Friday, September 28, 2007

Basketball on Grass

It's time for Notre Dame-Purdue. The Irish are now in uncharted territory, having never searched longer than four weeks to get their first win of the season. But here they are, 0-4, staring back into the abyss of what could potentially be an 0-8 start. First things first, though - the Boilermakers. Block out all thoughts of 0-8. Concentrate on the Boilermaker and their obnoxious drum, and it might be only as bad as 1-7.

Preview #5...

Notre Dame Fighting Irish vs. Purdue Boilermakers
12:00 PM EDT
Ross-Ade Stadium - West Lafaytette, IN

Why Purdue Will Win

Although they've gotten next to no help from both their offensive and special teams brethren, Notre Dame's defense hasn't been a great help to their own cause by surrendering a horrid 233 yards per game on the ground. They have not faced, nor have their opponents needed, a truly gifted quarterback (Ryan Mallett might be one in a year or two, but anybody who wants to claim his performance was indicative of Michigan's "putting the game in his hands" clearly wasn't paying attention). And now, here in Week 5, comes another disciple of Joe Tiller's crazy lock-and-load, fun'n'gun, spread-and-bread offense. Or you could just call it "basketball on grass". Your pick.

Following in the footsteps of Drew Brees & Kyle Orton is senior Curtis Painter, who's bloomed in his second full season as Purdue signal-caller. After leading the nation in picks last year, Painter's thrown just 1 through the first four games of 2007 to go with 16 TDs and a completion rate just under 69%. In short, he is the veteran QB talent that Notre Dame hasn't seen yet this season, unless you want to count Anthony "12-of-22 with an interception" Morelli. With favorite targets Dorien Bryant, Greg Orton, TE Dustin Keller, & Selwyn Lymon (pictured, right, burning the Irish secondary for some of his Irish-opponent-record 238 yards in last year's game) to choose from, Painter should feel giddy at the prospect of facing a reeling Irish defense that has been historically bad against the pass during the previous two seasons and has many of the same players Painter teed off on a year ago (Curtis threw for 398 yards in the loss). Why does Purdue win this game? Because they run an offense the Irish haven't seen yet, run it ridiculously well, and pounce on the fragile 0-4 psyche that wanders into their stadium.

Why Notre Dame Will Win

Because the law of averages says they have to at some point...right? Unfortunately for the Irish, the schedule doesn't ease up for them in the seemingly neverending quest to put a 'W' on the board in 2007. But Purdue's lofty 4-0 record and gaudy stats being pitted against the unprecedented Irish start gives everybody a convenient reason to ignore the fact Painter and the BoilerBoys accomplishments came against an opening slate that included 3 Division I teams that are a combined 3-9 (Toledo, Central Michigan, & Minnesota), plus Division I-AA Eastern Illinois (2-2). Purdue's defense is just as shaky as Notre Dame's - overall rank of 59, and surrendering 227 passing yards per game. Though an optimist could argue those numbers to be misleading because Painter and the offense have raced to the type of leads which pretty much force their opponents to throw on every down in order to catch up.

This is why the Irish will win: controlling the line of scrimmage for the second straight week. While their weren't many positives to take out of last week's Michigan State loss, here was one undeniable plus - the offensive line cleared holes for James Aldridge and Robert Hughes, while allowing 4 sacks (two of which were indisputably the result of a young QB not knowing when to throw the ball away). For a unit that surrendered an astonishing 23 through the first three games being matched up with a team that led the nation, that was a fair showing for the Irish vs. the Spartans. As long as the game is close, within 10 points, the Irish shouldn't bother throwing the ball. Pound, pound, pound, play keep-away from Painter and Co., and frustrate Purdue by being an opponent they can't knock out in the first round - Purdue has outscored its opponents 72-20. And when all other reasons for optimism fail, remember that this guy...

is still Purdue's defensive coordinator.

The Prediction

One never knows when Brock Spack is running the D for the opponent, does one? While a veteran crew probably could slice-and-dice the Boilers D (like Brady Quinn did for the past two seasons), it is by now painfully obvious that the Irish are not a veteran crew, a lesson Charlie Weis was unwilling to accept for the first three weeks of the season. With a more humble, aggressive, gut-check attitude in place over the past two weeks, the Irish should just keep moving forward with the few things they did well against the Spartans, hoping that it's enough against an overconfident Purdue squad. Unfortunately, I doubt it will be enough, but I've been wrong before...

Purdue 35, Notre Dame 24.

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