Sept. 24, 2009
|By Tim Prister ’82|
Game 4: Purdue (Sept. 26)
Conference: Big Ten
2008 record: 4-8, including a 38-21 loss at Notre Dame on Sept. 27.
2009 record: 1-2; a 52-31 victory at home over Toledo, a 38-36 loss at Oregon, and a 28-21 loss at home to Northern Illinois last weekend.
Location: Ross-Ade Stadium
Kickoff: 8:06 p.m. ET
TV Coverage: ESPN
Purdue head coach: Danny Hope follows in the notable footsteps of Joe Tiller, whose 12-year, 87-victory tenure included 10 bowl trips. Prior to Tiller’s arrival, the Boilermakers had losing seasons in 11 of the previous12 campaigns. Hope is a Tiller disciple, serving as the Purdue offensive line coach from 1997-2001 before moving on to the head coaching position at Eastern Kentucky from 2003-07. Hope added some head coaching experience to his staff when he hired Gary Nord – the head coach at Texas-El Paso from 2000-03 – to coordinate the offense. Nord previously served as offensive coordinator at Florida Atlantic, Louisville and Oklahoma. Hope and Nord were on the same staff with current Irish defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta at Oklahoma in 1995.
Series history: Notre Dame leads the series, 52-26-2, but it has been hotly contested since Lou Holtz ran off an 11-0 mark against the Boilermakers. Since then, Notre Dame is 7-5 against Purdue, including 2-4 in Ross-Ade Stadium. In fact, one week after falling to Toledo in ’97, Joe Tiller’s team defeated Notre Dame, 28-17, which serves as fair warning since the Boilermakers are coming off a 28-21 loss to another Mid-American Conference team–Northern Illinois.
The Notre Dame-Purdue series dates back to 1896 when the Irish lost, 28-22. In fact, Purdue was 3-1-2 against the Irish the first six games of the series. Notre Dame then took control, winning 17 of 19 from 1906 through 1953. The Boilermakers had considerable success over the Irish spanning the next decade-and-a-half. Purdue was 11-5 against Notre Dame from 1954 through 1969. Notre Dame controlled most of the next three decades (22-5 from 1970 through 1996) before Tiller made it a competitive series once again.
From basketball on grass to balanced attack: From his days coaching at Wyoming, Tiller brought with him a fast-paced, atypical offensive attack, at least by Big Ten standards. Tiller called it “basketball on grass,” and the wide-open, pass-oriented attack spread defenses and forced them to defend the entire width of the field. The fast-action offensive approach made for a very competitive series with the Irish, particularly during the Bob Davie era (1997-2001) when Notre Dame won three-of-five but was out-scored by the Boilermakers, 125-118.
With the naming of Danny Hope as the head coach and Gary Nord as the offensive coordinator, Purdue has attacked its first three opponents of the ’09 season – Toledo, Oregon and Northern Illinois – in a bit more balanced fashion.
“They’ve gone to a more conventional (offense) than they’ve had in the past,” said Irish head coach Charlie Weis. “That’s one of the reasons they’re running the ball so efficiently.
“In the past, they’ve been a spread (offense) and they ran the ball just to counter the spread passing game. But they actually get in the I-formation a lot now, and they put multiple tight ends in there. They run a lot of conventional stuff, in addition to having the shotgun package up and running.
“They’ve become much more versatile, and they can go both ways as far as how they attack you.”
Spearheading that more versatile attack is sophomore running back Ralph Bolden, who was leading the nation in rushing after the first two weeks of the season before Northern Illinois limited him to 64 yards on 12 carries. Bolden rushed for 234 yards and two touchdowns, including a 78-yarder, against Toledo, and clipped off another 123 yards on 29 carries and two touchdowns against Oregon.
“He’s fast,” said Irish defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta of Bolden, who has 421 yards rushing and is averaging 6.8 yards per carry after toting the football just 16 times for 28 yards last season.
“He’s a little guy (5-8, 194) and he’s a darter. When he finds that seam, he gets through it. In the first two ball games, he broke some runs, especially in the Oregon game. They had him hemmed up and he just came out of nowhere and was gone.”
The Boilermakers also can bring speed off the bench in fifth-year senior Jaycen Taylor, who missed the ’08 season with an injury. Taylor rushed for 677 yards in ’06 and 560 yards in ’07, and has a 5.5-yard career average per carry.
