The Fighting Irish bus down to West Lafayette where they will be hosted by the Purdue Boilermakers in the 85th renewal of this instate rivalry. The Battle for the Shillelagh Trophy gives the Irish an opportunity to possess the trophy for the 38th time. The second night game in a row for Notre Dame will be televised by ESPN at 8:00 EST with kickoff approximately 8:12. Brent Musburger and Kirk Herbstreit will handle the game’s television coverage. As of this writing the weather is supposed to be mild, rain free, and in the 60s to start the game.
This series, which has been uninterrupted since 1946, is the second longest series for Notre Dame’s program with the longest being the Navy series. The Purdue series record stands at 56-26-2 in Notre Dame’s favor. The Irish have won the last five games in the series including last year’s 20-17 tilt.
Darrell Hazell was named the 35th head coach of Purdue this past December. Hazell comes to the Boilermakers from a successful two year reign at Kent State where he went 16-10, including last year at 11-3 and ranked as high as 17th in the BCS. As a head coach Hazell’s career record is 17-11. He has never faced Notre Dame and Coach Kelly.
Hazell has an ominous task ahead of him. Purdue, according to most pre-season publications and prognosticators, will be one of the worst teams in the Big Ten. Only three Boilermaker units are ranked in the top half of the Big Ten’s unit rankings by one of the successful major college football publications. The other units are most often ranked 11th or 12th in a twelve team league. Another publication doesn’t even rank any Purdue unit in the top six of the Big Ten. Now pre-season magazine rankings and pre-season prognostications are always argumentative, but then again, Purdue isn’t getting a lot of respect from any quarter. Boilermaker recruiting has also been bereft of respect over the last four years with an average recruiting class being ranked 58th or 54th by the major recruiting sites.
Before he became head coach at Kent State Hazell spent seven years at Ohio State under Jim Tressel as the wide receivers coach, three years at Rutgers under Greg Schiano, and two years at West Virginia under Don Nehland. Before being a Mountaineer Hazell had stints at Army, Western Michigan, the University of Pennsylvania, a second stint at Oberlin College as the offensive coordinator, Eastern Illinois, and his first stay at Oberlin College where he began his coaching career. Hazell is a 1986 graduate of Muskingham College where he was a wide receiver, three times all conference, and where he still holds the receptions and yardage records.
Purdue, coming off a 6-7 record, 3-5 in the Big Ten, stands at 1-1 this season. The Boilermkers had an opening day loss on the road to Cincinnati 42-7 and a home win over Indiana State an FCS school, 20-14.
Coach Kelly is 3-0 against the Boilermakers. Purdue is 0-3 against Notre Dame under the lights.
Notre Dame-Purdue Connections
35 former Indiana high school players are on the Notre Dame (8) and Purdue (27) rosters.
Greg Hudson ’90, a reserve Notre Dame linebacker in 86 and 87, is the Boilermaker’s defensive coordinator. He also played catcher on the Irish baseball team. Hudson is in his 24th year of coaching and in his 9th year as a college defensive coordinator.
Hazell brings a West Coast styled offense to West Lafayette. Last year the Boilermakers averaged 403 yards a game. That’s fallen to 255 yards per game this season against questionable opposition. Purdue appears to be one of those cases of the cupboard being somewhat bare.
Purdue runs the ball 54% of the time and passes 46% of the time. That ratio will most likely increase towards more passing attempts if the Boilermakers can’t improve on their 2.9 yards per carry average. The Purdue’s yards per carry average has been a constant in both games this year and there seems to be no improvement on the horizon.
The Boilermakers’ passing game is best described as a dink and dunk approach with 156 yards on 59 passing attempts. As a comparison Indiana University’s quarterback has thrown for 582 yards on his 59 attempts.
After two games Purdue is ranked 108th in total offense, 99th in passing with 311 yards per game, and 103rd in rushing offense with 98 yards per game. The Boilermakers are 113th in scoring averaging 13.5 points per game. They are ranked 81st in turnovers with 4 made up of 2 fumbles and 2 interceptions. The offensive line has allowed 3 sacks to rank 44th. Purdue’s third down conversion rate is 8 of 28 for 29% which ranks them 100th in the FBS.
In the Red Zone Purdue is tied with Notre Dame at 111th scoring on 4 of 7 trips into their opponent’s twenty. That breaks down into 2 rushing touchdowns, 0 passing touchdowns, and two field goals.
