Opponent preview: Purdue Boilermakers

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This will be the first of many opponent previews, leading us into the opening week of the season. Any suggestions or comments, please leave below or send me an email.

The Overview:

The Brian Kelly era kicks off against one of Notre Dame’s traditional opponents, in-state rival Purdue. Danny Hope enters his second season as the head coach of the Boilermakers, returning after a debut season that had its share of heartbreak, with gut-wrenching losses to Oregon, the Irish (more on that later), Northwestern, and Michigan State. While the end result was a wobbly 5-7 season, Purdue’s 4-4 conference record included a upset win over #7 Ohio State, a sign that the Boilermakers had the talent to play with just about anybody when they kept their turnovers in check.

Last time against the Irish:

It’s tough to forget the late-game heroics of Jimmy Clausen, who rifled a two-yard touchdown pass to tight end Kyle Rudolph to escape West Lafayette with a win. The Irish, playing without starting running back Armando Allen and wide receiver Michael Floyd, were dogged by penalties, including a procedure call on Golden Tate that cost both the Irish and his stat ledger a touchdown.

Purdue quarterback Joey Elliott built on the alarming trend of quarterbacks having career days against the Irish with 289 yards passing and three touchdowns, with Keith Smith catching 11 balls while tying a then personal record with 136 receiving yards and a touchdown. Purdue took the lead with four minutes to go on a play-action pass with broken coverage, resulting in Jaycen Taylor running untouched out of the backfield for a 38-yard touchdown. While Clausen’s heroics are what remain in the memory of Irish fans, some befuddling play-calling that included a failed draw play to Robert Hughes with no timeouts left and a defensive timeout by Danny Hope that stopped the clock for the Irish resulted in the final touchdown with 24 seconds left.

Said after the game by the Purdue blog Hammer & Rails:

“Even when we did stop them on 3rd down, I knew we couldn’t do it on fourth down. We’re Purdue. It does not work out that way for us.”

Degree of Difficulty:

Ranking the 12 opponents of the Irish, I slot Purdue in as the eighth-most difficult game on the schedule. That said, getting Purdue on opening day is both a blessing and a curse, as the Boilermakers will have all summer to get up for a game in Notre Dame stadium, a place they only won twice in the last 26 years. 

The Match-up:

Purdue played some pretty solid football down the stretch last season, going 4-2 in its last six games including the upset win over Ohio State. They’ve also added high-profile transfer quarterback Robert Marve to the mix, giving them a dual threat former blue-chip recruit to replace Joey Elliott. While running back Ralph Bolden is still recovering from an ACL tear that has him at only 50-60 percent, wide receiver Keith Smith returns along with three of the top four receiving targets. The offensive line is a question mark, returning only two starters.

On defense, the secondary needs to replace all four members, but early returns on freshman Ricardo Allen are good. The front seven returns almost in tact, with the defensive line considered one of the best in the Big Ten, anchored by All-Big Ten defensive end Ryan Kerrigan.

How the Irish will win:

Want to neutralize a good pass rush and swarming front-seven? Get the ball out quickly and spread the field, a Brian Kelly specialty. While Robert Marve isn’t a freshman, walking into Notre Dame stadium for Game One of the Brian Kelly era is hardly ideal. Doing it behind the least experienced offensive line the Irish will see all season doesn’t help either. Plagued by penalties, a gimpy Jimmy Clausen, and missing two of the Irish’s best offensive weapons, the Irish still managed to win in West Lafayette, bad game management and all. On home turf, the new defensive system will bring effective pressure from near and far, and torture a Purdue offense that needs to find time to throw. Vegas has this a double-digit victory for the Irish. If things go the Irish’s way, that should be the case on September 4th.

How the Irish will lose:

Nothing takes a crowd out of a game like an effective opposing offense, and a mobile quarterback like Marve will take his cues from Tate Forcier and keep the chains moving with his feet. Keith Smith wreaked havoc last season, and he’s a year better on the edge, racking up big gains and explosive plays. Ryan Kerrigan feasts on newbie offensive tackles, forcing a turnover and spending much of the afternoon in the backfield. Dayne Crist, in his first start as the Irish quarterback, turns the ball over a few times, giving the Purdue offense the extra chances it needs. Purdue has a chance to surprise some people, and they begin on opening day.

Gut Feeling:

I’m having a hard time trying to figure out how Purdue wins this football game, even though I think they’ll finish the season in a bowl game. I wouldn’t run to Vegas and lay down the point spread, but I think Bob Diaco’s defense, with very little game tape of the Irish personnel available, is the key to victory.  

Sheldon Day drafted in 4th round by Jaguars

North Carolina v Notre Dame
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Former Notre Dame captain Sheldon Day didn’t have to wait long on Saturday to hear his name called. The Indianapolis native, All-American, and the Irish’s two-time defensive lineman of the year was pick number 103, the fourth pick of the fourth round on Saturday afternoon.

Day was the seventh Irish player drafted, following first rounders Ronnie Stanley and Will Fuller, second round selections Jaylon Smith and Nick Martin, and third rounders KeiVarae Russell and C.J. Prosise.

