Saturday, September 30, 2006

Fighting Back

Notre Dame vs. Purdue, an in-state rivalry 75 years in the making. If there's one thing the Boilermakers have traditionally been good for, it's raining on Notre Dame's parade. The boys from West Lafayette were a consistent thorn in the side of Ara Parseghian's Irish squads. While Lou Holtz had his way with a series of incompetent Purdue units, the series began to turn under the leadership of Joe Tiller, as Notre Dame bounced from Davie to Willingham to Weis.

Purdue pulled stunners in both 1997 and 1999, and were in position to take the 1998 and 2000 contests at Notre Dame Stadium. Nick Setta field goals as time expired were the difference on both of those occasions. Each team's last visit to the opposing stadium is remembered as an unmitigated disaster - Kyle Orton led a 41-16 thumping for the Boilers in South Bend that signaled the beginning of the end for Ty in 2004, and Brady Quinn was sensational during a 28-0 first half against the Boilers in primetime a year ago.

Preview 5 of 12...

#12 Notre Dame vs. Purdue
2:30 PM EDT
Notre Dame Stadium -- Notre Dame, IN

Why Purdue Will Win

Quarterback Curtis Painter is on the rise, taking over for the beleaguered Brandon Kirsch and leading Purdue on an overall seven game winning streak. Still, nobody's got them tagged as USC in the making, probably because the streak includes an overtime win against Miami (Ohio), a struggle to beat Ball State, and two I-AA teams.

Even so, Purdue still has the offensive system to compete with anybody. "Basketball on grass" has fundamentally changed how the Big 10 as a conference plays football. One curious factor to watch for here - Tiller always seems to want to run the football when in South Bend, rather than attack on the obvious passing front in the face of a suspect Irish D. But this year Notre Dame has struggled early against the run. If Purdue gets a ground attack moving early, they could stretch the game and use Charlie Weis' favorite plan - playing defense with a ball-control offense - against him for the upset victory and a 5-0 start.

Why Notre Dame Will Win

This is another firm test for the Irish, because they've gotten back something they've not had since the middle of the 4th-quarter against Penn State: momentum. The good vibes from early on in the season after the Irish gritted out a tough road victory and then gutted a challenger in their home debut are now back. Last week the challenge was to avoid a spillover effect, and the Irish flopped on that front in the first half. The whole team looked like they were still trying to figure out what had gone wrong the week before against the Wolverines. Now the script gets turned in the other direction - can the same confidence and urgency that propelled the comeback in East Lansing be channeled from the first snap in South Bend?

The defense looked paper-thin in the first half vs. Michigan State, but rose to the challenge in the second and earned back a little swagger bottling up the Michigan State offense, preventing them from closing out the victory, and then taking charge with three late turnovers. Purdue presents many of the same looks as the Spartans, particularly from the quarterback position. Their receivers lack the overall depth of previous years, but with Tiller it has always been the system more than the individual skills. That's why 2005 was such a shock to the Boiler faithful after 8 consecutive bowl bids.

The first two series for both sides of the ball will be telling for the Irish. Will they play with fire and intensity straight out of the gate, or wait until things get really sticky before kicking it into gear? Purdue's defense is shaky and their offense has potential but is inexperienced in an environment like Notre Dame Stadium. If the Irish exploit the advantages they have on both fronts, they win easily.

The Prediction

Notre Dame can go in one of two directions after Saturday's thriller: play loosey-goosey and assume they'll win the game on paper, or realize that they've yet to prove to people how good they really can be. Here's guessing Charlie Weis has prepared for the latter.

Notre Dame 37, Purdue 17.



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