Purdue’s Projected Offensive Starters & Significant Contributors
QB #15 Rob Henry, 6-1, 205, fifth year, 24 games, 9 starts
RB #1 Akeem Hunt, 5-9, 184, junior, 27 games, 2 starts
WR #6 Gary Bush, 6-0, 179, fifth year, 41 games, 16 starts
WR #87 Shane Mikesky, 6-4, 211, sophomore, 8 games, 2 starts
WR #83 B. J. Knauf, 5-10, 183, RS freshman, 2 games, 2 starts
TE #86 Gabe Holmes, 6-5, 243, senior, 37 games, 11 starts
TE #84 Justin Sinz, 6-4, 248, junior, 26 games, 4 starts
LT #64 Kevin Pamphile, 6-5, 315, fifth year, 25 games, 11 starts
LG #71 Devin Smith, 6-6, 320, senior, 14 games, 8 starts
C #57 Robert Kugler, 6-3, 284, sophomore, 15 games, 9 starts
RG #78 Trevor Foy, 6-7, 300, fifth year, 32 games, 19 starts
RT #51 Justin Kitchens, 6-4, 290, fifth year, 28 games, 15 starts
Trick Play Possibilities
Wide receiver B.J. Knauf has run and scored off of jet sweeps. He was also a high school quarterback so a flanker reverse pass isn’t out of the question.
Purdue scored a kickoff return against Indiana State off of a reverse from B. J. Knauf taking the kickoff at the two yard line, moving to the right, and handing the ball off at the eleven yard line to tailback Akeem Hunt #1 who took it the remaining 90 yards for a 99 yard kickoff return. Hunt showed off his speed, but he also got some good blocks along the way.
Could a fake punt or field goal be next?
Only four players have carried the pigskin for Purdue this year, quarterback Rob Henry, running backs Akeem Hunt and Dalyn Dawkins, and wide receiver B. J. Knauf. The four of them have produced an average of 2.9 yard per rush. Take out Knauf’s rushing contributions via the jet sweep and that average drops to 2.6 yards per rush. Only Henry has scored a rushing touchdown.
Quarterback Rob Henry #15 one of Purdue’s tri-captains is a dual threat quarterback. In 2010 he was voted a team captain and led the Boilermakers in both passing and rushing. He missed the 2011 season with a knee injury. Last season he bounced around from receiver, running back, and quarterback. This season he is 33-59-2 for 56%, a long of 29 yards, and 0 touchdowns. Eliminating sacks Henry’s running the ball is averaging 2.7 yards per carry, and he has a long of 7 yards, and 1 touchdown. He’s capable of running for big gains.
Henry won the job this season based on poise, leadership, experience, and getting the team in the right play during fall camp. Hazel, who wants his quarterbacks in the pocket, feels Henry steps up in the pocket and keeps his eyes down field despite the ability to just take off.
Neither of the backup quarterbacks, red shirt sophomore Austin Appleby #12, or true freshman Danny Etling #5 has thrown a pass in a college game. If things go south for Purdue early we could see Etling in the game. Etling was a mid-year enrollee who is a pro-style quarterback who competed at the Elite Eleven last year. In the Purdue spring game he was 5-7-1 for 54 yards.
Running back Akeem Hunt #1 had offers from some big time programs, namely Auburn, South Carolina, and Wisconsin. Hunt has big play potential, 4.4 speed, and has scored on two kickoffs, an 81 touchdown yard run last year and a 90 yard return this year. He also has 50 and 63 yard touchdown passes in his career. His only drawbacks are his size at 184 pounds and the limitations that size places on his blocking. Hunt has been held in check so far this season averaging 3.6 yards per carry, a long of 16 yards, and no touchdowns. In catching the ball Hunt has 3 receptions, a 14.3 yard average, a long of 25 yards, and 0 touchdowns.
Freshman Dalyn Dawkins #20 has half of the carries that Hunt has and is averaging 4.1 yards per carry with a long of 17 yards and no touchdowns. He’s even lighter than Hunt at 175 pounds. As a receiver he has caught 4 passes for an average of 13.0 yards, a long of 29 yards and no touchdowns.
Not one Purdue receiver at a wide out, tight end, or running back has scored on a touchdown pass this season. One B.J. Knauf #83 has scored on a jet sweep. Aside from one wide out and the tight end Purdue’s receiving corps is short of college experience.
