Pregame Twelve Pack: Purdue edition

Welcome to the Pregame Twelve Pack. Twelve fun facts, tidbits, leftovers, or miscellaneous musings as we head into the Purdue game.

1. Notre Dame has owned the season opener against Purdue.

For those Irish fans looking to the past for a preview of future results, the Irish are 6-1 in opening games against Purdue, the only loss being the last time the two played on opening day, a 23-21 loss to the 8th ranked Boilermakers in 1984, a game played at the Hoosier Dome. Only two other programs have faced off with the Irish to start the season more often than Purdue: Michigan and Northwestern.

2. The Irish offensive line versus the Purdue front seven is the battle to watch.

Ryan Kerrigan is arguably the most dangerous pass rusher in the Big Ten this season. He’ll be matched up against Zack Martin and Taylor Dever, two offensive tackles making their first start, and in Martin, a guy taking his first snaps in a college football game. Kerrigan led Purdue with 18.5 tackles for loss and finished first in the Big Ten with 13 sacks. The rest of the front-seven has plenty of experience as well, making this the key match-up of the game.

But before Irish fans get too worried, just because the front seven is experienced doesn’t mean they’re any good.  The Boilermakers run defense finished 94th in the country, getting sliced up for 173.4 yards per game. The defense gave up 29.1 points per game, 89th best in the country. They were also terrible on 3rd down, finishing 80th in 3rd down efficiency, ranking 90th in opponent plays per game. Those are statistics that make you scratch your head when you consider Kerrigan’s production.

3. There will be emotions swirling before the opening kickoff against Purdue.

That’s because Notre Dame will be honoring members of the football family that have passed away during the past year as part of the pre-game flag presentation. There will be a moment of silence after the national colors are presented before kickoff, the start of a tradition that will take place on every home football opener honoring those that have died from the football family.

This year, the colors will be presented by six individuals:

Receivers coach Tony Alford and his mother Gloria Alford, who lost father and husband Robert Sr. back in June.

Offensive lineman Alex Bullard and his mother Dorothy Bullard, who lost father and husband Louis in April.

Jerry and Peggy James, who lost son Matt, a member of the incoming freshman class in a tragic accident back in April.

These six will be joined by athletic director Jack Swarbrick and his wife Kimberly and will represent the 24 members of the football family that have passed away in the past year:

Bill Ahern (FB 1960-62), Paul Burns (G 1949-51), Jack Bush (HB 1949-51), Paul Djubasak (G 1955-57), Don Gmitter (SE 1964-66), Art Hunter
(T 1951-53), Paul Lillis (RT 1939-41), Mike Malone (C 1968), Fred Mann
(E 1951-53), Tom Mittelhauser (HB 1963), George Nicula (T 1953-55), Phil
O’Connor (RE 1945), Tom Roggeman (DT 1983-84), Norb Roy (G 1959-61),
Bill Russell (LT 1945-46), George Terlep (LH 1943-44), Tom Pagna
(assistant coach 1964-74), John Bermingham (student manager, 1942
graduate), Harry Lavery (student manager, 1944 graduate), Ted Rademaker
(student manager, 1946 graduate), Robert Alford Sr., Louis Bullard, and Matt James.
 

4. The press box will be filled with plenty of offensive and defensive coaches.

With Brian Kelly roaming the sidelines, it’s interesting to see how the coaching staff breaks up responsibilities in the press box.

Offensively, the Irish will have coordinator Charley Molnar, tight ends coach Mike Denbrock, and running backs coach Tim Hinton all in the press box. Per Kelly, Hinton will be analyzing protection schemes along the line while Molnar helps spot the ball for down, distance, and hash mark, as well as analyzing some of the defensive coverage schemes. Only offensive line coach Ed Warriner and receivers coach Tony Alford will be on the sidelines along with Kelly. 

Defensively, coordinator Bob Diaco will be up in the box. He’ll be joined only by graduate assistants Jon Carpenter and Michael Painter. The rest of the defensive staff — line coach and special teams coordinator Mike Elston, secondary coach Chuck Martin, and outside linebackers coach Kerry Cooks, will be on the sideline.

5. Every Thursday, the Irish strive to be perfect. On Friday, they focus. 

Once the Irish get within 48 hours of the game, Kelly and his staff have a rehearsed routine. It starts with a brisk 15 period practice on Thursday and even less activity on Friday.

“Our last practice, we call it perfect practice Thursday,” Kelly said yesterday afternoon. “We want perfection. We go fast and we demand that our players are locked in with the details in mind at first… We spent a lot of time in special teams, a lot of times in two minute offense. and then usually finish up with four-minute end of game scenarios and controlling the clock.  

