After traversing the Atlantic Ocean to kick off the season, No. 22 Notre Dame woke up this morning in a familiar place, welcoming Purdue to Notre Dame Stadium for the 2012 home opener.
A win will start the Irish off 2-0, taking quite a bit of momentum into a two-game stretch that’ll likely define the season. But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, here are a few questions I’ve been thinking about before Saturday’s game gets underway at 3:30 p.m. ET.
Can the Irish build on their impressive performance against Navy?
The Irish have been the definition of Jekyll and Hyde over the past few seasons. Look like world beaters one Saturday and chumps the next. After playing a clean game and having a dominant performance last Saturday, can the Irish keep the momentum and play even better against a Big Ten opponent?
I’ve heard the cliche that a team makes its biggest improvements between the first and second games of a season about a dozen times this week. If it’s the case, it should be plenty of fun to watch the leap the Irish make this weekend.
How will the offensive line look against a stout Purdue defensive front?
Running the ball down the throats of an undersized Navy defensive line was a welcome sight. But doing it against Purdue is a different story. Led by Kawann Short, an All-American caliber player, the Irish ground game will face a much stiffer test this afternoon.
At 6-foot-3, 315 pounds, Short is a boulder in the middle of a defensive front that also features former Irish recruit Bruce Gaston and promising defensive end Ryan Russell, who could be ready for a breakout season.
Want another reason to worry about Short? He’s blocked four kicks over the past two seasons.
How will Everett Golson evolve this Saturday?
Golson looked poised last Saturday, doing his job and running the offense efficiently last week as the Irish pounded Navy with a stout running game. Golson completed 12 of 18 passes (two of those incompletions were drops), with most of those throws on or around the line of scrimmage. Will offensive coordinator Chuck Martin and head coach Brian Kelly open things up against a Boilermakers defense that has plenty of experience at cornerback?
The Irish receiving corps didn’t have the chance to show its relative inexperience last Saturday, essentially not needed after Notre Dame ran for almost 300 yards. Tyler Eifert only made a splash in the red zone, snatching a jump ball for a touchdown but otherwise kept out of the vertical passing game. With a strong arm and great touch on his deep ball, Golson has the ability to beat defenses down field. We’ll see if the Irish try it this afternoon.
How will the Irish secondary look against a traditional passing offense?
You can give the inexperienced Irish secondary a pass for its performance against Navy. But if Purdue throws the ball all over Notre Dame, expect a long season for the back-end of Bob Diaco‘s defense.
With Zeke Motta and Jamoris Slaughter committed to stopping the run, cornerbacks Bennett Jackson and true freshman KeiVarae Russell both lost their share of one-on-one battles. But with the Irish able to employ traditional coverage schemes and play plenty of zone, we’ll see how the defense fares against the Boilermakers aerial attack, which might feature three different quarterbacks.