Gary Bush #6 is the most experienced wide out on the Purdue squad. He has 4 receptions for a 3.5 yard average, a long of 9 yards, and 0 touchdowns. Career wise he has 85 receptions and 11 touchdowns. Bush has speed, but lacks consistency.
Shane Mikesky #87 has 4 receptions for an average of 10.8 yards and a long of 18 yards. Mikesky brings his 6-4 height and his track speed to the mix. Mikesky was the nation’s sixth best high school high hurdler in 2011.
B. J. Knauf is small, but tough, and supposedly runs a 4.3 forty. He has 2 receptions for a 12.5 yard average. He also runs the ball, usually in jet sweeps, and has a 6.1 yard average, a long of 16 yards, and 1 touchdown.
Tight end Gabe Holmes #86 is one of those “potential” players who has yet to emerge as a force. His blocking skills aren’t more than average and he’s totally overmatched by a speed rushing defensive end despite an NFL physique. Holmes runs too many bad routes and drops too many passes. Still, he can be a matchup problem for linebackers when on his game. He does lead all receivers with 9 receptions, a 7.7 yard average, and a long of 17 yards.
Holmes has been reported to have injured his wrist in practice. Realizing that he has been deemed the best tight end by the Purdue staff I don’t see a major drop off in his backup Justin Sinz #84, a junior, and Sterling Carter #81, a fifth year player, for the reasons listed above. Plus, his presence and statistics aren’t significant enough to win or lose ball games for anyone.
As a unit they aren’t the most agile offensive line we’ll see the Irish face this year. Also, they have trouble in space and can look downright awkward trying to block downfield. My impression of this unit is that they are, as a whole, a passive group. That could be attributed to a little wheel spin with the new system.
Left Tackle Kevin Pamphile #64 is athletic as linemen go and agile for his size. He gets his hands on opponents better than he has in the past. He moves well in space getting to the second level. He doesn’t play as physical as one would think of a former defensive lineman.
Left Guard Devin Smith #71 is one of the better offensive linemen for Purdue. His strength is as drive blocker, he does a good job walling off interior linemen, and pass blocks well despite not having quick feet. Smith has trouble sustaining blocks on running plays and often drops his head losing contact.
Center Robert Kugler #57 gets his hands on an opponent fine just off the snap, gets out well on the screen, pulls well, but has problems locating and blocking downfield on the run. He can be overpowered by big physical nose guards.
Right guard Trevor Foy #78 is a former tackle who is a good pass blocker, gets to the second level well, but can get caught up looking around for another colored jersey and not hitting anyone.
Right tackle Justin Kitchens #51 is in just his third year as an offensive lineman after two years as a defensive lineman. Kitchens initially sets up well in pass blocking. He uses his hands well, blocks satisfactory on running plays, but doesn’t show the fiery attitude one would think a former defensive player would bring to the fray.
Purdue’s defense is not as tough as it was last year, but returns seven who started against Notre Dame last year when Purdue nearly upset the Irish. It would have been eight, but Purdue lost a starting safety against Indian State. Last week the Boilermakers sacked the Indiana State quarterback five times. All six of the season’s sacks come from three defensive linemen. Two of the top four tacklers for Purdue are defensive linemen.
Defensive the Boilermakers are ranked 55th in total defense allowing 360 yards per game, 49th in rushing defense allowing 130 yards per game, and 70th in passing giving up 230 yards per game. Purdue has allowed an average of 28 points per game to rank 79th. The third down conversion defense has allowed opponents to convert 12 of 29 third downs for 41% to rank 85th. Purdue is tied at 32nd on turnovers gained with 4 turnovers, 3 interceptions and 1 fumble.
In the Red Zone the Boilermakers are ranked 51st allowing opponents to score 83% of the time on 5 of 6 tries inside the Purdue twenty. These five scores break down into 3 rushing touchdowns and 2 passing touchdowns.
Purdue’s Projected Defensive Starters & Significant Contributors
LE #99 Ryan Russell, 6-5, 270, junior, 28 games, 26 starts
DT # 90 Bruce Gaston, 6-2, 310, senior, 40 games 33 starts
NT #92 Ryan Watson, 6-2, 306, sophomore, 11 games, 1 start
RE #91 Greg Latta, 6-5, 260, senior, 15 games, 2 starts
WLB #45 Will Lucas, 5-11, 236, senior, 40 games, 21 starts
MLB #39 Joe Gilliam, 6-1, 225, junior, 26 games, 16 starts
SLB#10 Sean Robinson, 6-3, 240, junior, 14 games, 8 starts (6 games, 1 start at QB)
LCB #21 Ricardo Allen, 5-9, 186, senior, 40 games, 38 starts
LS #9 Anthony Brown, 5-11, 201, 6-0, sophomore
RS #4 Taylor Richards, 5-10, 192, junior, 25 games, 15 starts
RCB #24 Frankie Williams, 5-9, 185, sophomore, 15 games, 7 starts
Purdue lost the services of Brandon Taylor, projected to be a starter, due to academics. They also lost a major thorn in the Irish side in Kawaan Short to the NFL. Yet, the defensive line may be the best unit on the Boilermaker’s entire team.
