5 keys for Purdue to upset Notre Dame
The Boilermakers will head up the road to South Bend as an 8-point underdog to the Fighting Irish, but with a ton of confidence — and maybe even some swagger — following their 2-0 start.
Yet, Purdue will still have key markers it’ll need to hit if the Boilermakers are to score only their second win at Notre Dame since the late 1960s.
Let’s take a look at 5 of the keys for Purdue to upset the Irish:
Rush the quarterback
Purdue has only 1 sack through its first 2 games, but that doesn’t really paint a complete picture of the Boilermakers’ efforts.
End George Karlaftis alone has totaled double-digit pressures in wins over Oregon State and UConn, and he forced a fumble vs. the Huskies Saturday, although it turned into a 2-yard gain. And his pressures have led to 8 pass breakups and arguably Purdue’s only interception.
Although Purdue hasn’t hit home with its pass rush, Notre Dame might put the ball on a tee. Or at least its quarterback on a tee. Starter Jack Coan has been sacked a remarkably high 10 times through 2 games, a reason why Brian Kelly turned to backup Tyler Buchner at times in the closer-than-anticipated win over Toledo Saturday.
Purdue’s seen pressures from a variety of places through 2 games; Karlaftis’ fellow end DeMarcus Mitchell has been active, as has tackle Branson Deen. Linebacker Jalen Graham, who has the Boilermakers’ 1 sack, has repeatedly shown to be a playmaker during his career at Purdue and might be a blitzer that ND has to account for.
Find a third WR
Wide receiver David Bell will likely be phenomenal again Saturday — he’s making catches even in the tightest of coverage — so it’s probably safe to count on 100 yards and a touchdown against the Irish.
And Payne Durham has been one of the Boilermakers’ most improved players, giving Jack Plummer a big target who not only is making underneath catches to move sticks but is making big gains down the field.
The question is the third option. Through 2 games, Purdue hasn’t found a consistent No. 3. Veteran Milton Wright followed up a substandard Game 1, when he had a dropped touchdown, with a couple catches vs. UConn. His backup, Broc Thompson, has 3 receptions and some ability to run after the catch; maybe he needs more targets. Jackson Anthrop and TJ Sheffield, who missed the opener, have combined for 13 catches in the slot.
But with the Fighting Irish likely to devote a lot of resources to slowing Bell and Durham, another WR might need to step up. Could it be Wright? He has big-play potential, but his confidence might be wavering. Maybe Sheffield, who has game-breaking speed but limited experience.
Run the ball
The Boilermakers will be without starting running back Zander Horvath, sapping Purdue of its most punishing between-the-tackles runner and best pass-catcher out of the backfield.
Horvath is out up to 4 to 8 weeks after breaking his left leg.
Not only that, but Purdue has limited depth in its running back corps, so it’ll turn to King Doerue and Dylan Downing, the latter a walk-on transfer from UNLV. And Jeff Brohm said Monday that Purdue will start to ready freshman Ja’Quez Cross, in case he’s needed at Notre Dame and beyond.
The Boilermakers’ goal is to pick up at least 100 yards rushing, but it’s the plays within the total that will tell the tale. More than balance, Purdue is concerned with its ability to consistently pick up a third- or fourth-and-short. Or to get those hard-to-come-by yards in the red zone.
If Doerue and Downing can’t do that, then it’s likely a long afternoon for Purdue.
Considering Notre Dame’s second-half issues, having squandered 38-20 and 24-16 leads before recovering to win vs. FSU and Toledo, Purdue might be best advised to simply stay within striking distance in the first half.
If Purdue can absorb the early jolt from Notre Dame, then be within a score — or better — at halftime, then it might be able to not only rally but win vs. the Irish.
Don’t be shy
Even though Purdue is playing up, against by far the best opponent to date — and maybe the second-best team remaining on its schedule — Brohm can’t let off the gas.
The 5th-year coach vowed after last season, in which Purdue finished 2-4 and lost 4 straight to end the year, that he’d return to previous form, being aggressive and creative on offense.
Fans saw that in the opener, when Brohm called at least 3 trick plays, including a fake field goal (although it was unsuccessful). He didn’t need to go deep in the playbook vs. hapless UConn, but he probably will against the Fighting Irish.
Purdue needs to maintain that attitude, with Brohm keeping his willingness to do whatever is necessary to get a win.