Head-to-Head: Notre Dame vs. Purdue
Observer Football Beat Writers | Wednesday, September 11, 2013
Senior quarterback Tommy Rees only had a few bad throws last week, but they came at the worst possible times. Still, Rees has looked much mature in the pocket this season, and has shown an ability to make the throws the spread offense requires.
Rees has also had several weapons establish themselves early on. Senior TJ Jones and junior DaVaris Daniels force any secondary to spread the field, which has allowed junior tight end Troy Niklas to emerge as a playmaker over the middle of the field.
Senior cornerback and four-year starter Ricardo Allen leads the Boilermaker secondary, which has allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete two-thirds of their passes this season. Purdue’s front four is a big factor in its pass defense, as they’ve averaged three sacks per game this season. However, that didn’t stop Indiana State from throwing for nearly 300 yards last week, which nearly allowed them to come back before Allen ended the game with a last-minute interception.
Notre Dame’s offensive line did a fine job in pass protection last week, and should give Rees enough time to find his receivers again on Saturday.
EDGE: NOTRE DAME
Junior running backs Amir Carlisle and George Atkinson have been quietly effective so far this season, and have averaged over six yards per carry between them. That’s largely thanks to Notre Dame’s offensive line, which has absorbed two new starters without skipping a beat.
The Irish have played in a blowout and a shootout in their two games thusfar, and have yet to place a heavy burden of carries on one back. To keep legs fresh, Irish coach Brian Kelly can substitute in junior Cam McDaniel, or freshmen Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston as well.
Purdue allowed Cincinnati 221 yards rushing in their season opener, but clamped down on Indiana State last weekend, holding the mighty Sycamores to just 39 yards on 22 carries. That effort has been spearheaded by senior defensive tackle Bruce Gaston, a four-year starter who leads the team both in tackles (12) and tackles for loss (3.5).
The Boilermakers won’t allow the Irish to grind them down all day, but Atkinson and Carlisle will mix in enough to keep drives alive and continue their efficient play.
EDGE: NOTRE DAME
IRISH OFFENSIVE COACHING
Irish offensive coordinator Chuck Martin has hit a good balance so far this year, utilizing every player in this deep offensive unit. The Irish have had success both running and passing the ball, but none of it in spades.
Purdue was able to clamp down defensively last Saturday after their opening rout, but Boilermakers first year head coach Darrell Hazell and first year defensive coordinator Greg Hudson will struggle to keep up with the Irish attack.
EDGE: NOTRE DAME
IRISH SPECIAL TEAMS
Irish junior kicker Kyle Brindza appeared to win the placekicking job last weekend, taking and making all three of Notre Dame’s field goal attempts. He has also showed off his big leg on both kickoffs and punts, though kick coverage has been an issue for the Irish early on.
That could be an issue this week, as Boilermakers junior starting running back Akeem Hunt also goes back for kickoff returns. Hunt brought the opening kickoff back 99-yards off of a reverse play last week, and ran one back on Ohio State last year.
The Irish are sure to gameplan against Hunt, but that may require Brindza to focus more on hangtime than length.
IRISH SCHEDULE (1-1)
Aug. 31 Temple W 28-6
Sept. 7 @ Michigan L 30-41
Sept. 14 @ Purdue
Sept. 21 Michigan State
Sept. 26 Oklahoma
Oct. 5 vs. Arizona State
Oct. 19 USC
Oct. 26 @ Air Force
Nov. 2 Navy
Nov. 9 @ Pittsburgh
Nov. 23 BYU
Nov. 30 @ Stanford
Boilermakers redshirt senior quarterback Rob Henry is back in the saddle for the first time since leading the team in both running and passing in 2010, and has been consistently mediocre so far this time out. Henry has yet to throw for 170 yards in a game, yet to have a pass of over 30 yards, and hasn’t thrown a touchdown, either.
Henry could pose a problem to the Irish though, as yet another mobile quarterback they’ll have to contain. Henry is one of the fastest players on this Purdue squad, and cracked the lineup as a running back and receiver last season. That’s been an issue for Notre Dame’s front seven this year, and Henry should serve as a good barometer of how much they’ve learned from Devin Gardner.
On the backside of things, the Irish secondary has struggled both in pass defense and tackling, allowing four Gardner touchdown passes last time out. Purdue has young receivers B.J. Knauf and Shane Mikesky to challenge the Irish defensive backs, but Henry’s favorite target is senior tight end Gabe Holmes, who has twice as many catches as anyone else on the team.
Henry may not have done anything to write home about yet, but will be a solid barometer for where Notre Dame’s pass defense is at.
Once again, this would seem to be an area where Michigan will miss Robinson. But Gardner’s arm should keep the Irish from stacking the box like they did against Denard, which will allow Gardner to pick his spots and break it big. That seems especially likely after watching Notre Dame defend against Temple’s pro-style offense last week. Owls quarterback Connor Reilly is nowhere near as athletic as Gardner but still ran for 77 yards on 12 carries. Add in sturdy fifth-year running back Fitzgerald Toussaint and future first-round pick Taylor Lewan at left guard, and the Irish will have their hands full in gameplanning for Saturday.
If there’s anyone that can get the job done, it’s the dynamite front seven of Notre Dame, featuring names like Nix, Tuitt, and Shembo. But just like when they faced off with Shoelaces, stopping Michigan’s run game may just be a case of limiting the damage.
EDGE: NOTRE DAME
BOILERMAKERS OFFENSIVE COACHING
Wolverines offensive coordinator Al Borges has averaged nearly 400 yards per game in his two years at Michigan, and is in the process of retooling his offense around a more traditional quarterback.
His counterpart on Saturday will be Irish defensive coordinator Bob Diaco, who bottled the Wolverines and held them to just six points last season. Diaco’s defense was exposed by Temple, and now he’ll have a week to figure out the issues and deliver the message. After watching Notre Dame’s historic defense dominate last year under his schemes, it’d be hard to imagine the Irish being beaten in the same fashion in consecutive weeks.
EDGE: NOTRE DAME
BOILERMAKERS SPECIAL TEAMS
At 5-foot-7, Wolverines sophomore return man Dennis Norfleet can get lost in a crowd extremely easily – and show up again 50 yards downfield. Fifth-year senior Brendan Gibbons made his last 13 kicks last season, and is still perfect early on in the 2014 campaign.
Notre Dame’s kick coverage teams have been very strong of late, and will hope to keep Michigan from getting a big momentum play on returns. But at the end of the game, Michigan can turn to
BOILERMAKERS SCHEDULE (1-1)
Aug. 31 @ Cincinnati L 7-42
Sept. 7 Indiana State W 20-14
Sept. 14 Notre Dame
Sept. 21 @ Wisconsin Sept. 28 Northern Illinois
Oct. 12 Nebraska
Oct. 19 @ Michigan State
Nov. 2 Ohio State
Nov. 9 Iowa
Nov. 16 @ Penn State
Nov. 23 Illinois
Nov. 30 @ Indiana