The best lineman on the front four is Bruce Gaston #90. Gaston doesn’t have Kawaan Short to play off, but he is the best talent in the Purdue front. This disruptive force leads Purdue in tackles with 12, 6 solos, 3.5 for losses, and 2 sacks. He’s very good against the run, often making plays behind the LOS. Agile and nasty he moves down the line very well. The only problem he seems to have is he can be inconsistent from snap to snap.
Ryan Russell #99 is the second best defensive lineman for Purdue. At defensive end he has a good initial burst on his pass rush, he’s above average off the edge, and he’s an intense player. His problem is his secondary moves when his initial rush is stymied. They need work. Russell contains and pursues at above average levels. If he improves and gains some weight he could play at the next level. Russell has 8 tackles, 6 solos, and 2 sacks.
The other defensive end Greg Latta #91 is even smaller. He gets a good initial push too, has a good inside move, and displays speed and desire on stunts with the inside lineman. Latta also gets his hands up well when he can’t get to the quarterback. He has 9 tackles, 4 solos, .5 for a loss, and has broken up two passes, one which was intercepted by a nose guard.
The nose tackle starter against Cincinnati was pushed around quite a bit so he has given way to Ryan Watson #92 who was a former defensive end. Watson has battled the injury bug at Purdue, but he performed well enough against Indiana State to get another start. Watson has 4 tackles, all solos.
The linebacking corps is probably the weakest link of the Purdue defense. There’s not a lot of depth and no outstanding individual in the second line of defense. They’ve also been shuffled around since the opener and could be reshuffled this week as well.
Sam linebacker Sean Robinson #10 came to Purdue as a quarterback, but he switched to linebacker in the spring of 2012. He started the season at WLB, but a shakeup in the unit had him moving to SLB where he started last week. Robinson isn’t going to be All Big Ten, but he tackles well and he hustles to be involved in the play. He has 9 tackles, 5 solos, and a pass broken up.
Middle linebacker Joe Gilliam #39 is sometimes tentative filling the hole on an ISO. He’s a bit weak on his keys, but once he knows where to go he hustles and he plays sideline to sideline. Gilliam has 8 tackles, 6 solos, and 2 passes broken up.
Weakside linebacker Will Lucas #45 has a height problem in pass coverage being only 5-11. However, he has a nose for the football and is fast enough that his sideline to sideline play is a big plus for Purdue. He has 6 tackles, 2 solos, and a pass broken up.
Had it not been for an injury I’d rate this group as the best unit on the Purdue squad. The injury last week to a veteran safety drops them behind the defensive line.
Junior Landon Feichter #44would certainly would like to forget this season already. He had been playing with broken bones in each hand and then he broke his leg against Indian State Saturday and may need surgery. He’ll be probably be replaced by Anthony brown #9, the backup at right safety who does have an interception and he’ll most likely be spelled by Fiechter’s brother, Evan Fiechter #27. The big problem is the Boilermakers lose one of their better players with 24 games and 16 starts in experience.
The leader in the Purdue secondary is left cornerback Ricardo Allen #21. Allen has been battling a high ankle sprain since the opener, but he saved the Indiana State game win with an interception in the last 19 seconds deep in Boiler territory. Allen holds the Purdue record for interceptions returned for touchdowns with four. (I looked…several ND players are tied at three.) Allen is a talker who gets into an opponent’s head. He also plays more physical than his size. Allen has 7 tackles, 6 solos, 1 interception, and a pass broken up.
The other corner is Frankie Williams #24. He has a good burst of speed to go along with his athleticism. Williams has 7 tackles, 6 solos, 1 interception and 3 passes defensed.
