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Irish hope to exploit inexperienced Purdue secondary

Ken Fowler | Friday, September 29, 2006

It was a night Purdue would like to forget.

Underneath the lights in Ross-Ade Stadium last Sept. 29, Irish quarterback Brady Quinn torched the Boilermakers secondary early and often. Notre Dame staked a 41-14 lead after three quarters and soundly defeated Purdue in its biggest game of the year.

Notre Dame scored four touchdowns on the ground, but the story of the game was the Irish passing machine. Quinn had streaks of brilliance, completing seven and 11 consecutive passes at different parts of the game, and set the program single-game completion-percentage record with a 29-of-36 (80.5 percent) performance.

“Brady picked them apart,” Irish coach Charlie Weis said in the post-game press conference.

In Week 5 a year later, Notre Dame’s passing game is once again the key to its offense. Quinn has thrown 11 touchdowns to four interceptions and is averaging 271.5 yards per game, and senior wide receivers Rhema McKnight (who was injured for the 2005 contest) and Jeff Samardzija each have four touchdown catches.

But the Irish won’t have the opportunity to burn the same secondary they did a year before. Purdue enters the contest with two freshmen and two junior college transfers starting in the defensive backfield – none who were even connected with the program during the 2005 Irish win.

“Looking back at [the 2005 game], we just try to dissect their defensive scheme [and] any personnel you can watch from last season,” Quinn said at his weekly press conference Wednesday. “Other than that, you can’t take very much from it. It’s a new game, new circumstance.”

Boilermakers starting cornerback Royce Adams is a 6-foot, 180-pound freshman from South Euclid, Ohio. His counterpart on the other side of the field is 5-foot-9, 175-pound Terrell Vinson, who transferred to Purdue from Saddleback College this year. Vinson was a cornerback at Wyoming in 2003 before he played at Saddleback. A broken right knuckle kept Vinson out for the 2004 season.

The inexperience continues at safety for Purdue.

Freshman Brandon Erwin starts at free safety, and junior college product Justin Scott, Jr. plays strong safety. Scott made 96 tackles and two interceptions at College of the Sequoias in 2005.

In fact, the only player on Purdue’s two-deep with experience prior to this season for the Boilermakers is cornerback Zach Logan, who lost his starting spot to Vinson.

With that inexperienced secondary facing one of the nation’s premier passers, Purdue coach Joe Tiller said continuous communication will be imperative for Purdue’s ability to shut down the Irish air assault.

“I think the difference between this year and last year is that Notre Dame is probably more efficient,” Tiller said. “The same guy is throwing, and with the exception of [McKnight], it’s the same guys catching it. So identification and communication will be key.”

But Purdue has shown problems in its first four games in shutting down teams with much less daunting passing games than Notre Dame. After games against Indiana State, Miami (Ohio), Ball State and Minnesota, the Boilermakers have the third worst pass defense in the country. They have surrendered 284.75 yards per game – including 355 to Miami quarterback Mike Kokal – against the 154th toughest schedule in all of Division I.

But don’t tell Notre Dame that.

“They’re a good team,” Irish wide receivers coach Rob Ianello said Tuesday. “The play physical, they play aggressive.”

Ianello said the Irish have studied tape of Purdue’s first four game just like their usual routine and are focused on the shut-down defensive abilities of Adams, Vinson, Erwin and Scott.

Vinson and Scott each have one interception, and Erwin and Adams each have recorded one pass deflection.

“These past few weeks, you’ll see them change up the defensive schemes depending on the type offense they’re going against,” Quinn said. “We’ve got to be prepared for a lot of different things.”

If Quinn prepares well, it could be a long day for Purdue’s defense.