By Nick Shepkowski of Domer Sports Report
A year ago we remember the match up in which the Irish waited until they trailed, 23-0, before showing any signs of life in West Lafayette. That game was a coming out party of sorts as Golden Tate emerged on the scene with a touchdown on three receptions for over 100 yards receiving. As the story goes, we all remember that it would take until week one of 2008 to hear from Golden in such a way again.
When the Boilermakers enter South Bend this Saturday they will be led under the Golden Dome one last time under the reigns of head coach Joe Tiller. Tiller, who will retire at the end of the season became Purdue's all-time winningest coach last week, passing Jack Mollenkopf. Tiller looks to finish his career against Notre Dame right at the .500 mark as he enters Saturday 5-6 all time against the Fighting Irish, but only 1-4 in South Bend. Often under appreciated, one can not argue that Joe Tiller has put Purdue football back on the map after a rough start to the 1990's.
The Boilermakers come in fresh off of a come from behind win against familiar foe, Central Michigan. Trailing by one with under two minutes to go, Kory Sheets took a handoff 46 yards to give Purdue their second win of the season. What must Notre Dame do in order to keep Purdue from leaving South Bend with a 3-1 mark Saturday? Lets take a look...
The Purdue offense enters dangerous as usual, led by very possibly the most pro-ready quarterback in next years NFL Draft, Curtis Painter. Painter may not have the same kind of weapons around him like he has in years past, but is still a dangerous quarterback who will not let the hectic Notre Dame blitz get in his head. Painter is coming off of an impressive 27-of-36 showing against Central Michigan where he threw for 261 yards and a touchdown. One negative of Painter so far this fall, his interception total matches his touchdown total with three a piece. Don't worry too much about him fleeing the pocket, but when Notre Dame blitzes it will be important they get to him in a hurry because he will make them pay if they fail to.
Kory Sheets carries the bulk of the weight in the Purdue run game as he enters leading the team in touchdowns with six, and two of them coming one week ago. Personally, I would like to see the Irish slow down Sheets and make Painter beat them. I'm not saying Painter is a bad quarterback by any means as I have already stated how pro-ready he is, but his receivers this year aren't quite the receivers of previous Purdue teams.
Kevin Smith, Greg Orton, and Desmond Tardy are Painters go-to guys, all averaging over 50 yards a game this season. On third down and long Irish fans be wary as these will be the weapons of choice, don't expect any of these three to be the reason Purdue may walk out victorious on Saturday, if they do it will because of Kory Sheets.
The inability to run the football killed multiple drives early on in this past Saturday's game against Michigan State. This is a game where there should be no excuse for the Irish to not be able to run the football effectively. If they fail to, there will be nobody to blame besides themselves.
Purdue enters this week having major problems stopping the run. A week ago Central Michigan was able to spout off just under four yards a carry for the entire afternoon against the Boilers. Previous to that, Oregon ran all over the Purdue defense in a game they averaged 7.1 yards per carry, on their way to a 306 yard day on the ground. As I stated, expect Charlie Weis and Notre Dame to try and use the combination of Robert Hughes, Armando Allen, and James Aldridge. If Notre Dame can't run the football against Purdue, then I am scared to see what the rest of the season brings in this department.
Although Purdue is better against the pass than they are the run, they have still had troubles this season in stopping teams through the air. The Ducks of Oregon aired out right at 200 yards of passing offense while Central Michigan's Dan Lefevour threw for 291 yards a week ago. The defensive line is the strong point of the Purdue defense, but if the Irish line can give Jimmy Clausen time, much like they did against Michigan, expect Clausen to have a big day if the running game fails.
Remember the game plan against Michigan which was to try and use play-action early on to take advantage of the weak secondary of the Wolverines? Expect the exact opposite this Saturday. I fully expect to see Notre Dame come out and try to pound away at the Purdue defense on the ground, then setting up a play-action deep ball. Then again, if the Irish have success running they may not stop either.
Special teams on both sides of the ball will be an exhibit in what not to do this Saturday. Both Purdue and Notre Dame enter this weekend with subpar field goal units. Sadly the edge probably does go to Notre Dame in this department as they have at least covered kicks slightly better than Purdue to this point in the season. I hope this game does not come down to field goals because it could last until eternity if it did.
I would like to see a few things from the Fighting Irish this Saturday that would let me breathe easier and be able to expect a win.
1 - Stop a Third and Long...Please!
Each opponent has converted a third down and long this season and wound up getting points as a result. It would be nice to see the Irish not allow a Purdue first down this weekend when they give the Boilermakers over seven yards to get.
2 - No Dumb Penalties...Enough said but I'll say more!
A week ago we saw Sam Young get called for a personal foul while the Irish were setting up show in their first possession of the game. It may not have directly amounted in points for Michigan State, but it killed any hopes of Notre Dame picking up a third down and did not help in the field position battle. Its a little thing but it goes a long way at the end of the day.
3 - Turnovers...Must win this battle!
The last two weeks Notre Dame has been given a free lesson in winning the turnover battle. Michigan was obviously for the better and MSU for the worse. Win the turnover battle, convert turnovers into points and 9 out of 10 times you win the game.
4 - Let Golden make a play!
Golden Tate has emerged as legit playmaker on this offense. There aren't a whole lot of go-to guys like this on Notre Dame for the time being. He's a weapon and a proven go-to guy so far this season. When he gets touches good things happen, so make sure he gets the ball in his hands.
The Irish run game takes steps in the right direction while mixing in some long passes along the way as well. After seeing amongst the best running games in the nation a week ago Notre Dame slows down Purdue in that aspect...
Nick (3-0): Notre Dame 27 Purdue 21
Mark (3-0): Notre Dame 34 Purdue 21
Joe (2-1): Wait to See...