Taylor Richards #4 is the other safety. He has sound cover skills, good ball skills, and plays sideline to sideline. He’s tough against the run and comes up quick and physical against the run. Richards has 8 tackles total and 6 solos,
Paul Griggs #37 is the place kicker for Purdue. On the season he is 2 of 4 on field goals and has a long of 37 yards with misses from 39 and 49 yards. The 49 yard miss was short, but he hit a 57 yarder in high school. He kicked a game winning 46 yarder as time expired against Iowa last year. He’s 3 for 3 on extra points this year.
Punting is done by Cody Webster #42 who just happens to be the number one punter in the FBS after two weeks. The Ray Guy Award candidate averaged 42.3 yards per on 70 punts last season. This season he’s punting like he was at altitude averaging 49.9 yards per punt on 9 attempts. He has a 73 yarder, 3 over 50 yards, and has placed 4 inside his opponent’s twenty yard line. His coverage team has held opponents to -1.2 yards per return which ranks them 7th in the FBS.
The punt returners are Frankie Williams #24 who has one punt return for 14 yards and B. J. Knauf #83 who has retuned 1 punt for 2 yards.
Kickoffs are performed by Thomas Meadows #30. Meadows has kicked 7 times for a 64.3 yard average and 1 touchback. His coverage team is ranked 97th by allowing opponents to average 25 yards per return.
Returns of kickoff are performed by B. J. Knauf #83, Akeem Hunt #1, and Raheem Mostert #8. Hunt is the leader averaging 47.7 yards per return on 2 returns. Knauf has two returns for a 16.5 yard average, and Mostert has one return for 23 yards.
Notre Dame Offense vs. Purdue Defense-Advantage Irish
Allen is their best corner, but he can be out muscled and tends to bite on pump fakes. I’d test him with speed and height. He can also get turned around on a post pattern. He has to be aware of that particular fault too, so I’d suggest a double move to the inside and back to the corner on him.
Purdue’s defensive ends are light. Notre Dame should run right at them. The Irish have a distinct size advantage with their offensive line and should use it. Tight end Troy Niklas is equal in size or significantly bigger than the Purdue defensive ends four man rotation.
The Irish should strike early and often to establish their on paper dominance on the actual field of play. Purdue hasn’t given up a point in the first quarter this season. Make them see the inevitable writing on the wall early.
In short, Notre Dame should be able to do anything they want. Less than that would imply a total reincarnation of Purdue’s talent or a lack of Irish effort.
Notre Dame Defense vs. Purdue Offense-Advantage Irish
The Boilermakers do not have the personnel to totally exploit the Irish defensive weaknesses.
A large part of Purdue’s offense, and big play potential, is their screen package and their offensive line’s shaky performance in the open field hurt this package quite a lot.
Purdue failed to get a yard at the ISU goal line on two separate occasions on five rushing attempts. That’s five runs that didn’t lose a yard, but didn’t gain a single yard either. Not a formula for success, especially against a FCS team.
Purdue has only two offensive touchdowns in two games to go along with two field goals. The only other Purdue touchdown this year came on a trick play kickoff.
The Irish defense played badly and tackled poorly last week. They need to redeem themselves and if Purdue doesn’t provide an opportunity to do so then it’s going to be a long year for the Irish defense.
Put the fear of God into the Spartan defensive backs next week and throw deep on Purdue and do it often. Temper this with a running game that should own the LOS.
Notre Dame’s Special Teams vs. Purdue’s Special Teams-Advantage Notre Dame
The punting game goes slightly to Purdue. Purdue has better punting and better coverage, but the Irish beat them on return average. (Yep, the Irish have a better return average by 2.25 yards per return, 10.25 to 8.0.)
The kicking off game goes to the Irish. Kyle Brindza has half of his kickoffs going for touchbacks. Purdue’s Meadows only has 1 touchback out of 7 kickoffs. Despite Purdue having a return for a touchdown it was a trick play against a FCS team so Notre Dame gets my nod in the kickoff return department with George Atkinson III. The return defense is close enough to be a wash.
Place kicking goes to Notre Dame with Brindza being 3 out of 4, a long of 44 yards, and facing more pressure than Purdue’s Griggs with 2 of 4 and a long of 37.
Purdue has beaten Notre Dame 15 times in what would be considered upsets. It would take complete indifference for the Notre Dame to lose this game. The Irish should be predisposed to play a good game. Practically every Irish football player who makes the trip should have grass stains on their uniforms before the night is over. The preceding statement excludes any ruffling of Tommy Rees’s uniform, of course.
Notre Dame 41, Purdue 10