by John Vannie
Undefeated Purdue invades Notre Dame Stadium on Saturday to challenge the Fighting Irish. The Boilermakers have accumulated some impressive offensive statistics while going 4-0 against inferior competition, and this week’s game will be their first outside of West Lafayette. Meanwhile, Notre Dame will attempt to build on last week’s emotional comeback victory over Michigan State.
Purdue’s balanced attack is led by junior quarterback Curtis Painter, who has completed 64% of his passes to a group of talented receivers. Dorien Bryant is the main receiving threat, but 6’4” Selwyn Lymon and 6’3” Greg Orton are also quite capable. Tight end Dustin Keller is the most productive player at his position that the Irish have faced this season.
The Boilermaker running game has also been impressive. Kory Sheets and Jaycen Taylor run behind a veteran offensive line for more than five yards per carry. The elusive Sheets has scored ten of the team’s twelve rushing touchdowns.
Notre Dame’s defense will therefore face a difficult challenge, although Painter is not much of a running threat outside the pocket. Still, the Irish may be in for a long afternoon as they must respect the run and chase three receivers and a talented tight end all over the field. Painter is well-protected behind 1,535 pounds of beef, so the best solution for the Irish appears to be ball control and keeping the Purdue attack on the sideline.
Fortunately for Notre Dame, its offense should be able to put plenty of points on the board against Purdue’s young defense. Aside from end Anthony Spencer and safety Justin Scott, very few defenders have played extensively prior to this season. The Boilers have allowed nearly 30 points per game to the likes of Ball State and Indiana State, and a more experienced group surrendered 49 to the Irish last season.
This week should present an opportunity for Notre Dame to get its dormant running game on track. Darius Walker will get the majority of the carries, but he is nursing minor injuries this week. This may create opportunities for freshmen Munir Prince and James Aldridge, who have essentially been kept under wraps to date. Regardless of who carries the ball, the Irish will need to maintain possession and put together the long scoring drives that were plentiful last year yet missing in 2006.
Penalties, poor throws, dropped passes and inadequate run blocking have slowed Charlie Weis’ offense to date, but some credit must be given to the opposition in the first four contests. Purdue is similar to Michigan State defensively, but another poor first quarter by the Irish could result in a game that is much closer than it needs to be.
Notre Dame’s special teams are also due for a breakout performance. Punt return man Tom Zbikowski had an 85-yard return negated last week due to a penalty, but it seems only a matter of time before he puts six points on the board. Purdue has allowed one score in this fashion already. The Boilers counter with a one-two punch of Bryant and Sheets on kickoffs, and Bryant broke off a 67-yard return against the Irish last year.
Geoff Price of the Irish and Purdue’s Jared Armstrong are both excellent punters, while Chris Summers earns a slight edge over Notre Dame’s Carl Gioia in the kicking game, although neither is likely to convert a field goal attempt of more than 45 yards.
The Irish can take control of the game early with a fast start on offense and by bringing pressure on Painter as he tries to settle his nerves in a hostile environment. Both teams will be able to score points, but the team that is able to run the ball early will have an advantage. The Irish would prefer not to rely solely on Brady Quinn’s arm to win the game, but his receivers will have a decided advantage over the Purdue secondary.
The positional matchups are as follows:
Position / Advantage
Quarterback – Notre Dame
Running Back – Purdue
Wide Receivers – Notre Dame
Tight Ends – Notre Dame
ND OLine vs. PU DLine – Notre Dame
PU OLine vs. ND DLine – Even
Linebackers – Even
Secondary – Notre Dame
Punting – Even
Kicking – Purdue
Return Teams – Even
Intangibles – Notre Dame
Notre Dame should have the emotional advantage playing at home and coming off a defining win at Michigan State. That could change, however, if the Irish start slowly and give the young Boilermakers hope. It probably won’t be as easy as last year’s rout, but Purdue won’t be able to make enough plays on defense to avoid the inevitable.
NOTRE DAME 42 PURDUE 27