Friday is spent mostly inside, and Kelly calls it “Focus Friday.”

“We focus in on the game plan. We’ll watch a little film, move the guys around a little bit to stretch them out before we get to the pep rally.”

At the pep rally, Kelly will announce his game captains, a change from the usual tradition of naming team captains for the season.

6. Kelly and staff take preparation to the 49th level.

As a young coach back at Grand Valley State, Kelly and his team worked on 16 to 18 different scenarios that the team might find itself in when caught in an odd spot. Over the past 20 years, Kelly is up to 49 scenarios, creating contingency plans for every imaginable instance on the football field.

“I don’t know if that says a lot about my experience dealing with different things in the game or the obsessiveness of the coach trying to cover every scenario that may never occur, but you want to be covered anyway,” Kelly said.

Two years ago, Kelly installed number 47: Turtle punt.

“We had a 19 point lead with about a 1:03 left on the clock. Every scenario, we had to make certain played out, and it did. And that was to decide do you take the safety or punt the ball. So we put in what we call turtle punt now which kills approximately six to eight seconds and you can hold. We had the whole team just hold because we don’t care if we get a penalty in that situation. But we have to get eight seconds off the clock.”

I’m guessing Bob Davie didn’t have that one in the playbook when he asked Jarious Jackson to take an intentional safety in the back of the end zone against LSU.

7. Like the guy before him, expect Kelly to receive if he wins the coin flip.

While Charlie Weis eventually caved on his always receive mantra on the opening kick off, Brian Kelly also prefers to receive the kickoff.

“I
like to have the football. I think the only time I look at deferring is
if there’s weather. But by and large, my career has been about trying
to get the football. That’s been me traditionally, and that’s probably
what’ll happen if we win the toss Saturday.”

No word on whether he calls heads or tails.

8. If you see LT walking around campus, be careful — he’s not cheering for the Irish.

While his current legal entanglements might make this a moot point, if you see Lawrence Taylor walking around campus this weekend, it’s not because he’s an Irish fan. It’s because his son, redshirt freshman defensive tackle Brandon Taylor is suited up for the Boilermakers. There are three current Purdue players with fathers that had careers in the NFL. The other two are running back Dan Dierking, whose father Scott played running back for eight seasons, and quarterback Robert Marve, whose father Eugene played linebacker for 11 seasons.

9. Danny Hope and Brian Kelly will be telling their quarterbacks different things before kickoff.

While this is Dayne Crist’s first start, Robert Marve’s already made his starting debut, as a freshman quarterback at the Swamp in Florida. But both quarterbacks are returning from a torn ACL and will likely be battling opening day jitters.

The difference is how the coaches will handle them.

“There’s nothing I can do to help him once they kick off,” Purdue coach Danny Hope said. “He has played in some big games. It’s important that we have a package put together for Robert that he’s comfortable with. Can’t go in there with the whole playbook. It’s too much.”

For his part, Brian Kelly will take a different approach, when talking to Crist before he takes his first snap.

“You
don’t have to win the Heisman today. Take what they give you, be
patient, let the offense come to you, you don’t have to force it. There
are plenty of answers for you out there. Let the game come to you. If
you do that, you’ll be fine. And for me, have confidence. We would not
put you back there if we did not think you’ll do a great job.”

10. Looking for a true freshman from Purdue that could impress? Try Ricardo Allen.

Normally, coaches shy away from playing a true freshman, especially in the secondary. That’s not going to be the case with Ricardo Allen, who is hardly your average freshman.

“A lot of times freshmen will come to camp, they’re an outstanding player,” Hope said. “He has shined since the day he got here. Most of us that have been around here for a while think he’s one of the better ones we’ve been around as a freshman.

“He’s an outstanding football player. One of the great players on his position in our football team, in our league, possibly on a national level. He’s an outstanding defensive back prospect.”

Allen will have a chance to match up with one of the best in Michael Floyd. That’ll be a battle worth watching.

11. The bad luck for tight end Mike Ragone continues.

After fighting through multiple knee injuries earlier in his career, Mike Ragone looked finally on track to contribute at the tight end position. After narrowly avoiding the wrath of Student Affairs after a summer traffic arrest where marijuana was found in the car, Ragone hasn’t had a bit of good luck since.

After suffering from a serious heat illness that kept him in the hospital overnight during the humid summer training camp, Ragone’s come down with an inner-ear infection that’s so serious he’ll likely be unable to play Saturday.

