Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Notre Dame Football 2006
Issue 5: Beat Purdue!

Purdue Rush Offense vs. ND Rush Defense

Halfback 24 Kory Sheets has had decent success against a mediocre schedule so far, averaging 15 carries and 80 yards a game. Sheets has 8 rushing touchdowns already, but 7 of those came against Indiana State and Miami University in the first two games of the season. Perhaps the key thing for Sheets, though, is that he is running behind an experienced line with five returning starters. Sheets' backup is 33 Jaycen Taylor, who is also doing rather well with 7 carries and 57 yards per game. WR 9 Dorien Bryant is the top athlete on this Purdue offense. He's carried the ball 7 times already this season, and is averaging 12.4 yards per carry. Quarterback 12 Curtis Painter likes to run as well, but he's been up-and-down. On 16 attempts he's picked up 60 yards, but he's also lost 31 yards on just 3 sacks. I'm no football expert, but I'm guessing he has decent but not remarkable running ability and below-average decision-making skills. Painter has scored 3 touchdowns with his legs, so he is at least a threat in the red zone. Purdue normally employs a 1 RB/3 WR/1 TE set, and only has one fullback listed on the roster - 44 Frank Halliburton, who has yet to touch the ball this season.
Compared to Drew Stanton and Jehuu Caulcrick last week, the Irish front seven may feel like they're about to face the scout squad in Painter and the 199-pound Sheets. That's no reason to take those two lightly, however. Since Purdue runs multi-receiver sets similar to MSU's, we're likely to see a lot of nickel out of the Irish once again. That means Maurice Crum and Travis Thomas will have to play well and make sure tackles. Each have led the team in tackles at least once this season, so hopefully they can handle the Boilermaker run game. With Painter and Bryant always being a threat to run, the defensive ends will have to stay disciplined and not lose contain. Victor Abiamiri and Chris Frome - who appears to have retaken the starter's role - are veterans, so that shouldn't be a problem.

ND Rush Offense vs. Purdue Rush Defense

Darius Walker continues to receive criticism for his lack of production. Maybe it's the talent of the opposing defenses, or the big early deficits, or the offensive line, or the playcalling, or Walker himself. This will be a good week to find out. Purdue is giving up 3.5 yards per carry - only slightly worse than what ND has seen all season - but they are also giving up 126 rushing yards per game. Miami U (a team having a down year) and the Ball State Fighting Football Cardinals (who are always having a down year) struggled against Purdue, but the mighty Indiana State and Minnesota ground attacks combined for almost 350 yards against the Boilers. After Walker, there are only more questions. Travis Thomas has only carried the ball 9 times in 4 games. Munir Prince isn't quite ready to run between the tackles. Asaph Schwapp likely won't be ready for this game, which leaves the fullback role to Ashley McConnell. James Aldrige may finally be ready to make his Notre Dame debut, but that's something we won't find out for sure until this Saturday.
As mentioned above, Purdue is giving up 126 rushing yards per game. The strong side of the D is anchored by SLB 32 Cliff Avril and DE 49 Anthony Spencer. The two have combined for 15 stops in the backfield, and sit second and third on the team in total tackles. 36 Dan Bick has taken over at middle linebacker and leads the team in tackles with 38.

Purdue Pass Offense vs. ND Pass Defense

Curtis Painter is putting up numbers that Charlie Weis would be proud of... almost. Painter is completing 64% of his passes, averaging 20 of 30 for 285 yards per game. However, his touchdown-to-interception ratio sits at 8 to 5. Again, Dorien Bryant is the playmaker in this offense, and he's averaging close to 8 catches per game and 88 yards per game. He also has 3 receiving touchdowns. After Bryant is TE 28 Dustin Keller. Keller is averaging 4-5 catches and close to 90 yards per game. At 20 yards per catch, look for him on seam routes similar to the ones that have been giving John Carlson success. 1 Selwyn Lymon and 21 Greg Orton, Purdue's other two starting receivers, average 2-3 catches a game, as does RB Kory Sheets. Sheets is second on the team with two receiving touchdowns, so someone will have to keep an eye on him at all times.
Notre Dame's defense has shown that it can effectively shut down one big play receiver (when there's more than one, well, that's a different story). The guy to watch in this one is the tight end Keller. The Irish struggled against physical receiving tight ends last year, especially late in the season. How will they defend Keller? 6'4, 244 is too much for a cornerback. Will the experienced Maurice Crum be asked to cover him, or will the athletic Travis Thomas? Or will that responsibility go to a safety, leaving less deep help for the corners? The corners have had three great games and one terrible game so far. How will they fare this week against a team averaging 297 passing yards per game?

