It’s rare for a week three game against a team like Purdue to be a decisive match for Notre Dame, but after two unequal performances at the start of the season, the Irish are at a crossroads at the start of the season. Are they a good team that has played badly and can get better, or is it just a team with many weaknesses that is struggling more than most people thought? This week’s competition, Purdue will give us some insight into the answer.
Purdue is by no means a great team, but they are a solid, maybe even good team. They are the kind of team that have done relatively easily by Notre Dame in recent years, however. So this game will show us what this team really is. Fight a team like Purdue for a third week in a row and you are what you are. Win relatively comfortably and you are not out of the woods yet, but everything is still ahead of you.
So let’s go in the direction it’s going to go.
worries me this week
Offensive line, obviously
You just can’t write about this game or Notre Dame football in general right now without mentioning the biggest concern for the Fighting Irish 2021 yet – the offensive line. After a tough start in Tallahassee, the line looked worse against Toledo last weekend. It looked so shaky that Brian Kelly said they would expect a rotation at the guard positions. Andrew Kristofic and Rocco Spindler are the guardians the starters Cain Madden and Zeke Correll might spell. It’s not ideal to tinker with the lineup and use a rotation at week three.
Purdue has a pretty good line of defense, including one of the best pass rushers in the country, George Karlaftis. Add to this injuries at LT to starter Blake Fisher and backup Michael Carmody, and things could get tough again this weekend if the Irish are unable to find some stability.
I don’t think the line will suddenly look like Joe Moore’s 2017 award-winning line anytime soon, but I think they’re going to look a little better mostly because I don’t think they could look much worse.
That stupid drum
The drumming “controversy” this week was stupid and great at the same time. It just worries me because I don’t want to hear about this during the game tomorrow, and I don’t want to hear about it for years if Purdue somehow got through the fuss. It’s weird that Notre Dame Purdue won’t let the home team use the tunnel for this, and it’s stupid that the two schools could do something like, I don’t know, early drums on the field? Anyway, if NBC mentioned it more than once, I’d be annoyed.
Speaker’s voice: Frank will be angry before kick-off.
Includes David Bell
David Bell has made 14 catches for 255 yards and 3 touchdowns in just two games this season. Granted, all three of these touchdowns came against perhaps the worst team in FBS, UCONN, but still. For a defense that surrenders large moves at alarming speed over two games, a dynamic wide receiver is a cause for concern.
Notre Dame has had some issues in the backend of the defense that haven’t been fully exposed this year largely because of the pass rush, so I’m concerned that Bell could do some damage. Knowing something about Drew Brees going to be at the stadium has nightmares about Taylor Stubblefield on his mind. For those who might be a little too young to remember Stubblefield, he did so with Notre Dame in 2004.
Notre Dame didn’t have Kyle Hamilton in 2004, of course, but if Purdue has the semblance of sanity, they’ll try to get Bell the ball far from the human highlight role of number 14 for Notre Dame.
What do I not worry about
The pass frenzy of Notre Dame
Notre Dame has 10 sacks in two games this year and they have likely left another four or five on the field. With all concerns on the defense side of the ball, the pass frenzy is not one of them. I don’t expect that to change this weekend. Jack Plummer has been sacked five times this year and is not the most mobile quarterback.
Notre Dame’s pass rush is compounded by the addition of second-year Jordan Botelho, who Brian Kelly said will make his season debut against the Boilers after missing the first two games. Botelho was expected to play a big role in defending third place this year with Marist Liufau, who was lost for the season. Botelho’s return should help improve an already excellent pass rush and remove some of the problems at the third deficit.
Freshman Tyler Buchner will play against Purdue. It just depends on how many snapshots he gets at that point. That said, I don’t care about Jack Coan at all when he’s in the field. He was great when given time. The line’s fights, however, have at times limited Coan’s capabilities and appear to have impacted his pocket-sized presence.
Coan is a player who threw a game winner last week after having to put his finger back in position. When he’s in the game, I’m confident that he can not only run the offensive but also score points. We saw it in the opener and I think we’ll see when he is back this weekend.
At the same time, it’s impossible not to be amazed by Tyler Buchner after his debut. Purdue now has a Buchner film and unlike Toledo it will be finished so it will be interesting to see how the staff deal with his snapshots. Personally, I’d love to see them let Buchner fall back and crack at his first game while everyone is expecting him to run.
The intensity of Notre Dame
Brian Kelly mentioned that for the first time this week, Notre Dame has a typical prep week after the start of the season on a Sunday evening and a short week last week. I scoffed at it at first, but the more I’ve thought about it, the more it at least gives me hope that the sloppiness we’ve seen can be eliminated and, in part, a product of the weird schedule starting season.
But there are no more excuses this week. Notre Dame will play consecutive home games in a normal week of rest. If you’ve listened to the team this week, you might have felt a little bit of frustration in them this week as well. They know they are not playing at their level and they know that this weekend they have to play with more intensity. I think they will.
See other players
- I mentioned Jordan Botelho earlier, but specifically watch him in the dollar package Freeman loves. Isaiah Foskey has sometimes played in a stand-up linebacker position for Botleho in this package.
- Rylie Mills – It was tough taking Jayson Ademilola off the field this year because he was so good, but I think we’ll see Mike Elston and Freeman get more snaps for Mills this week.
- Kyle Hamilton – It’s been a quiet week for Hamilton last weekend. Make sure that changes.
- Braden Lenzy – I’m marginally shocked that we didn’t see Lenzy get the ball on pop passes or jet sweeps. His wheels are back. Use it.
- Avery Davis – Davis has opened the seam several times this year without the ball being thrown in his way. Get that poor guy the ball.
- Jack Kiser – A local kid has many Purdue connections and I’m a sucker for good action.
- Drawn in white – He’s only got 8 tackles this year. I thought he was going to be more than average per game.
- Cam Hart / Tariq Bracy – Bracy replaced Hart at the end of the game last week so it will be interesting to see if there is a shift in the line-up this week.
The line in that game has dropped to 7.5, which would have seemed insane last season, but not surprising given Notre Dame’s performances so far this year. With Notre Dame playing the way they can, it should be a relatively easy day at the office. However, we have not seen such an achievement this year.
The only result that would surprise me at this point would be an easy Purdue win. Aside from that, almost nothing else would shock me – narrow Purdue win, narrow Notre Dame win, big Notre Dame win.
I think we’re seeing the offense solidify a bit this week and expect the defense not only to eliminate the big moves but to deliver a few of their own as well. The normal week is good for Notre Dame and we see a team that has way too many games on the field clean things up. Notre Dame has too much talent and has built too much winning culture in the last four years for me to give up hope that this can still be a very good team.
This might be more of a prediction than a prediction at this point because I’m not ready to believe this team isn’t as bad as it looked last week.
Notre Dame 38, Purdue 21