Irish Eyes Scouting Report

A long, lengthy intrastate rivalry that began in 1896 resumes this Saturday in West Lafayette with the Irish entering this game 0-4 and Purdue coming in at 4-0. The series stands in favor of the Irish at 51-25-2 with the Irish taking the last two contests under Charlie Weis 49-28 at Purdue in 2005 and 35-21 at Notre Dame in 2006.

Joe Tiller, Purdue's thirty-third head coach, sports a record of 47 wins against 17 losses in 84 year old Ross-Ade Stadium and overall record of 75 and 49. Against Notre Dame Tiller is 4 and 6, but one loss was by two points and one by one point.

This year's tilt seems to fall under a good news – bad news theme.

The bad news is Purdue is 4-0. The good news is that they haven't played anyone. Purdue's conquests this year have a combined 5 – 12 record, and one of those teams, Eastern Illinois, is not a 1AA school.

The bad news is Purdue is averaging 527 yards per game. The good news is that they did it against Toledo, 106th in total defense, Central Michigan, 115th in total defense, Minnesota 119th in total defense, and against a non division 1A team.

The bad news is Notre Dame is last in total offense and has only two offensive touchdowns. The good news is that Purdue is 59th in total defense giving up 374 yards a game against a weak schedule.

The bad news is that Purdue QB, Curtis Painter, is completing almost 69% of his passes and has 16 TD passes against one interception. The good news is the Irish are allowing only a 47% completion rate.

The bad news is Painter completed 33 passes against Minnesota. The good news is that Minnesota runs a vanilla defense, plays their corners way off the ball, and is last in pass defense in 1AA.

Purdue Offense

Joe Tiller's offense is a controlled passing game that stretches the width of the playing field. By design most passes are being completed within ten yards of the line of scrimmage. This year, according to the color commentator of the Minnesota-Purdue game, Purdue seldom goes deep and that the deep ball is Painter's worst trait as a quarterback. He wasn't great on the few deep tosses he threw versus Minnesota.

Painter, whether operating from under center or the shotgun, relies on a veteran receiver corps that consists of Darien Bryant, Greg Orton, Selwyn Lymon, and Dustin Keller. Bryant, the shortest at 5'9", is a speedster who is can be very dangerous when he gets the ball. Painter is apt to hit Bryant on outs, drags, slants, screens, and looks. Bryant is also the designated reverse receiver with six carries for 61 yards this year, one for 39 yards. Irish fans should remember Selwyn Lymon from last year's game. All Wyman did was haul in 8 passes for a record 238 yards against the Irish. He can go deep, over the middle, and at 6'4" is a large target. Dustin Keller, the TE, is a danger on the seam and skinny post and Purdue will try him in that manner at least once during the game usually in or near the red zone. Greg Orton is a steady presence, usually runs the coverage off for Bryant, and stands 6'3', giving Painter another tall target.

Painter also runs a little option, or outright keeper, with a little wrinkle of showing option and hitting a WR on the move.

Rushing, mostly by Kory Sheets, consists primarily of the inside zone with Sheets being very good at picking a running lane. His backup, Jaycen Taylor is out with a broken arm, leaving a 183 pound freshman, Dan Dierking, as the main backup. Purdue loses a lot here as Taylor was impressive in a limited role for Purdue last year, a roll which was increasing in the first three games this year till the injury. I don't see Sheets as a 20 to 25 carries a game type and he's fumbled three times this season. Perhaps the burden resting on Sheets will cause him to wear down or make a mistake. Dierking, in the reckless style so common to freshmen, seems fumble prone to me.

The Boilermakers ran up 504 yards in total offense against the Golden Gophers. As I mentioned before the Minnesota team played a very vanilla defense trying to go back to basics after the first three games when they gave up 512, 577, and 477 yards in total offense respectively. Those games were against Toledo, Miami of Ohio, and Florida Atlantic. One has to believe the Irish put a better defense on the field that the aforementioned three teams and Minnesota.

Purdue Defense

The Boilermakers run a traditional 4-3 led up front by defensive end, Cliff Avril. Avril is the best DL for the Boilermakers, but he isn't Anthony Spencer, who recorded 15 tackles and 4.5 tackles for losses against the Irish last year. Never the less he's solid, moves around, and has the potential to be a thorn in the side of the Irish running game and in the Irish protecting Jimmy Clausen. Purdue rotates their defensive line with two DT's and two DE's that see substantial time.

The linebackers, a quartet that shares the three LB positions, are four of the top six tacklers for Purdue this year. Anthony Heygood, Josh Ferguson, Stanford Keglar, and Dan Bick are steady, but do not make one think of a Dan Connor or PhilipWheeler, at least against Minnesota they didn't.

