Sep. 17—SOUTH BEND — Following a pair of three-point victories to open the season, No. 12 Notre Dame will now put its unscathed record on the line against in-state rival Purdue (2-0) Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium (2:30 p.m., NBC).
This will be the 86th all-time meeting between the two programs, with the Fighting Irish having won the last five meetings over the Boilermakers. Notre Dame leads the all-time series 56-26-2 over Purdue and won the last matchup in 2014 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis by a score of 30-14.
Purdue comes into this weekend's game having won handily over both Oregon State (30-21) and Connecticut (49-0). If head coach Jeff Brohm and his team can upset Notre Dame, it'll be the team's first victory over the Irish since 2004.
"Notre Dame's a veteran football team, and they've proven they can win at a high level," Brohm said. "They've got a really good defensive front that's big and athletic. They have linebackers that can strike and a veteran secondary. Offensively, they have a proven quarterback, good running backs and probably an All-Pro tight end. ... They've had to work for their last two wins, but they found a way to win and that's what good football teams do. We'll have our hands full."
GETTING IN THE FLOW
Most coaches won't ever be big on excuses, but to say the last two weeks have been normal for the Notre Dame football program would be incorrect. Playing on a Sunday to open the season likely disrupted the rhythm of the team, and the results on the field have showed.
"The first two weeks of the season were not your typical in-season type of preparation," Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said. "We were trying to just manage things going into Florida State coming out of fall camp. And then, you go into a short week right after. ... So this was really the first week where we've been in the routine. We were really able to get after it the way we're used to. We really raised our level of preparation this week."
Getting back into a normal routine couldn't have come at a better time for the Irish, with Purdue presenting the toughest challenge from both a coaching and a talent standpoint so far this year.
Defensively, the Boilermakers are led by junior defensive lineman George Karlaftis. Karlaftis — listed at 6'4", 275 pounds — earned second team All-Big Ten honors in both 2019 and 2020. He's off to a strong start through two games this season with eight tackles, a forced fumble, three quarterback hurries and two pass breakups.
An elite pass rusher should be a concern for the Notre Dame offensive line that has given up 10 sacks through its first two games. With left tackle Michael Cormady expected to be a game-time decision with an ankle injury, Karlaftis may be lining up across from third-string lineman Tosh Baker on Saturday.
In the middle of the defense, Purdue has a couple of physical linebackers that have helped the Boilermakers defense shutdown opposing rushing offenses through the first two weeks. Junior Jalen Graham and senior Jaylen Alexander have combined for 16 tackles (two for loss), three pass breakups and a forced fumble.
On the back end, junior safety Cam Allen leads an experienced secondary. So far this season, Allen has seven tackles and an interception.
PREPARING FOR ONE QUARTERBACK
For the first time in 2021, Notre Dame hasn't had to prepare for a two-quarterback system this week.
Purdue's offensive attack features one primary quarterback in junior Jack Plummer. The 6'5", 215-pound Arizona native has looked solid in the pocket, going 45-of-61 on passing attempts for 558 yards and six touchdowns.
"He's extremely accurate and he knows where to go with the football," said Kelly of Plummer. "He has two outstanding weapons, and at the end of the day, he keeps plays alive. ... I think more than anything, you have a pro-style quarterback that doesn't make a ton of mistakes. He doesn't turn the ball over and he doesn't take negative plays."
One of those weapons Kelly referred to is junior wide receiver David Bell. Bell had over 1,000 receiving yards his freshman year in 2019 and caught eight touchdown passes in just six games during a pandemic-shortened 2020. He already has 14 catches for 255 yards and three touchdowns this season.
"He creates issues," said Kelly of Bell. "He makes plays after the catch. ... He really stresses (your defense). If you just play him in man, you're going to be in a very difficult position. So we'll have to mix it up. Double him up, play some bracket coverage and just make it difficult for him to know what he's getting."
In the backfield, Purdue starting running back Zander Horvath will miss four-to-eight weeks after breaking his fibula against UCONN. Horvath's absence hurts a relatively thin running back lineup behind him. Junior King Doerue has stepped in for the Boilermakers, having rushed for 86 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries this season. Doerue saw decent production his freshman season — 451 rushing yards on 130 carries — but in 2020, he ran for just 64 yards in four games.
Forcing the Boilermakers to be one-dimensional on offense could go a long way in slowing down an offense that has scored 79 points and gained 963 yards through its first two games.
Evan Lepak can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 574-533-2151, ext. 240326. Follow him on Twitter @EvanMPLepak.