The Observer is a Student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame & Saint Mary's. Learn more about us.



Football: Painter evolves into top-flight quarterback

Ken Fowler | Friday, September 28, 2007

It wasn’t a pretty beginning, but it showed some promise.

In the young quarterback’s first start, against one of the Big Ten’s best teams, he completed more than 50 percent of his passes and showed a hint of flash.

That was Curtis Painter, two years ago, against Wisconsin. He went 23-of-44 for 212 yards with a touchdown and three interceptions. Purdue lost that game, 31-20, and its next, 33-15 to Penn State but finished the year on a three-game winning streak behind its red-shirt freshman quarterback.

Fast-forward 24 months, and Painter has become one of the most dependable signal-callers in the nation. His 16 touchdown passes is second in the nation, and he is the only quarterback with more than 12 throwing scores and only one interception. He’s the No. 1 reason Purdue is 4-0 and confident

“He’s a strong-armed kid and gets rid of the ball quick, and he’s really making good, quick decisions,” Irish coach Charlie Weis said.

Painter has led Purdue to the nation’s eighth most productive offense. The Boilermakers average nearly 325 yards passing and more than 200 on the ground. It’s a stark contrast to Notre Dame, which easily handled Purdue in 2005 and 2006 under Brady Quinn but now is breaking in freshman Jimmy Clausen with serious growing pains.

Clausen, who also made his starting debut against a tough Big Ten opponent, is 35-of-62 for only 271 yards, two interceptions and no touchdowns in his three starts.

The Irish offense is last in the nation in rushing and third-to-last in passing. Notre Dame’s 137 yards per game in total offense is 62 yards fewer than the next-worst offense, Florida International. The Irish have 548 yards of total offense in four games. The Boilermakers are averaging 527 each Saturday.

Still, Purdue coach Joe Tiller isn’t acting like the game is in the bag.

The Boilermakers took a 24-3 lead over Minnesota by halftime last Saturday but surrendered four second-half touchdowns in a 45-31 victory.

“We can’t be overconfident based on our game Saturday, if we watch it [on tape],” Tiller said Monday. “We’ve got a lot work ahead of us.”

Just not much on the offensive side of the ball.

Painter isn’t as speedy as many spread quarterbacks are, but he is mobile. He had a long run of 42 yards in 2006 en route to 288 yards gained on the ground, excluding sacks. This season, he has stuck to throwing the ball – and throwing it well.

He expects a challenge out of the Notre Dame defense, which is fourth in yards surrendered per game after the 0-4 start but only No. 55 in pass efficiency defense – largely because opponents have stuck with their running game against the vulnerable Irish front seven.

“I don’t think that their record really does them justice,” Painter said Monday. “They’re a great defense, first of all. … I think their defense will be ready to play.

“I think they’ll be one of the better teams we’ve played so far.”

Besides Minnesota, Purdue’s opponents this season have been Toledo, Eastern Illinois and Central Michigan.