Day has a chance to contribute as he joins the 24th-ranked defense in the league. Joining a draft class heavy on defensive players—Jalen Ramsey, Myles Jack and Yannick Ngakoue already picked ahead of him—the front seven will also include last year’s No. 3 overall pick Dante Fowler, who missed the entire season with a knee injury.

Scouted by the Jaguars at the Senior Bowl, Day doesn’t necessarily have the size to be a traditional defensive tackle. But under Gus Bradley’s attacking system (Bradley coordinated the Seahawks defense for four seasons), Day will find a niche and a role in a young defense that’s seen a heavy investment the past two years.

Smith, Martin, Russell and Prosise all drafted Friday night

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - SEPTEMBER 13: William Fuller #7 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Nick Martin #72 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrate a touchdown during the game against the Purdue Boilermakers at Lucas Oil Stadium on September 13, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
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Jaylon Smith, Nick Martin, KeiVarae Russell and C.J. Prosise were all selected on Friday, with four Irish teammates taken on the second night of the NFL Draft. As mentioned, Smith came off the board at pick 34, with the Cowboys gambling on the injured knee of the Butkus Award winner. Nick Martin was selected at pick 50, joining former teammate Will Fuller in Houston.

The third round saw Russell and Prosise come off the board, with Kansas City jumping on the confident cornerback and the Seahawks taking Notre Dame’s breakout running back. It capped off a huge night for the Irish with Sheldon Day, one of the more productive football players in college football, still on the board for teams to pick.

Here’s a smattering of instant reactions from the immediate aftermath.

 

 

Jaylon Smith goes to Dallas with 34th pick

PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 07:  Jaylon Smith #9 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrates by wearing the hat of team mascot, Lucky The Leprechaun, following their 42-30 win against the Pittsburgh Panthers at Heinz Field on November 7, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
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Jaylon Smith’s nightmare is over.

After watching his football life thrown into chaos with a career-altering knee injury, Smith came off the board after just two picks in the second round, selected by the Dallas Cowboys with the 34th pick. His selection ended the most challenging months of Smith’s young life, and come after cashing in a significant tax-free, loss-of-value insurance policy that’ll end up being just shy of a million dollars.

No, it’s not top-five money like Smith could’ve expected if he didn’t get hurt. But Smith isn’t expected to play in 2016.

And while there was a pre-draft fascination that focused on the doom and gloom more than the time-consuming recovery, it’s worth pointing out that Dallas’ medical evaluation comes from the source—literally. After all, it was the Cowboys team doctor, Dr. Dan Cooper, who performed the surgery to repair Smith’s knee.

Smith joins Ezekiel Elliott with the Cowboys, arguably the two best position players in the draft. While he might not be available in 2016, Smith will be under the supervision of the Cowboys’ medical staff, paid a seven-figure salary to get healthy with the hopes that he’ll be back to his All-American self sooner than later, especially as the nerve in his knee returns to full functionality.

Will Fuller brings his game-changing skills to the Texans offense

PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 07: Will Fuller #7 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish catches a pass before running into the endzone for a touchdown in the second quarter in front of Avonte Maddox #14 of the Pittsburgh Panthers during the game at Heinz Field on November 7, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
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In all the weeks and months leading up to the NFL Draft, one key tidbit linking Will Fuller to the Houston Texans never seemed to come up. The relationship between Brian Kelly and Bill O’Brien.

The two coaches share a high school alma mater, a friendship that made the due diligence on Notre Dame’s prolific playmaker easy. And it was clear that after all their research, Houston was aggressive in their pursuit of Fuller, trading up to make Notre Dame’s All-American the second receiver off the board, triggered a run at the position.

“He was a guy that we felt strongly about,” Texans general manager Rick Smith told the team’s official website. “We didn’t want to take a chance on not getting him. We were aggressive. We went and made the move.”

That move made Fuller’s decision to leave Notre Dame after three seasons a good one. While it’ll require the Irish to rebuild at a position where Fuller served as one of college football’s best home run hitters, it gives Houston a vertical threat that can extend the top of a defense for a Texans offense that was serious about finding some solutions for a team already in the playoff mix.

Yes, Fuller has work to do. Completing the easy catch is one big area. But for all the pre-draft talk about his limitations, Brian Kelly took on some of the criticism head-on when talking with the Texans’ media reporter.

“Some people have compared him to Teddy Ginn, that’s not fair. He can catch the ball vertically like nobody I’ve coached in 25 years,” Kelly said (a sentiment some hack also laid out). Teddy Ginn is a very good player, but this is a different kind of player. If you throw the ball deep, he’s going to catch the football.”

Fuller is never going to be the biggest receiver on the field. But while most of the banter on his game focused on the negative or his deep ball skills, expect Fuller to find a role not just running deep but unleashed in the screen game as well. After the Texans spent huge on quarterback Brock Osweiler and have invested in fellow Philadelphia native and 2015 third-round pick Jaelen Strong, Fuller wasn’t selected for the future but rather expected to be a day-one piece of the puzzle.

“This will change the speed on offense immediately,” Kelly said. “It was not ‘Hey, let’s wait a couple of years’. It was ‘Let’s go get this right now’ and I think Will will do that for them.”