Scouting Report

The Boilermakers come into South Bend to face the Irish in the eightieth renewal of this in-state rivalry. Only Navy has been on the field with Notre Dame more than Purdue and that's only by one game.

This rivalry began in 1896, was played intermittently through 1939, and became an annual contest in 1946. The Irish hold a 51-26-2 advantage, but were manhandled last year in a 33-19 thumping that was basically over at the half as Purdue had run off to a twenty-three point lead in the first thirty minutes.

Notre Dame enters the contest in a state of flux offensively. The Irish are ranked 107th in total offense in the NCAA Division I statistics, averaging 287 yards per game, 78 yards rushing, 209 yards passing, with a record of 2-1. Purdue is ranked 56th offensively in total offense averaging 385 yards per game, 133 yards rushing, and 251 yards passing. Defensively the Irish are ranked 68th allowing 360 yards per game, 144 yards rushing, and 215 yards passing. The Purdue Boilermakers, at 2-1, lost to a ranked Oregon team, 32-26, in overtime. They've defeated Northern Colorado, 42-10, and Central Michigan 32-25. The Boilers bus ride to South Bend will be their first road game.

Boilermaker Coach, Joe Tiller, is now first in all time wins at Purdue ahead of Boilermaker legend Jack Mollenkopf. Tiller, who retires at the end of the season with his successor already in place, has twelve returning starters, many of them fifth year seniors, and carries a 5-6 record against Notre dame over his twelve year career at Purdue. Coach Weis is 2-1 versus the Boilermakers.

Purdue Offense

When speaking about Purdue's offense one has to begin with the familiar presence of Curtis Painter, a red shirt senior, who started five games his red shirt freshman year and has been the only Purdue starter since his red shirt sophomore season. Last year Painter was a 63% passer. Like Michigan State's quarterback before him, Painter is having a less efficient year coming into this game at 60%, a statistic he upgraded last week from the 53% he had entering the game with Central Michigan.. Painter has three touchdowns and a like number of interceptions.

Another familiar face to the Irish comes from red shirt senior Kory Sheets. Sheets rushed for 141 yards against the Irish last year in 27 carries. Sheets is currently the twelfth ranked running back in the NCAA Division I statistics averaging 117 yards per game and a 5.7 yards per carry average, so for the second week in a row the Irish face a premier running back.

The receiving corps at Purdue lost quite a lot of talent from last year. Gone are Dorien Bryant and Dustin Keller to the NFL. Also gone are Selwyn Lyman and Jake Standeford. That may explain Painter's decrease in production this year. The only holdover from last year is Greg Orton, a 6'3"senior, who brought 134 career receptions into the season and has added to that total with 16 receptions this year. Keith Smith has 15 receptions this year, but doesn't even appear on last year's stats, because he was a late season conversion from safety to wide receiver. Desmond Tardy, who only caught ten balls all of last year, has 13 receptions this year.

The most experienced receiver, Orton. has been Painter's go to guy at crunch time, but Smith is coming on and he's obviously mastered the subtle push off technique on defensive backs. Tardy, similar to Bryant, is an athletic force that the Irish have to contain. The tight ends, Colton McKey and Jerry Wasikowski have only two receptions between them and neither is the deep ball threat that Keller was. The other tight end, starter Kyle Adams, hasn't played the last two games so I haven't seen him. When not being kept in for blocking on pass plays the two tight ends I have seen do get open on outs, drags, and hooks, but Painter seems to look down field past them all too often when maybe he shouldn't.

The offensive line lost two three year starters, but they have seven of their top ten back, and have moved Jared Zwilling to a backup guard from a defensive tackle spot. The Boilermaker's offensive line features three fifth year seniors, one senior, and one junior. Blocking for Purdue, particularly run blocking, is augmented by the aforementioned Colton McKey and Jerry Wasikowski, above average blocking tight ends. The Boiler guards, Justin Pierce, Eric Headstrom, and center Cory Benton, pull very well. The tackles are Zach Jones, a senior, and Garret Mille, a fifth year senior. The offensive line and tight ends have, as a unit, allowed six sacks this season in 114 passing attempts.

Sheets is somewhere between McGuffie and Ringer as a back and is playing his best football at Purdue. If the Irish win it will be because they limit Purdue's running game and stop a few other aspects of Purdue's offense. Screens of all types, a quick line up on short yardage for a first down, a reverse to Tardy, and where Orton lines up are things the Irish need to be well prepared for by the staff.

