These two teams do not like each other. I'd say Purdue hates the Irish more, but usually Notre Dame's superior athletes win out in the end. Will that happen on Saturday?
The Boilermakers haven't set the world on fire on defense. They're ranked No. 111th in rushing defense, allowing 4.9 yards per carry and 192 yards rushing per game. Their lack of production in run defense has to be tempting for the Irish coaching staff to attack. If the Irish wanted to kick-start their running game, this might be the defense they can have some success against. However, the Irish seem to move the ball the best when throwing, and the Irish need to kick-start their offense, period.
The interesting battle here will be to see how Purdue comes out to defend Notre Dame. Most expect the Irish to come out throwing. Might the Boilermakers decide to play coverage early to frustrate the Irish and take them out of what most believe will be Notre Dame's game plan? Or will they load up eight men in the box to try to stop Notre Dame's rushing attack like everyone else has this season against the Irish? This cat and mouse game should be interesting to follow early in the game. One thing is certain, when the Irish don't have success early, they usually struggle to hang on and win in the end.
While teams have been able to move the football on Purdue's defense, the Boilermakers have done a nice job limiting teams in the red zone. Purdue's defense has allowed just 22 points per game and has held teams to just 69 percent scoring in the red zone. Teams have scored touchdowns just 38 percent of the time while in the red zone against Purdue. Notre Dame will have to score touchdowns because I believe Purdue's offense will score a few of their own.
The Boilers are led by senior quarterback Curtis Painter. Painter was being touted as a "Heisman Hopeful" early in the year but hasn't quite lived up to that hype thus far in the season throwing just three touchdowns in three games. However, the Irish have a habit of making any quarterback look like John Elway when he's playing Notre Dame, especially in this game. Painter hasn't been spectacular thus far this season, but my feeling is he'll have a solid game on Saturday.
Notre Dame will face another good running back in Kory Sheets on Saturday. Sheets isn't the biggest guy, but he does a nice job of hiding behind his linemen and finding a crease when called upon as a runner. The senior running back is averaging 5.7 yards per carry and has scored six of Purdue's 10 offensive touchdowns on the season. The key is to stop Sheets from making the big play, like his 80-yard touchdown early in the Oregon game that got the Boiler offense moving, or the 46-yard touchdown last week to win a close game against Central Michigan.
The Irish won't put a lot of pressure on Painter on Saturday as they'll see a lot of three-step drops out of the senior quarterback, but they can disrupt the Boiler passing game by getting into throwing lanes and keeping their hands up. The most important thing is to kill drives. The Irish need to stop the Boiler offense early and frustrate Painter and let the crowd get into the game.
Like Purdue, the Irish have been fairly solid in the red zone. Opponents have scored touchdowns just 45 percent of the time in the red zone against the Irish defense, and they'll need another solid performance here for Notre Dame to win on Saturday.
All one has to do is watch Oregon State's dramatic victory of No. 1 USC last night to understand how important emotion is in college football. The Beavers came to play on Thursday and were rewarded because of it. I'll say it every week, because every week it's true. If the Irish show up to play on Saturday they'll win. If they don't, they'll lose. Purdue will show up. The Boilers have for the last 10 games in this series, and that's why the game has been a battle in many of the recent matchups. Notre Dame has to show up to win. Nobody really knows for certain if they will.
Mike Frank Prediction: I continue to think there's something unique about this team. I continue to think that they're almost over that hump. They need to find some leadership on offense and they'll get there. I believe this is a very critical game for the future of the Irish program and Notre Dame's season. I believe they'll show up to play, but it won't be pretty.
Notre Dame: 28 Purdue: 24