Purdue Rush Offense vs. ND Rush DefenseThis isn't the Drew Brees/Kyle Orton "basketball on grass." (Or even Portland Trail Blazers basketball on grass, for that matter.) This Purdue team is getting it done on the ground - to the tune of 210 yards per game. The Boilermakers are lead by the three-headed attack of running backs Jerod Void, Kory Sheets, and Brandon Jones. Void is the best player in the rotation. On 36 carries, he has 240 yards in the positive direction, 6 in the negative, and 5 TDs. Not to far behind is Sheets, who on 32 carries is averaging 57.3 yards per game. With an 88-yard TD run and 23 yards in the negative direction, something tells me that Sheets is the flashy complement to Void's downhill running style. In addition to the three halfbacks, Purdue also features a QB that knows how to run. Brandon Kirsch has run 17 times for 108 yards in three games, not counting a scant two sacks. Look out for playmaker Dorien Bryant as well. The wide receiver has run 7 times for 49 yards in three games.
As I've said many times, Notre Dame can handle the run. Last year, though, they did have problems with mobile quarterbacks. However, that hasn't been the case yet this year. Not counting sacks, the Irish held Tyler Palko to 30 yards on 7 carries and Isaiah Stanback to 24 yards on 4 carries. Big leads do do wonders for your run defense, of course. Notre Dame's front seven will give up some rushing yards in this game. But, as long as the tackles are being made by Corey Mays and Brandon Hoyte, and not by safeties Tom Zbikowski and Chinedum Ndukwe, the defense should be able to keep Purdue's rushers at bay.
ND Rush Offense vs. Purdue Rush DefenseIt's gotten to a point where a 100-yard rushing day by Darius Walker is basically the norm. Walker set a school record against Washington with his fourth straight 100 yard game. Walker has averaged 112 yards on 23 carries per game this season. After walker, ND's main running threat is Rashon Powers-Neal. In the three games he has been used, RPN has averaged 8 carries and 30 yards. He has also reached the end zone 4 times, two more than Walker. Quarterback Brady Quinn has been surprisingly mobile this year. Again not counting sacks, BQ has run 16 times for 100 yards.
Purdue has given up 337 yards on the ground this year. Hoo hoo. It's hard to get a good read on the Boilermaker run defense, however, as they gave up 9 yards to Arizona, then 301 to Minnesota. (Stats for Akron were not available, but my awesome powers of subtraction tell me that the Zips were only able to put up 27 yards against Purdue.) Darius Walker may not be Laurence Maroney, but the Irish offensive line is definitely better than a Pac-10 doormat's. Purdue has had 15 players combine for 23 stops in the backfield, which tells me their defense is very active. (Then again, what do I know?) Linebacker George Hall leads the team in tackles with 22, while defensive end Ray Edwards leads Purdue with 4.5 tackles for a loss. (Hopefully Edwards' uniform number 10 won't confuse Coach Charlie Weis too much.) Edwards, Stanford Keglar, and Bobby Iwuchukwu are said to make a formidable linebacking corps.
Purdue Pass Offense vs. ND Pass DefenseNew starter Brandon Kirsch isn't a Heisman candidate (now or before the season), but he's been doing just enough to complement the Purdue run game. Kirsch is averaging 213 yards passing per game, despite completing only 52% of his throws. He also has 4 touchdowns to 3 interceptions. As you can probably tell with a guy who completes only half of his passes, Purdue likes to throw the ball downfield. Three receivers have caught passes of 40 yards or longer, while two more have receptions of 30 yards or longer. As mentioned above, Dorien Bryant is the playmaker at the receiver position. Bryant has 18 receptions, twice as many as anyone else on the squad. He also has 247 yards, for an average of 82.3 yards per game. After Bryant, Kirch's main targets are his tight ends and 6'9 receiver Kyle Ingraham. Starting tight end Charles Davis is second on the team with 9 catches for 130 yards. He also has one touchdown catch. Ingraham has 8 catches for 133 yards, but surprisingly no touchdowns in the young season. Number two tight end Dustin Keller has only three catches, but two have been for touchdowns. So, look for the playaction in goal line sets. Also in goal line sets, look for Ingraham to (please) not be covered by a 5'8 defensive back. (Chinedum Ndukwe is the tallest starting DB at 6'2.)
