Staff Predictions 2021: Notre Dame vs. Purdue
Aidan Thomas — Sports Writer
I guess Toledo was the best team in Ohio on Saturday — or at least that’s how Notre Dame made them look. The rush defense and offensive line continue to be the primary concern for the Irish. Tyler Buchner provided a little electricity and variety to the Irish offense, and Kyren Williams did finally break off a big run that hopefully sparks him after a slow start. Can Tommy Rees continue to find a way to get his best athletes the ball with space to work with? I was initially a little worried about this game because Zander Horvath is an exceptional running back who can impact the passing game, but Horvath’s injury has lessened Purdue’s offensive attack noticeably.
That being said, the Boilermakers saw two backs fill in with 24 carries for 146 yards (albeit against UConn). And the quarterback play has been nothing short of phenomenal — Jack O’Connell has done most of the work, with Aidan O’Connell providing a slightly different look in a quasi-two-quarterback system. They’ve thrown eight touchdowns to no interceptions as a duo, completing passes at a 75% clip. It’s a test that is shaping up to be much tougher than originally anticipated, as the Boilermakers look to knock off the struggling Irish. I think the offense should have enough juice, but I’m not anticipating a fantastic defensive performance against possibly the best offense Notre Dame’s defense has seen yet.
Mannion McGinley — Sports Editor
After the last two weeks of Irish football, I have nothing to say except: This will be a close one. The Irish should’ve blown out FSU and didn’t, but that maybe made sense because they weren’t ready for Milton. Then, this week, the Irish should’ve blown out the Rockets but Toledo hung in and Notre Dame needed a two-point conversion to protect that win. How could I say anything but this will be a close one this week? Purdue is 2-0 scoring almost 80 points in their two weeks of play. While they’ve done this against two less than mediocre teams, Notre Dame has made themselves look just barely better than mediocre. The biggest threat this weekend will be Boilermaker quarterback Jack Plummer. It’s the season of tandem-quarterback play and the Boilermakers are in on that in part as well but Plummer has carried the brunt of the role. The Irish defense really left the backfield open for the big plays and if they can’t close those holes this weekend, Irish fans will have something to worry about in Plummer.
That doesn’t mean the Irish won’t find success though, they’re just going to have to dig deep for it. With Coan and Buchner at the helm again, playing off each other’s strengths, a win should be within reach but that’s only if the offense can push through. The over, under is at 59 for good reason. If this goes well for the Irish, it will be a very high-scoring game because I don’t see how Notre Dame finds success this week holding the Purdue offense.
Colin Capece — Assistant Managing Editor
Let’s get one thing straight right away: I could not have been more wrong about Toledo with my prediction last week. One of the cardinal sins a sportswriter can commit is to make assumptions, because they always come back to bite you. I assumed Toledo would be another FSU, but boy did I underestimate the Rockets, who played about as well as you can as a 17-point underdog on the road in Notre Dame Stadium. With that said, Notre Dame was unimpressive once again against an inferior opponent. This team has a laundry list of issues it needs to fix, but the main concern has to be the play of the offensive line, which gave up another 6 sacks on Saturday. The lack of a running game save for one long touchdown run by Kyren Williams displayed that the Irish are becoming too predictable on offense. Despite his inexperience, Tommy Rees needs to let the emerging Tyler Buchner sling it so defenses have to play more than just the run when he’s on the field. On defense, lapses in coverage cost the Irish some big yardage against Toledo.
Purdue is going to bring the pressure until the Irish show they can handle it. The offensive line clearly needs to figure out how to block better, but Jack Coan also needs to get the ball out faster with free blitzers coming from every direction. If he starts finding his playmakers over the middle, the Boilermakers will be forced to rush only four and give the Irish a chance to get the run game going. The play-calling needs to be aggressive the entire game because Purdue is too potent on offense behind quarterback Jack Plummer. If Brian Kelly takes the death by one thousand cuts approach he did after jumping out to an early lead against Toledo, the Irish will quickly fall behind and lose this game.
I don’t foresee the Irish defense making a complete turnaround in one week, especially against a well-coached Big Ten opponent like Purdue. I do think the Irish continue to improve on offense, as they’ve already shown they can put up points when they need to. This game is going to be back-and-forth with scoring throughout, and Notre Dame is going to need another perfect final drive from Coan to survive once again. Sticking with the season trend, Irish by three.
Notre Dame 41, Purdue 38
Emily DeFazio — Associate Sports Editor
Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, that’s on me. After entering optimistically into the past two nail biters of a home and away opener, I cannot help but look ahead apprehensively to the match against Purdue this weekend. The gameplay against Toledo was not exactly a ringing endorsement for the rest of the season. The defense is still struggling, the offensive line is shaky at best and why we continue to push the run game when it consistently gets shut down, I will never know (Granted, there are several other factors at play than just passing the ball, and it is easier said than done, but still). Not that Purdue is a well-oiled machine themselves, but they did just win 49-0 on Saturday when the Irish barely won by three points again. What does this mean for Notre Dame? The way I see it, another close battle of a game. I hope they prove me wrong.
I am anticipating a focus on the running game offensively, more likely with both Coan and Buchner at the helm after the freshman’s debut on Saturday. If this facet of the offense progresses, and the defense gets their system down to stop Purdue quarterback Jack Plummer from being too much of a threat on the field, then I can see the Irish taking down their in-state rival in the Boilermakers. Give me another Mayer touchdown, some Kevin Austin Jr. action and some massive gains on runs from Williams and Tyree, and Notre Dame may be back in the swing of things to take on the rest of their schedule.
Notre Dame 42, Purdue 38
Nate Moller — Sports Writer
My confidence in this team has dwindled completely, and I have no idea what to expect when the Irish take the field on Saturday. In my mind, I could see it going one of two ways. It’s definitely possible that the Irish come out with some fire under their bellies and blow Purdue out, but it is also very possible the Irish are in yet another close game. I think the latter is most likely with the way that the Irish offensive line has played as of late. I expect the Boilermakers to cause some problems for the Irish, but I expect the athleticism of running backs Kyren Williams and Chris Tyree to move the ball for the Irish despite the offensive line issues.
On the other side of the ball, Purdue quarterback Jack Plummer will lead the way for a Boilermaker offense that has put up a combined 79 points over their first two games of the season. Plummer has looked great for the Boilermakers so far with six touchdowns on the year and no interceptions. I think this one might come down to how well Purdue can run the football, and I think the Irish will get just enough stops to win yet another close game.