They're a Handful

IrishEyes offers five matchups for Notre Dame fans to monitor during Saturday's season-opener.

Our first of 12 weekly installments features three Boilers who'd likely earn starting nods in South Bend, a pair of veteran linebackers and a nomad quarterback who must play a key role if Purdue is to earn a major upset Saturday afternoon.

Top Notch

The 2009 season featured a handful of opposing defenders that excelled vs. the Irish. Among them was junior Boilermakers defensive end Ryan Kerrigan. After leading the nation with 7 forced fumbles, finishing 3rd with 13 sacks, and dominating the right side of the Irish defensive line last September, (8 tackles, 2 for loss including a sack of Dayne Crist) Kerrigan returns as a legitimate All-America candidate on a veteran front seven in West Lafayette.

On the pre-season Watch List for five separate post-season defensive awards, Kerrigan was at his best in big games, dominating Notre Dame, Ohio State (3 sacks, 4 TFL, 2 forced fumbles and a fumble recovery in Purdue's home upset) and Michigan (5 tackles, 2 TFL, sack, forced fumble). He found success vs. both graduated four-year starter Sam Young last season on the perimeter of the Irish OL, but more important, also overwhelmed returning right guard and the team's top lineman, Trevor Robinson with separate one-on-one interior matchups.

Kerrigan shined throughout the contest, drilling Wildcat QB Golden Tate on 3rd down, sacking Crist on 4th down from the Boilers' 34-yard line, drawing two holding calls on Young, one in which he dropped RB Robert Hughes for a short gain after defeating a double-team block.

The 2010 Irish offense predicates itself on tempo, and quarterback Dayne Crist is expected to get the ball out of his hands quickly (in other words, the days of the drop-back, survey, and throw are gone/on hold in South Bend). Regardless, Kerrigan will undoubtedly be too much for senior right tackle Taylor Dever, who will make his first career start on Saturday.

Look for the Irish to help Dever throughout the contest…and hope that a more mature and physically prepared Robinson can handle Kerrigan when the full-effort pass rusher moves inside on 3rd Down.

The Irish should be able to move the unfettered on Saturday. If they don't, Ryan Kerrigan will be at the root of the disturbance.

Record Shot

Between the pipes from 59 yards. Another from 55 yards into a heavy wind. Two more from 49…with misses from 60, 55, 50, 49, and 45…

If you're an IrishEyes subscriber, I don't have to tell you those field goal attempts have nothing to do with Notre Dame place-kickers. Rather, they represent the season highlights for Boilermakers junior Carson Wiggs, the cannon-legged wonder from Grand Prairie, Texas, who will likely get a chance to match the post-kicking tee era record of 65 yards set by Martin Gramatica in 1998.

Riggs is a weapon few college teams have at their disposal: a solid bet for three points each time his offense can find the opponents 35-yard line on a given possession.

Riggs, who curiously added just 5 touchbacks to his long field goal results last season, ensures the Boilers the advantage in any close contest over the course of the season. He changes the way close 2nd half games are played and likewise affects a defense in late-game drives.

Bob Diaco's 2009 Cincinnati defense was a bend-but-don't break unit, one that finished in the bottom half of the FBS in yards allowed, but surrendered a top-third 23 points per game (a mark better than two of the remaining seven BCS Bowl teams).

Bending to the Purdue offense equates to an automatic three points; those forays add up if the Irish surrender a cheap touchdown or two along the way.

On the Move

A de-commit to eventual 2009 National Champion Alabama kept a championship ring from his finger. A car accident kept him out of the 2007 season. Two misdemeanor charges robbed him of an opening game start in 2008; a run afoul of team academic rules did the same in for the finale.

Intermixed, Robert Marve started 11 games for the University of Miami, winning six. His off-field issues and spring play of freshman Jacory Harris forced Marve's matriculation to West Lafayette for 2009. A knee injury followed, and a transfer season on the sideline was exacerbated by rehabilitation.

Now the talented Marve, who broke a guy named Tim Tebow's high school passing records as a senior at Tampa Plant in 2006, will attempt to lead the Boilermakers to a victory in South Bend, something just two Purdue quarterbacks have accomplished in the last four decades.

Dual-threat QBs are again the rage in the college game: Marve's presence outside the pocket will likely cause a few moments of press box angst for new defensive coordinator Bob Diaco's defense.

In April, Brian Kelly told the media that he was impressed with the team's ability to tackle. In 2009, Notre Dame struggled mightily vs. dual threat QBs such as Tate Forcier and Jake Locker and as open-field tacklers in general.

Marve on the edge Saturday afternoon will serve as Irish fans' first indication if the defensive tide has turned in South Bend.

Veteran Licks

As a pair, weakside linebacker Joe Holland and strongside ‘backer Jason Werner produced a combined 17 tackles (3 for lost yardage) and two sacks in last season's meeting between the programs.

Holland, a high school teammate of Irish left tackle Zack Martin at Bishop Chatard in Indianapolis, has generally saved his best moments for in-state rivals, totaling 21 career tackles in two matchups vs. Notre Dame and 20 more in his two meetings with chief rival Indiana.

Back issues have plagued Werner throughout his career; the sixth-year senior shined in last September's matchup under the lights, won by the Irish 24-21 on Jimmy Clausen's last-gasp touchdown pass to returning tight end Kyle Rudolph. Werner finished with two punt-forcing sacks of Clausen in that contest and likewise rose to the occasion in the Boilers upset of Rose Bowl champion Ohio State, registering three tackles for loss in a 26-18 Boilers victory.

The edge duo relies on quickness and the ability to shed a block at the point of attack. While not great athletes, can both make plays in space and in coverage and are well-suited to defend a spread offense (the pair would likely struggle vs. power running games). Irish seniors Armando Allen and Robert Hughes have struggled to break second level tackles throughout their careers, but redshirt-freshman Cierre Wood will likely provide a challenge for the pair if encountered on the perimeter.

Holland and Werner allow for minimal defensive substitutions, a necessity for a defense bereft of quality depth.

While a healthy Kyle Rudolph would likely have his way with the pair, key backup Tyler Eifert will be tested by the savvy veterans, as will Rudolph is he's not fully recovered from an early August hamstring strain.

Repeat Performance?

Though Brian Kelly might have overstated the depth of the Purdue receiving corps on Tuesday (they're not "as good as we'll see" as stated), one player Irish fans shouldn't overlook is 5th-year senior Keith Smith.

Smith, who ripped the Irish secondary with 11 catches for 136 yards and a touchdown last season, performed at a top level in each of the team's biggest games last season, notching 100+ yard efforts vs. the Irish, Ohio State and Michigan State, while setting a career high with 15 receptions vs. the Spartans.

Pittsburgh's Jonathan Baldwin is the most explosive downfield threat the Irish will face this year (Week Six); but Smith is the complete receiver, a 6'2" 226-pound bruiser that can (and has) hurt the Irish of quick throws and in-routes. The Boilers will move Smith around the formation, searching for advantageous matchups in space.

Teams consistently struggle to tackle Smith after the catch, and the former quarterback turned safety turned monster wide receiver generally gathers his share of grabs over the course of a contest (91 receptions last season). He should again approach 10 catches and 100 yards on Saturday – the key will be limiting the damage thereafter (10 yards per catch won't beat Notre Dame) and keeping Smith out of the end zone.

Note: Jersey Numbers of the players highlighted above: Kerrigan (#94); Wiggs (#37…or just look at the kicker); Marve (#9); Holland (#30) and Werner (#24); and Smith (#8). Top Stories