Cierre Wood

Opponent preview: Purdue


This is the second of twelve opponent updates as we sprint towards next Saturday’s opening game in Dublin. For more, check out the preview of Navy.

The Overview:

Forgive Danny Hope if he’s been feeling snake bit. After taking over the Boilermakers program from Joe Tiller, Hope has had to battle a rash of bad injury luck and inconsistent play from his young team, short-circuiting any progress he was hoping for in West Lafayette. But with depth at quarterback, a stout defense, and 15 returning starters, 2012 might be different, and Purdue might be a dark horse candidate to make some noise in a Big Ten that’s shook up with perennial powers Penn State and Ohio State sitting out the postseason.

Last time against the Irish:

Heading into a primetime start in Ross-Ade Stadium, Boilermaker fans were excited to see their lockdown cornerback Ricardo Allen take his shot at Michael Floyd. It didn’t turn out well for Allen, who was beat long and often by Floyd, who had a big day as the Irish rolled to a 38-10 victory over the Boilermakers.

“We got off to a good start obviously on the road against a Big Ten team,” Brian Kelly said after the game. “Getting Mike Floyd the ball early on really gave us a lot of confidence.”

That confidence also wore off on running back Cierre Wood, who had his best game in an Irish uniform, running for 191 yards on 20 carries, including a 55 yard touchdown. Tommy Rees threw for three touchdowns with no picks and the Irish defense shut down the Purdue running game.

Degree of Difficulty:

Of the 12 games the Irish play this season, I rank Purdue as the eighth toughest game on the schedule.

10. Navy
8. Purdue

The Match-up:

It looks like Caleb Terbush has won the quarterback battle heading into the opener, with the senior building off a solid 2011 campaign. He’ll have the protection of an offensive line that returns four starters and a strong running game anchored by Akeem Shavers and Akeem Hunt. Ralph Bolden is coming back from another ACL tear, making it questionable that the former standout runner will make an impact. Wide receiver Antavian Edison is the big play threat in the Boilermakers passing game, with dynamic return man Raheem Mostert a weapon as well.

The Purdue defense is anchored by Kawann Short, a returning All-Big Ten selection that could be a first round draft pick. He’ll be joined up front by Bruce Gaston (a former Irish target), Ryan Russell, and Brandon Taylor, giving the Boilermakers a stout front four. Linebacker Dwayne Beckford will do his best to replace Joe Holland, and he’s put a December DUI behind him. All-Big Ten cornerback Ricardo Allen is back in the secondary joined by Josh Johnson and Normondo Harris. They are one of the Big Ten’s strongest cornerback trio.

How the Irish will win:

By playing solid football. Personnel wise, Purdue is improved, but the Irish are in another league still, even with Danny Hope building his program consistently. And while the Irish don’t have a great match-up with Purdue’s strengths along the front four and in coverage, neither do the Boilermakers. Running against the Irish isn’t easy, and if Purdue won’t be able to rely on a ground game that was surprisingly sturdy last season.

How the Irish will lose:

Even if it is the home opener, the let down factor is alive and well with Purdue warming up with cupcake Eastern Kentucky while Notre Dame will be battling time zones, jet lag, and cut-blocks on its way back from Dublin. While Tommy Rees will be eligible to play, Everett Golson will likely still be behind center, and he’ll face a tough defensive front and cornerbacks with play-making ability. TerBush has the skills to be dangerous both through the air and on the ground, and a special teams play by Raheem Mostert or some forced turnovers by new defensive coordinator Tim Tibesar‘s unit could make this interesting.

Gut Feeling:

September hasn’t been kind to the Irish, but with the ground game humming and Everett Golson getting his legs beneath him, I expect the Irish to be 2-0 heading into their dreaded dates with the state of Michigan.

Sheldon Day drafted in 4th round by Jaguars

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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)

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)

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)

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.”