“He was seen again this afternoon,” Kelly said as he updated Ragone’s condition.
“Headaches. A little bit better, but clearly has vertigo and an ear
infection. He’s on antibiotics. I would think he is doubtful for
Saturday.”

The Irish will go with a now healthy Kyle Rudolph and Tyler Eifert as the top-two tight ends, with senior Bobby Burger and freshman Alex Welch next in line.

12. Opening day has been a mixed bag for Brian Kelly.

Kelly is 3-3 in his opening day starts. He lost all three of his opening days at Central Michigan, falling to Indiana in 2004 and 2005, and barely losing to Matt Ryan’s Boston College in 2006. At Cincinnati, Kelly turned that trend around, blowing out Southeast Missouri State in 2007, Eastern Kentucky in 2008, and Rutgers in 2009.

This Purdue team will be the best opening day opponent Kelly has seen since facing Tom O’Brien in 2006.

 

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    Notre Dame will face South Carolina in the Gator Bowl on Dec. 30

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    Notre Dame and South Carolina will meet for the first time in nearly 40 years in the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl on Dec. 30 at 3:30 ET (ABC). The Irish and Gamecocks have not played since 1984, a South Carolina win in South Bend. That was part of Notre Dame’s struggles (going 12-11 in 1984 and 1985) that led to Lou Holtz being hired; Holtz, of course, went on to coach the Gamecocks for six seasons after he left the Irish.

    Though the No. 21 Irish (8-4) finished the season strongly, including competing gamely at USC a week ago in a 38-27 loss, a driving storyline over the next month will be wondering if head coach Marcus Freeman can handle this bowl game better than the second half of the Fiesta Bowl faceplant last year in his first game as Notre Dame’s leader.

    No. 19 South Carolina (8-4) enjoyed an even more impressive finish to the season, knocking both Tennessee and Clemson out of the College Football Playoff in its final two games of the season. Not that gambling spreads mean anything on the football field, but to give an idea how unexpected those two wins were, realize the Gamecocks were expected to lose them by a combined 37.5 points and instead won them by a combined 26 points.

    There may be some rough parallels between South Carolina head coach Shane Beamer and Freeman, though Beamer is a year ahead in his head-coaching career.

    Beamer was an unexpected hire in Columbia in 2021, never having been a head coach before and most recently the associate head coach and tight ends coach at Oklahoma for three seasons. The Gamecocks went 7-6 in his first year, his head-coaching inexperience perhaps rearing its head as they lost their first three games against Power-Five competition and four of their first five, the exception coming against worse-off Vanderbilt.

    Thus, the surge to end the 2022 season stands out, particularly since it again took until October to notch a win against a Power-Five opponent, losing to both Arkansas and, more understandably, Georgia in September.

    South Carolina found its most success this season through the air, led by former Oklahoma quarterback Spencer Rattler. He averaged 230.5 yards per game and 7.9 yards per attempt while completing 66.6 percent of his passes. The Gamecocks managed just 123.3 rushing yards per game and 3.8 yards per attempt.

    Their rushing defense is one of the worst in the country, which could play right into the Irish offensive strength. Opponents gained 0.194 expected points per rush attempt against South Carolina, the No. 123 ranking in the country, per cfb-graphs.com.

    Notre Dame fell to Ohio State, 21-10, to open Freeman’s genuine tenure, a worthwhile loss though one quickly diminished when the Irish fell to Marshall just a week later. Of course, the Buckeyes’ relied on that season-opening win to successfully burgeon their Playoff résumé today.

    The Irish already know they will be without both senior cornerback Cam Hart and junior quarterback Drew Pyne in the bowl game. Hart announced last week he will return for a fifth season at Notre Dame, but a shoulder injury will sideline him this month, while Pyne announced Friday he intends to enter the transfer portal, presumably when it officially opens tomorrow.

    Star tight end Michael Mayer will almost certainly opt out of the bowl game, his top-20 draft stock assured, and senior defensive end Isaiah Foskey could logically, as well.

    Notre Dame nearly ended up in the Holiday Bowl in San Diego on Dec. 28, per reports. The ACC could place the Irish in any of three bowls, the top tier of ACC-affiliated bowls below the Orange Bowl, with some input from the bowls and from the University. That give-and-take seemingly delayed the announcement for a stretch of Sunday.

    Drew Pyne to transfer from Notre Dame; Tyler Buchner reportedly a bowl possibility

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    Notre Dame may start its third quarterback of the season in its bowl game after junior Drew Pyne announced he will transfer from the program on Friday. A graduate, Pyne has three seasons of eligibility remaining.