“I coached with both Danny Hope and Gary Nord at Oklahoma,” Tenuta said. “I’m familiar with what they do. Danny is going to want to run the football. He’s got a big offensive line and he wants to run the football. Gary is more the passing aspect of it. They try to blend both things together to make some things happen.”
Purdue enters the game ranked 22nd in rushing offense with a 210.7-yard average per game. Bolden’s 421 yards rushing is tops among running backs in the Big Ten and second in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
Weis was impressed by the way the Boilermakers rushing attack physically matched up and even out-played Oregon in the trenches.
“They had the ball against Oregon the whole game, and they just whipped their butt,” Weis said. “Oregon was very fortunate to get out of that game with a win. They handled them pretty good. They played very, very well against a good Oregon team on the road.”
Kyle Rudolph will be one of the key defensive matchups Purdue will have to face against the Irish on Saturday.
The Cradle of Quarterbacks: From Dale Samuels and Len Dawson, to Bob Griese, Mike Phipps and Gary Danielson, to Mark Herrmann and Jim Everett, to Drew Brees and Kyle Orton and many productive signalcallers in between, Purdue – well before the arrival of Joe Tiller – was known as the Cradle of Quarterbacks.
For the better part of six decades, the rural town of West Lafayette, Ind., has attracted some of the top passing quarterbacks in the history of college football.
It remains to be seen if fifth-year senior signalcaller Joey Elliott will fit into that category, especially considering the late emergence in his career at Purdue. He became Purdue’s third alternative in ’08 after Curtis Painter and Justin Siller, and then took over the starting job for the ’09 season when Painter graduated and Siller was dismissed from the program.
After throwing five interceptions (and four touchdowns) in the first two games against Toledo and Oregon, he completed 20-of-31 for 188 yards last week against Northern Illinois. He’s completing 61 percent of his passes and is averaging 225 yards passing per game. His favorite targets have been wide receivers Keith Smith and Aaron Valentin, who have combined for 33 receptions, 361 yards and a pair of touchdowns while tight end Kyle Adams has added another 10 grabs.
“He’s resilient,” said Hope of Elliott. “I like the way if things don’t go right, he gets back up swinging. Rough sledding doesn’t seem to bother him much, and that’s a great sign at that position.
“The mistakes that he’s making aren’t the same mistakes. He ran the ball well (against Northern Illinois) and made some good decisions when he took off and ran with it. We talked to him about taking advantage because they were doing some things on passing downs to drop a lot of people into coverage. He made some good decisions and he kept some drives alive.”
Defensive challenge: After trimming their points allowed in ’08 to 25.1 – their best mark since 2003-04 when they allowed just 17.4 and 17.2 points per game respectively – the Boilermakers have had their hands full against their first three opponents.
Purdue ranks 95th nationally in yards passing allowed (253.3 per game), 102nd in rush defense (181.0 per game, 4.53 per rush), 104th in scoring defense (32.3 ppg.) and 105th in total defense (434.3 yards per game).
A pair of fumbled punts by return man Aaron Valentin – after his 62-yard return for a touchdown – was a significant factor in Northern Illinois’ 41:40-to-18:20 time of possession advantage.
“You can’t be out there six or seven drives in a row,” said Hope of his defense. “It’s amazing how long they were out there. I’d never been a part of something like that. That’s tough on the defense, tough on the numbers.”
Irish offensive line coach Frank Verducci is particularly concerned with 6-foot-4, 302-pound defensive tackle Mike Neal and strongside linebacker/co-captain Jason Werner (six tackles for loss).
“They’ve got great size inside, they’ve got athletic people on the edges, and they play extremely hard,” Verducci said. “They’ve been in dogfights every week, some for the right reasons and some for reasons they wish weren’t dogfights. But they have 11 real good competitors on that side of the ball, and we know it will be another 60-minute game.”
Looking for a springboard: Hope was on the Joe Tiller staff in 1997 when the Boilermakers were coming off an upset loss to Toledo in Tiller’s Purdue debut. The following week, Purdue knocked off No. 12 Notre Dame, 28-17.
Hope is looking for a similar bounce-back performance against the Irish this week.