The secondary, the same that faced Notre Dame last year, has yet to pick off a pass, and gave up 364 yards to Central Michigan. True, Central Michigan put the ball in the air 56 times, but c'mon…Central Michigan?

Defensively, against a weak schedule, Purdue allows 147 yards per game rushing and 227 yards per game passing. Minnesota, running a spread offense with a red shirt freshman quarterback and a freshman running back, piled up 469 yards in total offense, 232 yards rushing and 237 yards passing. The Minnesota quarterback completed 23 of 44 passes with one interception by Avril, who ran it back for a touchdown. Several passes were dropped by his receivers as well. In all, the defense of Purdue is the weakest part of the Boilermakers' team.

Minnesota may have even won the game or sent it to overtime had they not given up a special teams' touchdown and a defensive touchdown.

Purdue Special Teams

Purdue's field goal kicker, Chris Summers, is 4 of six on the year with one being blocked. His block and only miss come from the 40-49 yard range. The Boilermakers' punter, Jared Armstrong averages 39 yards per punt.

Darien Bryant is the man on Purdue's return teams. He averages 35.6 yards per return, fifth in the nation, on kickoffs with one touchdown. He averages 11.5 yards on punt returns.

The Purdue kickoff coverage team holds opponents to an average of 17.67 yards. The punt coverage team checks in with a 7.67 yard average.

What I Think

The Irish didn't sack Painter last year with better athletes on the pass rush. I can't see it changing this year. We know, or presume, that the Irish are going to play a lot of nickel coverage, most likely some dime as well. I'd like to see the Irish drop eight a lot of the time while playing some combo of man and zone on Bryant, or at least trying to knock him around on the line of scrimmage. Unfortunately, they can't drop eight all the time and need to vary the defense with some blitzes, preferably zone blitzes, where I'd hope they take a chance and just overload one side instead of traditional blitzes. I don't think they get to Painter with traditional blitz packages. I think that challenging Painter's decision making in an eight man drop is a better scheme than trying to blitz an offense that specializes in the three step drop. Whatever is done defensively the Irish must keep things in front of them and punish Boilermaker receivers after the catch.

By doing the above the Irish expose themselves more to the run. So be it. I feel the Purdue offensive line does a much better job pass blocking than run blocking. Purdue has also lost six of eight fumbles, the bulk of those fumbles coming from their backfield, in particular Sheets. The more Purdue runs the better chance for a turnover. A few snot bubbles dealt out by the defense would help as well.

Offensively the Irish need to run the ball. Not exactly news, but right now it's the strength of the Notre Dame offense, needs to get better, and would allow Jimmy Clausen to throw some play action, something Weis excels in scheming. I want to see a steady diet of James Aldridge and Robert Hughes pounding the Purdue defense, controlling the clock, keeping the Irish defense fresh, and Painter and company off the field. I want Coach Weis to exhibit greater patience in the running game far and above anything he's ever shown before at Notre Dame. The offensive line, much improved last week, needs to dial it up another notch and begin to build that esprit de corps that makes them a unit, not a gaggle of bodies.

Notre Dame isn't going to win this game by throwing outs, dump offs, and screens. My biggest concern is Purdue going to press coverage and the starters from last week being unable to gain separation. At some point Jimmy Clausen has to go downfield. I'd like to see more of Duval Kamara and Golden Tate, a lot more, and I want a few deep shots taken, at least one per quarter. If Notre Dame has to go max protection and only put only two guys in a pattern to go deep than so be it. They wouldn't be the first team to employ that strategy. I want to see another step forward in the development of Clausen. I want him to do one thing better this game and that's get rid of the ball quickly. Far better to throw an incomplete pass than to take a sack.

Special teams need to not lose the game. I'd be happy if special teams were just a standoff in three of the four aspects of special teams play. Hopefully, Bryant won't break one on a kickoff or punt return. Special teams play, at this point, has been dismal, so that's why I hope for a standoff. However, one area that the Irish need immediate improvement in is in Geoff Price's punting. A team that scores as little as Notre Dame needs the punter to play the field position game, and the Irish need Price to revert to his 2006 level. Of course, shutting down Purdue's return game and a return for six by the Irish wouldn't upset me.


I believe the Irish play better. That the running game gets better, that the passing game gets better, and hopefully some improvement shows on special teams. However, this is Purdue's opportunity to rub it in the nose of the Irish after two straight loses to Notre Dame. Also, it is a rivalry game, Purdue is at home, and Irish fortunes are down. Therefore, going against my grain, I see Purdue winning 27-17. Hope I'm wrong. Top Stories