    ESPN’s Pete Thamel first reported Pyne’s intention to transfer, with Pyne soon thereafter taking to Twitter to confirm as much.

    “One of my proudest honors is to have been a student-athlete at the University of Notre Dame,” Pyne wrote. “… It’s time for me to take on a new challenge, and I will be entering the transfer portal.”

    Pyne took over as the Irish starter after sophomore Tyler Buchner suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in the second week of the season. Pyne went 8-2 as a starter, completing 64.6 percent of his passes for 2,021 yards and 22 touchdowns this season.

    His final action at Notre Dame may have been Pyne’s best game of his career, throwing for 318 yards and three touchdowns at USC while completing 23 of 26 passes, the second-most accurate game in Irish history.

    He appeared in two games in 2021, stepping in for Jack Coan when he struggled against Wisconsin and Cincinnati. Keeping Pyne to minimal appearances in 2021 was intentional, preserving a season of eligibility for him.

    That eligibility will now be used elsewhere.

    Without Pyne, Notre Dame will have freshman Steve Angeli and possibly Buchner available in the bowl game, a location and opponent to be announced on Sunday. Football Scoop’s John Brice reported Friday afternoon that Buchner will play in the bowl game, though perhaps that optimism should be measured throughout practice this month.

    Regardless, the Irish are expected to pursue an incoming transfer quarterback this month. With names like Texas’ Hudson Card and Virginia’s Brennan Armstrong already in the transfer portal, Notre Dame will have a few options to chase.

    That is why Pyne’s transfer makes sense, even if he spoke earnestly about the bowl game following that 38-27 loss in Los Angeles.

    “I think we have a lot to play for,” he said. “We’re going to be in a bowl game, I want to send all the seniors out the right way. We have a lot to play for. We have another game, I’m going to prepare as hard as I can for that and finish the season off on a positive note.”

    Reversing course from those words is understandable given they came minutes after a competitive game, and the last week has shown Pyne how quickly the quarterback transfer market will move.

    In the game of musical chairs that is quarterbacks moving across the country, Pyne waiting until after the bowl game to transfer could serve only to leave him with fewer destinations as options. Not that Pyne may have been looking at Iowa, but the fact that one Power Five starting gig appears to have already been filled by Michigan transfer Cade McNamara presumably underscored the rapid nature of this process.

    Understandably, Pyne needs to make the most of this opportunity, coming off a strong season as Notre Dame’s starter but knowing he is unlikely to start for the Irish in 2023. Depending on the level of transfer joining the Irish and Buchner’s health, it was distinctly possible Pyne would be Notre Dame’s third quarterback next year.

    For someone who grew up as a Notre Dame fan, specifically a Brady Quinn fan, assuredly this decision was not an easy one for Pyne.

    He had a lengthy and notable offer sheet coming out of high school, but Pyne at his best this season would not draw interest from the likes of Texas A&M, Alabama and LSU as he did three years ago. It may be more pertinent to point out he is a Connecticut native, so schools in the northeast could be most logical for his landing spot.

    The Irish should also have quarterback commit Kenny Minchey in the pecking order this spring, expected to sign with Notre Dame on Dec. 21 when the early signing period begins.

    RELATED READING: Notre Dame’s QB room creates a friendly trust that has been crucial to Pyne’s success
    Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 10 Drew Pyne, junior quarterback

    Notre Dame adds a fourth receiver commit to recruiting class, helping a roster need

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    Notre Dame is addressing its most glaring roster deficiency with a numbers approach. The Irish had only five true scholarship receivers for much of this season, a number they will nearly match in next year’s freshman class alone after adding a fourth receiver commitment on Thursday. Consensus three-star receiver Kaleb Smith (Rick Reedy High School; Frisco, Texas) announced he will join Notre Dame’s class, and he should sign with the Irish on Dec. 21 when the early signing period begins.

    Smith was committed to Texas Tech for more than nine months before he backed off that pledge in early November. Marcus Freeman does not welcome official visitors who are committed to other programs, so if Smith wanted to take an official visit to South Bend to watch Notre Dame play Clemson, he needed to open up his recruitment.

    The Irish 35-13 win against the then-No. 4 Tigers assuredly helped tip the scales away from his homestate Texas Tech.

    Otherwise, Smith has hardly been recruited by anyone. The only other Power Five program to chase him was Baylor when current Notre Dame receivers coach Chansi Stuckey was there.

    Listed at only 6-foot and 168 pounds, it is easy to pencil in Smith as a slot receiver, but he is also willing to go up in the air to get the ball. His highlight footage features him repeatedly and astonishingly open.