ND Pass Offense vs. Purdue Pass Defense

If the Pitt game wasn't Brady Quinn's breakout performance last year, the Purdue contest certainly was. Quinn's numbers are slowly creeping back towards the lofty 2005 standards. With another performance like the one in West Lafayette last season, Quinn will be back on track. Already his average game lines up like this: 23 of 40 for 272 yards, 3 TDs, and an interception. Jeff Samardzija has a similar story: if last year's Pitt game wasn't his breakout moment, the Purdue game was. (Remember that diving one-handed catch?) Like Quinn, Samardzija's 2006 numbers are starting to match the 2005 pace. The Shark leads the team with 23 catches and 4 touchdowns. He's averaging 5-6 catches and 68 yards per game. Rhema McKnight is right there, with 22 catches and 4 TDs. McKnight is averaging 78 yards per game. Darius Walker has tied Samardzija with 23 catches, but only has 140 receiving yards. John Carlson continues to impress by averaging 4 catches and 74 yards per game. After these four, there's a huge dropoff (David Grimes is next with 4 catches and 48 yards total), but for the most part the Irish have been able to survive with their top weapons.
Purdue is giving up 285 passing yards per game. Everyone has had success against the Boilers so far. Even Indiana State and Minnesota, who rushed for 350 yards against Purdue, combined to tack on 460 passing yards. Purdue has recorded 12 sacks on the year, led by Anthony Spencer with 5. The Spencer-Ryan Harris matchup will be an interesting one, and Spencer's talent could force John Carlson to stay in and block. Of course, Coach Weis could bring Marcus Freeman in to block while sending Carlson out. Or Spencer could choose to pick on the right tackle position. Behind Spencer, Cliff Avril and DT 71 Alex Magee have two sacks a piece. Purdue has recorded 6 interceptions, with one each from linebackers Avril, Dan Bick, and 59 Stanford Kegler, and 30 George Hall, and corner 34 Terrell Vinson. Purdue does have 15 pass breakups to Notre Dame's 9, but again I believe that is largely a subjective stat.

Special Teams

Freshman 13 Chris Summers has converted 5 of 6 field goals for Purdue, with a long of 43 and a lone miss in the 40-49 yard range. Carl Gioia still sits at 2 of 4 since the Irish played Penn State.
JUCO transfer 11 Jared Armstrong punts for the Boilermakers. He's averaging 43.9 yards per punt with a long of 58 and 3 of 10 landing inside the 20. Geoff Price has a 47.7 yard average for the Irish, with a long of 62 and 5 of 22 punts inside the 20.
There should be no surprise that Dorien Bryant returns kicks for the Boilers. He's averaging 14 yards per return on 6 chances. Joining Bryant is Kory Sheets, who has a 32.6 yard average on 5 returns. Bobby Renkes averages 61.4 yards per kickoff for ND, with 5 out of 21 kicks going for touchbacks. Notre Dame is giving up 16 yards per return, meaning opponents on average start at their own 19.
David Grimes and George West continue to share kick return duties for the Irish. Grimes has 8 returns and is averaging 27.4 yards, while West is averaging 21.7 yards on 6 returns. Chris Summers is averaging 59 yards per kickoff for Purdue with 7 touchbacks and 1 kick out of bounds. It looks like the freshman is still a little erratic. Purdue is giving up 16.8 yards per kick return, giving opponents an average start at the 23.
Freshman CB 10 Royce Adams, who went the familiar St Ed's-to-Glenville route in high school, is Purdue's punt returner. He's averaging 7.8 yards per return on 6 tries. Notre Dame's punt coverage team is giving up a mediocre 11.5 yards per return. (I guess this is what they mean by a guy "outkicking his coverage." Then again, that doesn't seem like such a bad thing when the ball's going 50-60 yards downfield to begin with.)
Tom Zbikowski finally got the luxury of double coverage on both opposing gunners and promptly returned the ball 25 yards... and then lost a fumble. You can't win them all. Zbikowski's average is up to a respectable, but still human, 7.9 yards per return. Purdue is giving up a blah 9.9 yards per punt return, and has already surrendered a punt return TD.

Look for a big game from Walker, Samardzija, Frome, Crum, Zbikowski.

ND 38, Purdue 24: Sharing the love: Walker, Samardzija, McKnight, Carlson, Zbikowski, and one by Gioia for good measure.