Notre Dame owns a decisive advantage in the series between the Northern Indiana rivals, 52-26-2. The Irish hold a 6-4 edge over the past 10 contests, but Purdue has won three of the last five played at Ross Ade Stadium. In last year's game the score was tied at 14-14 at halftime, but the Irish came out of the locker room and dominated with 21 third quarter points, and eventually walked with a 38-21 victory. Purdue went on to lose five straight games and finished the 2008 season with a 4-8 record in Joe Tiller's final season as Purdue's head coach.
Purdue has shown the ability to move the ball almost as effectively as Notre Dame's offense early in the season. The Boilermaker offense averages a hefty 440 yards per game (210 rushing, 230 passing), although the production has seen a steady declined after their 535-yard outburst in the opener against Toledo. Last week at home, Purdue managed only 335 yards of total offense (147 rushing, 188 passing) against a very average Northern Illinois defense. After starting the season scoring 52 points against Toledo, Purdue has also seen its point total drop with 36 on the road against Oregon and then to 21 against Northern Illinois.
Purdue's offense will show varied looks much like Notre Dame. They'll run the spread as well as a tradition pro-set. Fifth-year senior quarterback Joey Elliot could cause problems for the Irish just as Michigan's Tate Forcier. Elliot is probably a better passer than Forcier, but also has the ability to run the ball when a play breaks down. He's completed 61 percent of his passes, but has already thrown five interceptions against four touchdowns. Sophomore running back Ralph Bolden is solid and capable of the big play. The wide receivers are every bit as good or better than what Notre Dame saw last week against Michigan State, and Irish fans know how that turned out. The offensive line took a big hit when their starting left guard, fifth-year senior Zach Reckman, was suspended by the Big 10 for this game. Look for this to have an impact on the game, as the Purdue line was a concern coming into the season.
Purdue returns plenty of experience on defense, but I'm not sure that is always a good thing. Last season Notre Dame's offense had its second best day of the '08 season against this defense, racking up 476 yards of total offense. Through three games (Toledo, Oregon, Northern Illinois) the Purdue defense is proving that experience may not be the answer. The defense gives up 434 yards per game (181 rushing, 253 passing) and over 32 points. The defensive line has a solid group of players, but they haven't shown up yet this season. The linebackers have done a solid job, but they are small compared to most linebacking units in the Big 10. Fifth-year senior Jason Werner has moved up from safety this season and he's been the playmaker, leading the Boilermakers with 27 tackles, with six coming from behind the line. The secondary was finally supposed to be the strength of the defense, but that hasn't materialized. There is a wealth of experience with sixth-year senior safety Torri Williams, fifth-year senior cornerback Brandon King, and seniors David Pender and Dwight Mclean. They've yielded 253 yards per contest, including 423 yards in their first game to Toledo.
Offensively the Irish will not only have to deal with the loss of Michael Floyd, but the injuries to Jimmy Clausen (turf toe) and Armando Allen (ankle). Clausen is expected to be ready, but Allen will likely be a game-time decision. Despite the loss of Floyd, and Clausen's injury, I still expect the Irish to attack Purdue through the air. Duval Kamara and Robby Parris will need to pick up their production with the loss of Floyd, but expect to see sophomores Deion Walker and John Goodman, as well as freshman Shaquelle Evans make frequent appearances for the Irish at receiver. Even if Allen is able to play tomorrow, expect to see Jonas Gray pick up a few more carries as well as freshman Theo Riddick. The Irish offensive line has done a terrific job this season, and I expect them to continue to improve on Saturday.
Defensively the Irish need to step-up and make plays. I still fully expect Irish defensive coordinator, John Tenuta to bring a lot of people and attempt to put the pressure on the offense. The defensive line must stay in their lanes. The defensive ends need to control the edge and force everything inside, because Elliot can be very dangerous if he isn't contained. After giving up 354 yards passing last weekend to Michigan State, the defensive backs need to do a better job in coverage. Against Michigan State, the Irish were able to get pressure on the quarterback, and rush his throws, only to have it reach an uncovered Spartan receiver.
Although Notre Dame is missing Floyd, I think the Irish have enough weapons to move the ball and score points against a very porous Purdue defense. The Irish offensive line is the difference here, as I see them being able to open holes in the running game, as well as protect Clausen. Notre Dame's defense has had a couple tough weeks, and has been maligned on the message boards. This week I think it's a different story. Opposed to the missed tackles and breakdowns, the Irish defense will step up and make plays. To be honest, I don't think this Purdue team is much different than the one that finished last season at 4-8.
Final Score: Notre Dame 41 – Purdue 18
Notre Dame Players of the Game:
Offense: Offensive line
Defense: Brian Smith