HURTING IRISH VISIT PURDUEposted by John Vannie
Injuries are the primary topic of discussion in South Bend this week as the Irish prepare for battle. Michael Floyd is out for the regular season and James Aldridge is still not ready to return to the lineup. Jimmy Clausen (foot) and Armando Allen (ankle) are among the walking wounded who are expected to play. There are no significant injuries on the defensive side other than the Irish pride that has suffered in the wake of two consecutive shaky performances.
The Boilermakers are clearly rebuilding. The overall talent level on defense is down and the expected starter at quarterback, Justin Siller, was suspended for the season due to academics. Unheralded senior Joey Elliott leads the team this season, but the passing game has not clicked yet due to his own lack of game experience and wholesale turnover at wide receiver.
The Irish could use a comfortable win after two straight nail-biting contests. The game represents an opportunity for second teamers to see meaningful action, but Notre Dame must not let the Boilermakers back into the game if they are fortunate enough to build an early lead. While the offensive production did not deteriorate significantly after Floyd’s injury last week, the defense needs to start making plays to get off the field on third down or force a turnover.
Notre Dame’s Offense against Purdue’s Defense
Notre Dame ran for 200 yards against Purdue last season, and the Boiler’s defense is largely the same this year. The Irish offensive line has improved in front of Armando Allen, who has run for more than 100 yards in the first three outings. The running game will be a critical element in lifting the burden from Clausen, whose injury may prevent him from getting his usual zip on the ball and could even keep him on the sidelines. This contest and Allen’s tender ankle will also present an opportunity for Jonas Gray, Theo Riddick and Robert Hughes to get back into the mix and regain the confidence of the staff.
The Irish will also hold an audition for Floyd’s starting spot at wide receiver. Duval Kamara will get the first look while Deion Walker, Shaquelle Evans, Robbie Parris and John Goodman will see action. Evans, a mere freshman, may be the most likely to emerge from the pack by season’s end. Meanwhile, Golden Tate will attract plenty of attention from the Boilermakers as they try to eliminate Clausen’s primary target.
Cornerback David Pender is Purdue’s best cover man and may shadow Tate throughout the evening. On the other side, Brandon King returns from an injury to reclaim his starting job. The leader of the secondary is free safety Torri Williams, who is in his sixth year in the program. This group should not be able to slow down the Irish passing attack provided Floyd’s replacement performs well against coverage that is more focused on Tate.
The Purdue defensive front four has not had success against the run or in rushing the passer. Mike Neal is the veteran in the group and fellow tackle Kawaan Short is a promising newcomer to the starting group. The linebackers are Jason Werner, Chris Carlino and Joe Holland. Werner, a fifth year senior, leads the team in tackles. Holland, who started last year as a freshman, has excellent speed and is adept at blitzing the quarterback and defending the pass.
Purdue’s Offense against Notre Dame’s Defense
Elliott is not known as a running threat, but he rambled for a 58-yard touchdown last week. His lack of experience in reading coverages and the inability of his receivers to get open has caused him to pull the ball down and run with it on occasion, but Hope is working with Elliott to curb that tendency. Notre Dame will undoubtedly try to force Purdue into passing situations, both by stopping the run and building a lead on the scoreboard.
Ralph Bolden and Jaycen Taylor have become a productive pair of running backs for the Boilermakers. Bolden has a quick burst that enables him to explode into the secondary in the blink of an eye. The diminutive sophomore averages 6.8 yards per carry and already has a 78-yard score to his credit. Purdue’s offensive line has played well this season, but they will be without veteran guard Zach Reckman, who was suspended for one game by the Big Ten Conference after an on-field incident against Northern Illinois.
The passing game still needs improvement as Elliott works with the experienced Keith Smith and new starters Aaron Valentin and Keith Carlos. The Boilermakers have enjoyed some success to date, mainly because Bolden’s ability as a runner has been a pleasant surprise and made the entire offense more effective.
Notre Dame will load up against the run and gamble that Elliott can’t beat them with his arm. If Bolden can break through the line with regularity and make would-be tacklers miss, the Irish will find themselves in another high scoring shootout. Elliott has not thrown the deep ball effectively, and he tends to rely on Smith as his primary target or checks down to Bolden out of the backfield.
The 47-yard field goal by Nicholas Tausch last week was a welcome sight for Notre Dame fans. There is still plenty of room for improvement in the punting game, and the return teams have generated little more than yawns from the Irish faithful.
Purdue’s kicking game is in good hands with Carson Wigg, who has hit a 59-yarder this season. Chris Summers is a capable punter with a 45-yard average coming into this game. Valentin has had an up and down run as the primary return man. He has scored on a 62-yard punt return but committed two costly fumbles last week in the loss.
The Irish defense can afford to concentrate on stopping Bolden, but they should not allow Elliott to dink and dunk them with short, conservative passes. The secondary can afford to be more aggressive, and interceptions or sacks will come if they can force Purdue into third and long situations. Coach Charlie Weis may be limited in the passing game by Clausen’s injury and Floyd’s absence, but the running game should be there to pick up the slack. It would be more advisable for Notre Dame to strive for ball control this week rather than quick scores. Purdue may try to come after Clausen if he is hobbled, and will be similarly aggressive if Weis has to go with Dayne Crist.
Here are a few key questions that will determine the outcome:
How effective will Clausen and Allen be after walking around with protective boots all week?
Will Bolden replicate his lofty 6.8 yards per carry and help Purdue approach its weekly average of 211 rushing yards?
Will Elliott surprise everyone with a breakout performance this week?
Can the Irish defense finally force a few turnovers?
Can Notre Dame’s running game dominate if Allen is not 100%?
Will the Irish special teams finally show some improvement?
Can the Irish close out the game in style or will they have to hang on for dear life?
The Irish have a distinct advantage up front on offense and must ride the running game to victory. This will require Weis to be patient, especially without a healthy quarterback and Floyd to divert Purdue’s attention away from Tate. The Boilermakers can’t beat Notre Dame unless the visitors self-destruct, but they can make it interesting if the Irish are flat and continue to miss tackles on defense. The matchup favors Notre Dame by a score similar to last year’s 38-21 margin, but I’ll downgrade that due to the concern regarding the health of Clausen and Allen.
Notre Dame 31 Purdue 21