Head-to-Head: ND vs. Purdue
Observer Sports Staff | Friday, September 17, 2021
Notre Dame Passing
When Jack Coan has had time to throw in the pocket, he has been very consistent and has looked the part of a top-10 college quarterback. The only issue is that the offensive line has been so bad for the Irish that this has been a rare occurrence. The good news for the Irish is that the Boilermakers have only recorded one sack on the season so far. Despite this, I expect Purdue to blitz more than usual and test the offensive line throughout the game. Notre Dame definitely has the matchup advantages for receiving with tight end Michael Mayer and wide receiver Kevin Austin leading the way for the Irish. If Coan can get the ball to them, advantage Irish. Because of the issues on the offensive line, however, this matchup is even, as Coan will likely face constant pressure throughout the game.
Notre Dame Rushing
Hard to not give the edge to Purdue here. The Irish simply haven’t gotten the running game untracked yet behind the shaky offensive line. Meanwhile, leading rushers against the Boilermakers have garnered 42 and 27 yards. Granted, Oregon State and UConn is not a brutal opening slate, but still, it’s impressive defense. With a stiff Wisconsin defensive front up next, this Purdue front seven is a fantastic test and tune-up for the Irish. Maybe they prove this analysis wrong and actually get some decent yardage on the ground versus the Boilermakers. But if the first two games are any indication for either team, that’ll be tough sledding for Kyren Williams and Co.
Notre Dame Offensive Coaching
Tommy Rees has shown some more creative and aggressive tendencies in year 2 as offensive coordinator with the Irish. And as a whole, the offense has been solid, averaging 36.5 points per game. There’s been sluggish stretches — like the 4th quarter against Florida State, or the middle two quarters against Toledo — but also improvement. From a willingness to target wide receivers down the field, to more creative playcalling, like a flea flicker in Game 1, Rees has looked a little more seasoned in 2021.
He faces a unique Purdue system that features three co-defensive coordinators. This was announced in June, with the responsibilities being split between the defensive line coach, linebackers coach and the secondary coach. So far, it’s paid dividends, with the Boilermakers giving up 10.5 points per game. The rush defense has been good, which doesn’t bode well for Rees, who hasn’t figured out a way to overcome some offensive line struggles and get the run game going. The Boilermakers have forced three fumbles and recorded two interceptions. They’ll force Rees to get a little more creative while avoiding any big momentum-swinging plays.
EDGE: Purdue (slight)
Notre Dame Offensive Special Teams
Jonathan Doerer has been money in Notre Dame’s first two games besides a miss from 55 yards against Toledo that would have been a career long. He’s also been perfect on PATs. When Doerer is in range, the Irish should be able to trust him to make kicks in the clutch even if Purdue pushes Notre Dame to the brink. Jay Bramblett has also been reliable in the punting game. He averaged 49 yards a kick against Toledo with a 58 yard bomb thrown in the mix. The Irish should also be able to rely on Bramblett to pin the Boilermakers deep to help win the field position battle. Notre Dame’s kick return unit has been slightly more concerning with Chris Tyree consistently calling for fair catches. Playing conservative on special teams is typical of a Brian Kelly team, but Tyree has had enough space at times to try to make something special happen on punt returns. Even without any return yardage though, Notre Dame’s unit should have the advantage. Protection on kicks hasn’t been an issue, and Purdue hasn’t blocked anything yet this season. That could change in an in-state rivalry contest, but Brian Kelly should be confident in this unit heading into Saturday.
EDGE: Notre Dame
Notre Dame’s secondary has played much better than anticipated considering its overall lack of experience, but the Irish face a difficult test in Purdue quarterback Jack Plummer. The Boilermakers’ veteran signal caller has looked sharp in his first two games, throwing for six touchdowns and no interceptions. This Purdue passing attack will be the most explosive the Irish have faced, and Plummer knows how to push the ball downfield to his best targets. Cam Hart will have a tough matchup against Purdue’s top wide receiver David Bell, who has the size and speed to be a menace for the Irish on Saturday. Tight end Durham Payne is the perfect safety blanket for when Bell is double covered. Kyle Hamilton will have a tough choice to make if Bell is consistently getting separation downfield. Plummer isn’t the most mobile quarterback, and Notre Dame could shut down the Purdue offense in a hurry if they bring enough pressure. But a secondary that’s been prone to giving up big plays recently is in big trouble if Plummer finds a rhythm. Expect Purdue to throw early and often to put the pressure on the Irish defensive backs.
The Boilermakers lost their leading rusher in Zander Horvath to a broken fibula early into their game against UConn last Saturday. However, that does not diminish the strength of their run game when compared to the Irish. The replacement running backs clocked a combined 146 yards in that game, which is nearly the total rushing yards Notre Dame has gained this season (197 yards). Compare that with Notre Dame’s average of just over 98 rushing yards a game, and it will be hard not to give the Boilermakers the upper hand. Though Purdue is not necessarily fantastic at their run game, they have been more consistent and successful to the point where they have the edge in this department.
Purdue Offensive Coaching
Jeff Brohm is known for his play-calling capabilities. His ability to use misdirection, play action and trick plays are creative and offensively clever. Irish defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman has struggled establishing the threat of the defense in the last two games, and up against Brohm’s prowess I can’t expect it to go much better. Shutting down this offense would be some kind of statement game for Freeman. But with Brohm’s prowess in play calling, Purdue’s 309 passing yards last year and returning the weapons (their quarterback and stellar wide receivers) to execute those plays, it will be a hard statement to make.
Purdue Offensive Special Teams
Senior kicker Mitchell Fineran has been the highlight of the year on special teams so far for the Boilermakers. Fineran was a perfect 3-for-3 on field goals in the Boilermakers’ season-opening victory against Oregon State, nailing a 48-yarder in that game. If the Boilermakers are in field goal range, Fineran should be reliable for the Boilermakers. Punting has been the biggest concern for the Boilermakers so far with punter Jack Ansell only averaging 36.7 yards per kick on seven punts this year. The Boilermakers also have not had any punt or kick off returns for significant yardage this season. Because of the poor punting and lack of return game, advantage Irish in this one.
EDGE: Notre Dame