Oct. 1, 2004
By John Heisler
It wouldn’t be Notre Dame-Purdue without the game being a showcase for quarterbacks, would it?
After all, Purdue’s Kyle Orton is simply the latest signalcaller from either the Irish or Boilermaker camp to find his name in lights:
Remember Len Dawson? In 1954, he managed only seven pass completions for the Boilers, but four of them went for touchdowns in a 27-14 Purdue win over the top-ranked Irish.
How about Terry Hanratty? His 63 pass attempts (in a losing cause in ’67 in West Lafayette) still rank as the all-time single-game Irish high. In fact, three of the top four Notre Dame single-game efforts for completions have come against the Boilers (31 by Ron Powlus in ’97, 29 by Hanratty in ’67 and by Brady Quinn in ’03).
Joe Montana? His off-the-bench, come-from-behind effort in ’77 in West Lafayette propelled him into the Notre Dame starting lineup for good in what became a national championship season for the Irish.
Bob Griese? He connected on an amazing 19 of 22 passes for 285 in ’65 in West Lafayette in sixth-rated Purdue’s 25-21 win over top-rated Notre Dame.
Mike Phipps? He led Purdue to an unprecedented three straight victories over the Irish from ’67 to ’69 – and the Irish were top 10 teams coming into all three games.
If it hasn’t been Irish quarterbacks bamboozling the Boilers, it’s been Notre Dame receivers. Jim Seymour’s Notre Dame single-game record 13 receptions came against Purdue in 1966 – good for 276 yards in a 26-14 Irish win. The second-best total in that category, 12 catches for 192 yards, came in 1970 by Tom Gatewood in a 48-0 dismantling of the Boilers in South Bend.
Not all the hype turns into proof on Saturdays. In 1980, the 11th-ranked Irish opened the season at home against the ninth-ranked Boilermakers. It might have been the most anticipated meeting of the two schools in recent memory (ABC moved the game a week earlier for national television) — fueled in particular by the participation of Purdue senior quarterback Mark Herrmann, who was being touted as a Heisman Trophy candidate. Only trouble was Herrmann banged a thumb on a teammate’s helmet in practice on Tuesday and never played. The Irish won easily 31-10 and went unbeaten in their first 10 games that year.
Even Orton is hoping for improved fortunes compared to his other trip to Notre Dame Stadium. Two years ago, late in a tie ballgame, Orton saw one of his tipped passes end up in the hands of Notre Dame’s Vontez Duff – and 33 yards later the Irish had a game-winning interception return for a score in a 24-17 win.
Consider also that there have been 11 previous series meetings (six of them at Notre Dame Stadium) in which both teams were ranked in the Associated Press poll. Purdue has won eight of the 11 – and three of the six in Notre Dame’s home facility. The Boilers earned their “Spoilermaker” tag by defeating top-ranked Notre Dame teams in 1954, ’65 and ’67 – and by beating the Irish in ’68 when Purdue came in number one by the Associated Press and Notre Dame number one by United Press International.
Today marks only the fourth time Purdue has come into Notre Dame Stadium ranked higher than Notre Dame. It happened previously in ’68 (at least according to AP), ’80 (the ultimately Herrmann-less Boilers ninth, Notre Dame 11th), then in 2000 (Purdue 13th, Notre Dame 21st, with the Irish winning 23-21). That 2000 meeting matched Purdue senior Drew Brees in his final Notre Dame Stadium stop against Notre Dame’s Gary Godsey who was playing in his first college game. Nicholas Setta ended up winning it for the Irish with a 38-yard field goal as time expired.
With all that history in the rearview mirror, much has been made of the fact Purdue hasn’t won a game in Notre Dame Stadium in 30 years. Much also has been made of Orton’s chances to change all that. That comes in a topsy-turvy series in which the lower-ranked team has won on 18 occasions (with 15 of those 18 chalked up in the Purdue win column).
Orton and Purdue bring some rather amazing early-season credentials into the game. Thirteen touchdown passes alone in three games – if you do the math – project to a shot at David Klingler’s NCAA season record of 54 at Houston in 1990. Orton currently leads the nation in that category for ’04 – and also rates second individually in both passing efficiency (188.10 rating points) and total offense (344.33 yards per game). If he can keep it up, he’s got a shot at beating the NCAA single-season passing efficiency rating of 183.3 by Tulane’s Shaun King from 1998. He’s the ringleader of a Purdue offense that averages 561.67 total yards per game and leads the country in scoring at 49.33 points per contest.
Can Dwight Ellick and Tommy Zbikowski and the rest of their Notre Dame defensive mates earn the “Spoilermaker” tag this time? Can Orton – already with three career TD passes against the Irish – threaten the Notre Dame career opponent mark of six by Pittsburgh’s Alex Van Pelt? Or might Quinn – who put his name in the Irish record book a week ago with his four TD throws – turn the tables on the streaking Boilers?
Other than the 2001 game that was switched to December due to 9/11, this marks the latest calendar date for an Irish-Boilermaker matchup since 1964. It has all the pregame trappings of one worth remembering.