senior football team."
How will the Irish stop them?
Weis has numerously indicated that he'd like to rush only four, and drop everyone else back. As quick as Painter gets rid of the ball, sending extra blitzers could lead to all kinds of big plays. From there, it's about keeping the play in front of you and forcing Purdue to nickel and dime down the field. If the Irish limit the yardage on first down, they'll have a great chance.
"Any time you play against Purdue, they just have a history of being a run-and-gun type of team, dink and dunk down the field, spread you out, get the ball out to the receivers in space," senior cornerback Terrail Lambert explained. "That's really what we've been preparing for the most. Getting ready to keep everything in front of us and make sure tackles."
That's something the Irish have struggled to do this fall, along with getting to the quarterback. Even with sending extra guys on the blitz, Notre Dame has just four sacks on the season. The Irish defensive line will have to be a lot more productive in regards to that, as well as being ready for cut blocks, the run at any give time, and turning around and getting up field and making tackles from behind.
"We've got some new stunts and new games so hopefully we can get back to the quarterback and get some sacks for the d-linemen," senior defensive end Trevor Laws said.
The Irish's struggles against the run are no secret, ranking 111th nationally, in allowing 232.75 yards per game. Purdue isn't the typical power-running team, but in having teams spread out and on its heals, they've run the ball very well, averaging 202.75 yards on the ground, good for 29th nationally. Kory Sheets has run for 374 yards on just 62 carries (6.0 avg.) and four touchdowns. Before being lost for the season, Jaycen Taylor added 197 yards rushing on 28 carries (7.0 avg.) with one score.
With the threat of the run, Notre Dame's linebackers will have to be on their toes.
"We still have to be in the box or it would open it up for the run, but I think it's going to make us come to balance and make some open-field tackles," senior linebacker Joe Brockington said.
"It's definitely more reads just because it's a different offense and stuff. They run a bunch of draw reads and they kind of throw quick passes. Everything in their offense is quick and comes out fast."
Mostly through the air.