    His size, or lack thereof, will make Smith unique among the quartet of incoming signees. By snagging four receivers in this class, the Irish are proactively fixing an undeniable roster problem. In last year’s Fiesta Bowl, Notre Dame had only four receivers available. Through most of this season, in part due to injuries to Avery Davis and Joe Wilkins, the Irish had a total of six receivers available, including former walk-on Matt Salerno.

    While Braden Lenzy will not return for the Irish in 2023, current sophomores Jayden Thomas, Deion Colzie and Lorenzo Styles should all come back, along with current freshman Tobias Merriweather. With these four commitments, a position group of eight may allow Notre Dame to have a genuine two-deep.

    If signing four receivers in a class and seven in two years seems like an unsustainable influx, keep in mind two things. First of all, the Irish desperately need to find receiver depth. Lenzy was famously and admittedly exhausted at the end of that Fiesta Bowl faceplant 11 months ago. One more injury this season would have further crippled Notre Dame’s passing game in 2022. Secondly, the one-time transfer allowance will make departures from the program both more common and more alluring to the players. Natural attrition will occur.

    RELATED READING: A third four-star receiver commitment, Jaden Greathouse, elevates Notre Dame’s class of 2023 from good to Great
    Four-star receiver Rico Flores Jr.’s commitment gives Notre Dame some receiver hope for 2023
    Four-star Texas receiver Braylon James gives Notre Dame needed offensive piece in class of 2023

    CB Cam Hart out for Notre Dame’s bowl game, but will return in 2023

    Notre Dame v North Carolina
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    Perhaps earlier than expected, Notre Dame has already received good news this offseason. Senior cornerback Cam Hart will return for a fifth year in South Bend, though he will not put on pads for the Irish in any bowl game, he announced Tuesday evening.

    “Due to a shoulder injury that I sustained during the Boston College Game [sic], I could not participate in our final regular season game and will not be able to participate in this year’s bowl game,” Hart wrote on Twitter. “Consequently, I believe my time here isn’t necessarily complete. Choosing to attend the University of Nore Dame has been the best decision I’ve ever made in my entire life.

    “In light of that, I’ve decided to return for a fifth season and look forward to taking the field with my brothers in 2023!”

    Hart’s 2023 return should give the Irish four returning cornerbacks with starting experience, only fifth-year nickel back Tariq Bracy a notable departure from this year’s cornerbacks group.

    Note: The use of “should” is not meant to imply anything about other possibilities. The conditional verb is chosen as recognition of the constantly changing rosters in college football in 2022.

    Hart took part in Notre Dame’s Senior Day festivities before facing Boston College, which suggested he was at least considering jumping to the NFL. This quick announcement indicates the injury ruled out that thought process, though the injury had plagued him at points earlier in the season.

    A shoulder injury first flared up for Hart this year in the spring of 2022, costing him spring practices. A concern had previously cost him some of 2019, as he adapted from playing receiver in high school. He nonetheless played in 11 games in 2022, starting 10 and making 25 tackles with three for loss and breaking up four passes.

    His passes defensed fell from nine in 2021, along with two interceptions, in part because opposing quarterbacks were less enticed to test the increasingly-experienced cornerback. His 6-foot-2 ½ length made Hart something just short of a shutdown cornerback.

    With current freshman Benjamin Morrison surging to close this season and classmate Jaden Mickey stepping in for Hart at USC, Notre Dame should enjoy a plethora of tested cornerbacks in 2023. (Current junior Clarence Lewis is the aforementioned fourth.)

    In many respects, this will allow the Irish defense to begin the 2023 season with the same calm it had in 2022, when Hart, Lewis and Bracy provided experienced pass defense.

    “You have three older veteran corners that can really play at any moment, which makes you feel good,” head coach Marcus Freeman said in August. “Those three guys can play those two corner spots and I don’t feel there will be a drop off with any of them.”

    There are a few key decisions left on Notre Dame’s defense — most notably, defensive end Justin Ademilola and safety Brandon Joseph could return in 2023 — but most of them may come after any Irish bowl game. Hart’s choice was presumably expedited by his apparent exclusion from the bowl game due to this injury.

    HART CAREER STATISTICS
    2020: 8 games; 3 tackles, 2 passes defended.
    2021: 13 games, 10 starts; 42 tackles with four for loss, 9 passes defended and two interceptions.
    2022: 11 games, 10 starts; 25 tackles with three for loss, 4 passes defended.

    RELATED READING: Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 5 Cam Hart, senior cornerback, second-year starter