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Notre Dame vs. Purdue: Keys to an Irish Win

By · September 2nd, 2010 · 0 Comments
Notre Dame vs. Purdue: Keys to an Irish Win

The Brian Kelly Era begins Saturday with the home opener against annual foe Purdue. After an off-season spent parsing coaching comments, grasping at limited practice footage, and discussing the positives/negatives of the Blue-Gold game, Irish fans will finally be able to evaluate their new head coach.

If Kelly is to meet fans’ expectations, he needs to get started on the right foot. In this regard Purdue is somewhat of an ideal opening opponent. The Boilermakers should rank in the bottom half of the 2010 Irish schedule with question marks on both sides of the ball including the secondary, at running back, and along the offensive line. This uncertainty makes it difficult to imagine Purdue improving on last year’s 5-7 record—4-4 in Big Ten play—that included only one impressive win (Ohio State at home).

Purdue, Version 2009 and Beyond

Head coach Danny Hope enters his second year in West Lafayette and makes his first trip to Notre Dame Stadium, likely hoping to erase the memory of last year’s defeat where a questionable timeout gave quarterback Jimmy Clausen and tight end Kyle Rudolph one last chance to seize victory.

Hope hasn’t significantly altered the blueprint of former Purdue head coach Joe Tiller. The Boilermaker offense likes to spread the field and throw the ball, and the defense operates out of a 4-3 alignment.

Last year’s unit struggled to control and protect the ball, ranking 87th in the country in turnover margin at -5. The Boilermakers were, however, a fairly disciplined team, ranking in the top 30 in penalties per game (5.3), and in the top 15 in penalty yards per game (41.3). If this discipline carries over into 2010, the Irish can expect little help from opening game jitters.


Offensive coordinator Gary Nord returns for his second year directing the Purdue offense. Nord operates primarily out of four wide, spread formations and likes to throw the ball (ranked 100th in rush attempts per game, 17th in pass attempts per game in 2009). Last year’s unit ranked in the top half of the FBS in most total offense statistical categories.

The 2009 Boilermaker offense generated the majority of their production through the air (34th in pass yards per game), was decent on third down (37th in third down efficiency), and very efficient in the red zone (20th in red zone efficiency, 5th in red zone touchdown efficiency). But the strong performance was limited to these areas.

The production in the red zone was mostly wasted by a unit that struggled to sustain drives (107th in red zone appearances per game). Yards on the ground were difficult to come by (75th in rush yards per game), turnovers were more rule than exception (107th in fumbles, 73rd in interceptions), and the pass offense wasn’t terribly efficient (81st in yards per attempt and pass efficiency).

An offensive line with minimal experience, no proven option in the backfield, and a new quarterback should make it difficult to improve on these numbers in 2010.

Purdue will field the least experienced front five the Irish will face all season. The Boilermakers must replace three linemen from last season and the projected starters have very limited experience (less than 40 combined starts).

Running back Jaycen Taylor exhausted his eligibility and fellow back Ralph Bolden—the leading rusher in 2009—tore his ACL in the off-season and is expected to be unavailable this year. Taylor and Bolden combined for roughly 80 percent of the rushing production last year and there is no experienced runner waiting to replace them. Running back Al-Terek McBurse does have potential and converted wide receiver Keith Carlos has big play ability, but both have virtually no experience at the position.

Former Miami Hurricanes quarterback Robert Marve replaces the departed Joey Elliott and will open the season as the Boilermaker quarterback. Marve sat out last year due to NCAA transfer rules and Purdue fans hope it allowed him to mature and improve upon a freshman campaign where he completed only 54.5 percent of his passes and threw 13 interceptions compared to only nine touchdowns. Still, Marve has the physical tools to be a strong passer and, if given time, is capable of getting the ball to his talented receivers. Additionally, Marve has good mobility and is a threat to scramble or pick up yards on designed quarterback runs.

The receiving corps took a hit with the loss of the second leading receiver from 2009 (Aaron Valentin), but Keith Smith returns after leading the Big Ten in receptions and receiving yards per game and Kyle Adams is back to provide a very capable option at tight end. Smith, Adams and Carlos were three of the top four receiving targets in 2009 and should form the nucleus of a strong receiving unit in 2010.

See the tables below for an in-depth look at the 2009 Boilermaker offense (the Opponent Average and Opponent Average Rank columns refer to Purdue’s 2009 opponents).

2009 Purdue Offensive Efficiency

[table id=287 /]

2009 Purdue Total Offense

[table id=288 /]

2009 Purdue Rushing Offense

[table id=289 /]

2009 Purdue Passing Offense

[table id=290 /]


Purdue will operate defensively with dual coordinators after Hope hired Gary Emanuel in the off-season to work alongside Donn Landholm. Emanuel was most recently the defensive line coach at Rutgers while Landholm is in his second season as the defensive coordinator and was with Hope at Eastern Kentucky prior to Purdue.

The Boilermakers hope to improve on the defensive side of the ball as the 2009 unit ranked in the bottom half of the country in a host of defensive categories. Among other things, last year’s defense struggled to get off the field (80th in third down efficiency, 90th in plays per game), allowed 29.1 points per game (89), and surrendered 173.4 yards per game on the ground (94). About the only bright spot was a penchant to get upfield—the unit averaged 6.5 tackles for a loss per game (32) and one sack per 11.6 pass attempts (17).