Purdue Special Teams

Punter and place kicker, Chris Summers, averages 43 yards per punt, has three over fifty yards, has placed two inside the twenty, and has a longest punt of 59 yards. As a kicker he is five of seven for 71% with a longest field goal of 45 yards. He is eleven for eleven on PATS. Unfortunately, his two misses against Oregon could be construed as the reason the Boilermakers lost to the Ducks.

Punt returns at Purdue had been done by committee where four returners are averaging ten yards per return in that elusive category of hidden yardage. That seems to be over and the reins have been handed to Desmond Tardy. Desmond Tardy would scare me as a coach. He takes what I consider risks in catching the ball, but on the other hand, while stats don't show it, he makes me fear a big play due to his athleticism. I hope to see Notre Dame's David Bruton and Mike Anello make his day long and miserable.

Kory Sheets returns kickoffs and he averages 31 yards per return while Desmond Tardy averages 40 yards per return and has one return for 68 yards.

The weakest parts of the Boilermaker's special teams are the punt coverage and the kick coverage units. The punt coverage is almost last in the NCAA allowing 27 yards per return. That average is primarily based on one touchdown return of 87 yards by Oregon. Eliminate that score and they still allow an average of 11 yards per return which is too high for the Purdue staff. Purdue's kick coverage is some what better while allowing 19 yards per return and they have three touchbacks, but only one touchback, was not aided by a 30 mph wind.

Purdue Defense

The top three tacklers for the Boilermakers are all fifth year seniors. Strong safety, Frank Duong, Sam linebacker, Anthony Heygood, and free safety Torri Williams are those tacklers. Doung was banged up against Oregon and didn't play against Central Michigan. They are part of the nine four year or five year seniors on the Purdue defense that start or see significant playing time. The Purdue defense has allowed 427 yards per game, 192 yards rushing, and 235 yards passing. Opponents are averaging 22 points against Purdue.

Purdue runs their traditional 4-3, or even front. They blitz, they zone blitz, and they are well versed in nickel coverage which is about all they played against Oregon and Central Michigan. The corners will play press coverage, they will play man, but based on games I saw against Oregon and Central Michigan the Boilers will play a lot of zone with zone-man combinations.

I never saw Purdue's Mike linebacker, Kevin Green, as their base defense against Oregon and Central Michigan was always a nickel defense. The Sam linebacker is Anthony Heygood, another fifth year senior, who drops well, comes up quickly on runs or underneath passes, and can go man on slot receivers. The Will linebacker is Joe Holland, a sophomore. He drops well, comes up quickly, but is not the tackler that Heygood is. Thy both blitz, individually or at the same time.

The defensive line, done by committee to keep fresh players on the field, has all six of Purdue's sacks. Interestingly enough, the sack total comes from four players, playing three positions from left defensive tackle to right defensive end. The left defensive end spot has no sacks. While they are averaging only two sacks a game they may well rank high in the nation in hits and hurries, two stats I wish the NCAA kept.

The Boilermaker's secondary will play different types of coverage or combo coverage. The primary defense I saw against the Chippawas was zone. They will blitz a defensive back off the corner even against a four receiver set. Though they've faced an average of forty-three passes a game they have given up only three touchdowns through the air, broken up fourteen passes, and held the opponent's to 5.3 yards per attempt.

Purdue's First Three Games

I am a bit amazed that so many Irish fans are assuming a win over Purdue despite the problems the Irish have had. Part of that reasoning is based on a belief that the Oregon Ducks are a weak team this year. Part of that belief is that the win over Central Michigan was lucky.

Some fans raise these questions about the Oregon game. Wasn't Oregon forced into overtime to beat the Boilermakers? Didn't Purdue lose because their kicker, an 81% kicker last year, missed two field goals? Didn't the Ducks lose to Boise State for crying out loud?

The Purdue-Oregon game had its ebb and flow. Purdue led at one point 20-6 at the half. Unfortunately for the Boilermakers, that didn't hold up and a third quarter punt return by Oregon got them back in the game. As said before, their placekicker, Summers, missed two, one that would have won it in regulation for Purdue.