Having played some good passing teams, and not having all the talent in the world at secondary, Notre Dame has survived with a "bend but don't break" philosophy (waa?) against the pass. Or should that be a "bend, but don't break often enough that the offense can't bail you out" philosophy? But, how much can you expect from a defense that doesn't have a good pass rusher on the defensive line and doesn't have a true free safety? Linebacker Brandon Hoyte leads the team in sacks with 4, while saftey Tom Zbikowski has two of Notre Dame's four interceptions. I'm no defensive coordinator, but I'm assuming the key to this game will be figuring out a way to shut down Dorien Bryant and pay attention to the tight ends without taking too many resources away from the run game. Of course, if it works, shutting down the run and forcing Kirsch and Bryant to beat them may be a decent strategy.
ND Pass Offense vs. Purdue Pass DefenseBrady Quinn has put up good numbers so far this year - 295 yards passing per game, 61.7% of his passes completed, 10 touchdowns, and only two interceptions. However, unlike the past two years, where Quinn has combined for almost 800 yards against Purdue, it may be better if BQ doesn't put up good numbers in this one. If Quinn doesn't put up big numbers, that normally means that ND has established the run well, and the Irish aren't playing from behind. If and when Quinn does go to the air, he'll have a few pretty good options. Jeff Samardzija has been Quinn's go-to guy this year. Samardzija has 21 catches, including 6 touchdowns, and is averaging 86.5 yards receiving per contest. Jeff has found the endzone in each game so far this season. Right on Samardzija's heels is tight end Anthony Fasano. Fasano is tied with Samadzija for the team lead in catches (21), and has 219 yards receiving this year. Fasano has been held without a touchdown this year, though. Out of the backfield, Darius Walker is averaging four catches per game. Receiver Mo Stovall is having the best season of his criticized career, with 15 catches, 254 yards, and a touchdown.
Purdue is giving up 305 yards passing per game, a number that includes 358 yards from Akron. A quick look at Tuesday's press conference reveals that that number is partially due to communication problems. I'll let you make of that what you want, but I'm pretty sure Coach Weis will be able to find something interesting in the game films. Purdue has gotten 9 sacks from nine different players. Defensive end Anthony Spencer leads the team with two. (Before your awesome powers of addition go off, may I point out that two players combined for a sack, and each were credited with half a sack.) Free safety Kyle Smith has two of Purdue's four interceptions. Purdue has only 10 pass breakups to Notre Dame's 22; unfortunately, I have no idea how to interpret that stat.
Special TeamsPurdue kicker Ben Jones has only attempted one field goal this year, but he made it from 47 yards. He is also 16 for 16 on extra points. For the Irish, DJ Fitzpatrick has made 6 of 7, which includes hitting one of two from 48 yards.
Sophomore punter Dave Brytus has a mediocre 37.5 yard average on 20 punts. He has put seven kicks inside the 20 and induced 12 fair catches, however. (Then again, short kicks will tend to induce fair catches, so maybe that's the plan.) On the other side, Fitzpatrick has punted 17 times for an average of 41.2 yards and a long of 60.
On kick returns, once again Dorien Bryant is the playmaker. Bryant has five returns for 93 yards, with an average of 18.6 and a long of 33. Carl Gioia and DJ Fitzpatrick have split kickoff duties this season. They're both averaging about 55 yards per kick, which starts their opponents on the 10 yard line. From there, Notre Dame's coverage teams are giving up 18 yards per return.
Justin Hoskins and Brandon Harris have been ND's primary kick returners this year. However, after a 31 yard return in the Washington game, David Grimes may see more time as a deep man on kicks. To this point, Hoskins has averaged 23 yards per return and Harris 18. Dave Brytus has averaged 60 yards per kickoff. That is an average start of the 5 yard line, but 9 of Brytus' 17 kickoffs have been touchbacks. The Boilermaker kick coverage team has been below average this year, surrendering 29 yards per return.
Reserve wide receiver Brian Hare is Purdue's primary punt returner. He hasn't done much, though. Hare has returned 6 punts for 19 yards, with a long of 6. Notre Dame's punt coverage team has been downright stifling, giving up a mere 4.7 yards per return.
Tom Zbikowsi has been the Irish punt returner this season. He has returned 6 kicks 95 yars, with a long of 25. Purdue's punt coverage team has been outstanding so far, giving up 5 yards on 4 returns.
Look for a big game from Samardzija, Walker, the O-Line, Ambrose Wooden, Corey Mays
ND 34, Purdue 30: Samardzija, Fasano, RPN, one by the defense, and two by DJ.
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