The unquestionable strength of this year’s Boilermaker defense—and perhaps the team—is the front seven. Purdue returns six players in this group that started all 12 games in 2009 including pass rushing specialist Ryan Kerrigan. Kerrigan led Purdue defensive linemen in tackles with 66, led the team in tackles for a loss with 18.5, and was third in the country and first in the Big Ten with 13 sacks.

Alongside Kerrigan are defensive tackle Kawann Short and end Gerald Gooden, the former of which was a freshman All-American last year. Behind the defensive line Purdue returns linebackers Joe Holland, Jason Werner, and Chris Carlino, active players that posted three of the top four tackle totals from last season.

But while the front seven has experience and the talent to be a strong unit, the backend of the defense is almost entirely untested. Emanuel and Landholm have the task of replacing four members of the 2009 secondary, all of which were seniors. The new starters are, for the most part, veteran players. But breaking in a completely new secondary is never easy and figures to be an especially daunting challenge against a pass-happy offense in the season opener at Notre Dame stadium.

See the tables below for an in-depth look at the 2009 Boilermaker defense (the Opponent Average and Opponent Average Rank columns refer to Purdue’s 2009 opponents).

2009 Purdue Defensive Efficiency

[table id=291 /]

2009 Purdue Total Defense

[table id=292 /]

2009 Purdue Rushing Defense

[table id=293 /]

2009 Purdue Passing Defense

[table id=294 /]

What Does It Mean for 2010?

It is difficult to imagine the Boilermakers taking a step forward on offense. The lack of a proven runner and shuffle in offensive line personnel don’t bode well for a unit that struggled to pick up yards on the ground last season. In all likelihood there will be a minimal running threat and pass protection could also be questionable. Marve’s athletic ability could prove to be an asset extending plays, but he could struggle as the centerpiece of the offense and will need the skill position players to make plays.

Even with virtually the same front seven last year, Purdue struggled to stop the run. The Irish ranked 84th in the country in yards per game (128.3) and 76th in yards per rush attempt (3.8) in 2009, but still managed 167 yards on the ground in West Lafayette. Stopping the run has been a focus for Emanuel and Landholm in the off-season, but with a completely new secondary it may be a “pick your poison” scenario for the Purdue defense. The Boilermakers should continue to be able to get upfield, but, like last year, it may not be enough to turn in a complete performance.

Keys to Winning


  1. Protect Crist. Purdue’s defensive strength in 2009 was the ability to get upfield. With six of the front seven returning, the trend should continue. Protecting quarterback Dayne Crist will be paramount to success, and it has as much to do with play-calling as it does offensive line play. The Irish offensive game plan must counter Purdue’s defensive pressure with runs, screens, shovel passes, and the quick-release, short-drop passing attack that is a staple of the Brian Kelly offense.
  2. Hit the edge, pressure the secondary. The matchups in the passing game strongly favor the Irish. Schematically, the spread offense is designed to get the ball into space, and the talented Irish receivers should have productive days against an inexperienced Purdue secondary. Wide receiver Michael Floyd and tight end Kyle Rudolph are certain to impress, but it will also be important for Crist to distribute the ball quickly and decisively to his other targets.
  3. Execute. The Boilermaker secondary makes the offensive game plan fairly simple. The untested and inexperienced starters likely exclude the use of exotic coverages such that the challenge for Crist and company will be to execute. Kelly’s offenses have proven more than capable of this in the past, but many Notre Dame fans still remember last year’s lingering execution problems. The Irish offense must transition to the former and leave the latter behind.


  1. Win first down, win the game. The cards are stacked against the Boilermaker offense, but execution is always easier when the entire playbook is open. First down play will be critical to success on defense. Win first down, force long down and distance situations to prevent the effectiveness of a quick-release passing offense, and the Irish defense has a significant advantage against an offensive line that should struggle to protect Marve for extended periods of time.
  2. Pressure is the name of the game. Green quarterback plus inexperienced offensive line plus no proven ability to run the ball equals a pressure-based defense. Notre Dame must play the pass first and consistently pressure Marve without allowing him to extend plays with his feet. Coverage should be tight to prevent quick throws and defenders should be prepared for the cheater plays Nord will likely employ to slow the pass rush. Disrupting route timing and applying pressure will prevent Marve from getting comfortable, establishing a rhythm, and gaining confidence.
  3. Give up nothing easy. The Boilermakers struggled to sustain drives in 2009 and, with so much personnel turnover, yards will likely be hard to come by Saturday. The Irish defense can’t do any favors and allow their opponent to generate big gains via broken plays, poor tackling, or mental errors. This has certainly been a problem in the past, and more than half of the yards (55.1 percent) surrendered in last year’s contest came from eight big plays (three runs, five passes), two of which resulted in touchdowns. Defensively, the game plan is as much about not doing something wrong as it is doing something right. Defensive coordinator Bob Diaco’s scheme is a decided departure from the blitz-heavy philosophy of last season, and should help in this regard.


If the Irish offense comes out prepared, this could be an ugly affair. Notre Dame has the talent in the receiving corps to apply pressure to the inexperienced Boilermaker secondary and and Kelly’s offensive scheme amplifies this advantage. The key to offensive production will be protecting Crist and consistently affording him time to throw.

Offensively, Purdue doesn’t have the pieces to field an explosive unit. There are far too many questions marks and the lack of experience along the offensive line has the potential to be extremely limiting. Without running lanes for a depleted backfield or consistent pass protection, the Boilermaker offense should struggle against a very talented, albeit unproven, Irish defense.

Notre Dame 27, Purdue 13



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