“It was a springboard for that season,” said Hope of the upset victory against Notre Dame 12 years ago. “We opened up with a loss to Toledo, and nobody knew much about our team. We weren’t predicted to do a whole lot, and that (victory over Notre Dame) gave us some confidence. It was a huge win in a lot of ways, and brought back some fun to the stadium.
“(Jimmy Clausen) is a great player, a very accurate passer. He has a high quarterback rating. He throws the deep ball great, throws it as well as anybody in college football, and he has the players to throw it to.”Purdue Head Coach Danny Hope
“Certainly, all those things could happen again with a win against Notre Dame.”
Wiggs a weapon: When you’ve got the leg that Carson Wiggs possesses, the Boilermakers are a threat to score anytime they reach the opponent’s 40-yard line. Wiggs, who booted 8-of-11 field goals last year for Purdue, including a 53-yarder, is off to a booming start in ’09. He kicked a 59-yard field goal in Purdue’s season-opening victory over Toledo.
Wiggs did, however, have an extra point blocked against Oregon, which forced the Boilers to go for a two-point conversion late in the game. Wiggs missed two extra points in ’08.
Hope on Irish offense: “(Jimmy Clausen) is a great player, a very accurate passer. He has a high quarterback rating. He throws the deep ball great, throws it as well as anybody in college football, and he has the players to throw it to.
“They have a big, tough offensive line and a great big tight end (Kyle Rudolph) that is a heckuva an athlete that can give you all kinds of trouble, particularly underneath. He’s like having a giant fullback running down the field with the ball. It will be a great challenge for our defense.”
Injury update: How effective the Irish will be against Purdue’s defense will have much to do with the health of quarterback Jimmy Clausen and halfback Armando Allen. Notre Dame, of course, will be without its second leading receiver, Michael Floyd, who suffered a broken left collarbone in the victory over Michigan State.
Clausen is suffered a ‘turf toe’ injury against Michigan State, and Allen sprained his right ankle versus the Spartans. If Clausen can’t answer the bell, sophomore Dayne Crist will make his first career start against the Boilermakers.
Key match-ups: Purdue expects to have cornerback Brandon King back for the Notre Dame game after he missed the first three games of the season. Even without Michael Floyd, the Irish should have the advantage. Toledo put up 423 yards passing against the Boilers. Although Oregon passed for less than 200 yards, the Ducks averaged 15 yards per completion. Notre Dame has a chance to win the battle against the inexperienced Elliott, who lost dynamic wideouts Greg Orton and Desmond Tardy after the ’08 season. Purdue has allowed just two sacks in three games, but look for Jon Tenuta’s defense to send a battery of blitzes against an offensive line with three fifth-year seniors and a pair of sophomores, including left tackle Dennis Kelly. Notre Dame’s run defense showed improvement against Michigan State, allowing just two runs of more than 10 yards after surrendering 16 such runs in the first two games of the season. The tandem of Ralph Bolden and Jaycen Taylor will test Notre Dame’s defensive quickness.
Fighting Irish facts: After scoring as many as 40 points in 10 of the first 23 games of the Charlie Weis era, the Irish have cracked the 40-point mark just twice in the last 30 games … 41 in the overtime loss to Navy in ’07 and 49 against Hawaii in the Hawaii Bowl in `08 … Kyle McCarthy is the first Notre Dame player to open a season with interceptions in three straight games since Tom Schoen in 1966. McCarthy is one of five players in the FBS to record an interception in each of the first three games of `09 … Notre Dame is 17-0 in games coached by Charlie Weis in which the Irish have out-rushed the opponent. Notre Dame is 14-22 under Weis when the opposition has won the rushing battle … Purdue out-gained Oregon, 451-356, in its loss to the Ducks … Notre Dame has lost just one fumble in three games. The Irish lost 11 fumbles in ’08 … Northern Illinois, which defeated Purdue last week, is now 2-32-1 all-time against the Big Ten … Purdue has nine players in the starting lineup who hail from Indiana; Notre Dame has just five scholarship players on their roster from Indiana, none in the projected starting lineup this weekend.
Tim Prister – Notre Dame’s starting third baseman in 1981-82 – is an `82 graduate in his 28th year covering Notre Dame football. He is the senior editor of IrishIllustrated.com after serving 20 years as editor of Blue & Gold Illustrated. Entering the 2009 season, he had attended and reported on 279 straight Notre Dame football games–every one since Lou Holtz’s first in 1986.