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Last year left Irish wanting more

Heather VanHoegarden | Friday, September 30, 2005

Last year’s game is full of indelible evidence of Purdue’s domination at Notre Dame Stadium.

Brady Quinn getting knocked down countless times. Taylor Stubblefield pumping his left arm in Purdue’s “Boiler-Up” symbol. Kyle Orton making his first strides up the Heisman Trophy ballots, only to drop off the radar as the season went on.

Yes, these were images from last year’s 41-16 thrashing by Purdue – the first time Purdue won at Notre Dame Stadium in three decades.

Quinn was sacked seven times, Stubblefield recorded the longest play from scrimmage against the Irish in history and Orton completed 21-of-31 passes for 385 yards with no interceptions. The image of Stubblefield pumping his arm into the air at the end of his 97-yard reception from Orton over cornerback Dwight Ellick, who tripped on the play, is one to remember. The game, on the other hand, was one to forget.

And that’s what the Irish are setting out to do on Saturday as they travel to Ross-Ade Stadium to face a team that has beaten them in the past two meetings.

Irish coach Charlie Weis has watched last year’s tape and said that some of those images won’t reappear.

“Seven sacks against us, that’s not what we’re looking for,” said Weis, who expressed this to the team on Tuesday. “And it doesn’t make a difference whether I throw it 10 times or throw it 50 times, we’re not going to get sacked seven times.”

The Irish have something to prove against their in-state rivals, who have beaten them in the last two meetings. But not only that, they need this win.

It’s the last game before Notre Dame’s first week off, and if the Irish get a win they will sit 4-1, undefeated on the road with just one road game left. (Notre Dame plays at Stanford on Nov. 26). After the week to prepare and mend bumps and bruises, No. 1 Southern California waits in the wings, as does No. 10 Tennessee. With a win on Saturday, Notre Dame would breathe much easier with the second half of its season to play.

But Purdue will be on a mission after last week’s tough double-overtime loss to Big 10 foe Minnesota. That loss will make the Boilermakers hungry for a win against a quality team, and the Irish are a great team to take it out on – especially in a rivalry game under the lights in West Lafayette.

“It’s a staple game every year when we play Notre Dame and all eyes are on us,” Purdue quarterback Brandon Kirsch said. “Every other team in the country wants to be in the position to play Notre Dame, and we’re fortunate enough to have that opportunity this Saturday.”

But to prevent the Boilermakers from extending their win streak to three games, the Irish must play well in two areas – the offensive line and the secondary – both of which were abused by Purdue last year.

No one knows this better than Weis.

“They’re universally considered by anyone in football the critical factors on offense and defense,” Weis said of the offensive line and defensive backs. “They’re the positions that have the most guys out there that are the easiest ways for you to win and the easiest ways for you to lose.”

The offensive line has played well thus far this season, but before last week, Purdue had only given up 36 yards on the ground and has recorded nine sacks in three games.

Kirsch has shown he can throw the ball and run the option just as well in Purdue’s spread offense, and Dorien Bryant has proved to be an adequate replacement for Stubblefield.

And so on Saturday Notre Dame will find out just how good its key positions are, and if they’re good enough for a win against its intrastate rival this year.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Contact Heather Van Hoegarden at hvanhoeg@nd.edu