Let's examine that Oregon loss to Boise State. Oregon had lost the presumed starter at quarterback before the season began. Then the Ducks lost this year's replacement starter, a former second stringer, Justin Roper, near game's end against Purdue. Then against Boise State they lost the new starter, the former third string quarterback. Then their freshman "running quarterback" was 0-3 with two interceptions. So Oregon ended up using a freshman, Darron Thomas, they intended to red shirt this year. I'd guess he didn't have a lot of reps this season. The three touchdowns he engineered on 11 of 28 in the last quarter belied the fact the game had been decided long before the fourth quarter.

Another reason many Irish fans are assuming a win is last week's Purdue – Central Michigan game which Purdue listlessly and barely won. Well, Central Michigan beat Ohio University which gave Ohio State all they could handle and we're in a bowl game last year. The Boilermakers were still down from the loss to Oregon. Purdue also faced the Chippawas twice last season, once in the regular season, and once in the bowl, winning both. In watching the game I can say Central Michigan had no fear of Purdue, knew Purdue well, and they played hard. Conversely, Purdue took Central Michigan lightly, something that Tiller was concerned about all week due to the recent history with the Chippawas, and the fact the game occurred between Oregon and Notre Dame.

Yes, at the 1:18 mark of the fourth quarter Central Michigan had gone for two and pulled ahead to lead Purdue 25-24. However, in the time remaining Purdue's Tardy takes the kickoff out to the Purdue 39, should have had more, but was slowed by a facemask that added fifteen yards to the run. With everyone expecting a pass Sheets goes up the middle, shakes and bakes the safety out of his shoes, and goes forty-six yards for a touchdown that wins the game. Is that big play ability or what? Shades of Notre Dame – UCLA a few years back. With a minute to go Purdue held off Central Michigan with an interception to go on to the win.

The Game

This week is another rivalry game for the Irish, their third one in a row. Purdue won't be listless this week. They'll be ready and they love beating the Irish. This is Tiller's last go-round against Notre Dame and they'll have more incentive because of that. They are, for the most part, a veteran team. Statistics aside, the Boilermakers have experience, ability and the potential to make big plays in all phases of the game, running and passing on offense, sacks and interceptions on defense, and big plays on special teams.

I see the Irish in a struggle. Hopefully, last week's performance against Michigan State has left a bad taste in the player's mouths. Hopefully the offense, especially the offensive line, plays better. Statistically the Boilermaker's defense isn't as good against the run as either Michigan or Michigan State, but statistics are usually irrelevant in a rivalry game, and the Irish haven't proven much offensively, especially in the running game.

Offensively, if given the time, Jimmy Clausen should pick the Purdue secondary apart, although "should" has become a word as big as if" for the Irish this year. I think that Purdue will be facing the best quarterback-receiver combination they've faced so far this year, but if Notre Dame intends to get the maximum out of their passing game they have to be able to run the ball better than they have. I don't care if it's on power running, draws, or what have you, but Notre Dame needs to be able to amass more than seventy-eight yards on the ground. Whatever the Irish run, be it a balanced offense or a four wide-no huddle offense, they need to control the clock and keep Purdue's offense on the sidelines and not cause the Irish defense to wear out. If not it could be a long day for Irish fans.

Defensively the Irish face a task. Painter is obviously experienced, has a big enough gun to make those far hash marks to opposite sidelines throws, and his receivers are coming on. He's going to get his yards. The trick is to limit those yards and stop other facets of the Purdue offense. As a running back, Sheets is somewhere between Sam McGuffie and Javon Ringer and is playing his best football at Purdue. If the Irish win it will be because they limit Purdue's running game, continuing the improvement in tackling they showed last week, and stop a few other aspects of Purdue's offense. Screens of all types, a quick, no huddle line up on short yardage for a first down, and where Orton lines up are things the Irish need to be well prepared for beyond Purdue's basic offense.

The best "fool em" play I saw on film has Orton, or what could be any wide receiver, lining up at the tight end slot. Purdue's offensive line and backfield flow away from Orton who, as the tight end, is the only receiver to his side. Orton runs what appears to be a slant and then breaks it back to the outside at a forty-five degree angle. Painter throws back across the field to Orton and Painter has the arm to do it without letting the ball hang. I hope Notre Dame is on to this. A play like this could change a close game's score.

Notre Dame 17 and Purdue 23. Sure hope I'm wrong.


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