With Michigan in past, focus shifts to Purdue

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As Brian Kelly pointed out on Saturday night, the decisive victory over Michigan counts as only one win. So while Saturday night’s game against Purdue looks like one of the more lopsided on the Irish schedule, consider the past two matchups.

The Irish looked like prohibitive favorites in both 2012 and 2013, only to slip away with victory against Danny Hope and then Darrell Hazell’s respective squads. In 2012, Kelly called in Tommy Rees for the save. Rees entered to a chorus of boos from the crowd, but completed a heroic third down conversion to John Goodman before Kyle Brindza kicked the game-winning field goal 20-17.

Last year, the Irish were down heading into the fourth quarter before DaVaris Daniels made a big play and Bennett Jackson scored on a pick six to sneak away with a 31-24 victory. So if you think Purdue plans on ending the fourth-longest consecutive game streak in the history of college football quietly, you best think again.

“We began Monday talking about the games we’ve had against Purdue over the last couple years have been really tough ones,” Kelly said today. “Last year 31‑24, and certainly two years ago here at Notre Dame leading a great come back.  Tommy Rees coming in and mounting a comeback to beat Purdue.

“So we know a lot about the kind of challenge it will have from an in‑state rival in Purdue. Made it clear to our team that it’s really about our preparation again this week and how we prepare is going to be really what we focus on this week.  We know our opponent, and we know about the resolve that they’ll play with.”

With Boilermakers head coach unwilling to commit to quarterback Danny Etling, the Irish will need to prepare for backup Austin Appleby, who threw for a touchdown on his first attempt against Central Michigan. The secondary will welcome back Taylor Richards from a two-game suspension as well.

So while a lopsided loss to Kelly’s former Chippewas program has some believing this will be a cake walk, the Irish staff has sounded the alarm. Now the players will have to heed the warning.

“If you watch the film and turn it on you really see two different teams,” Kelly said, talking about the Boilermakers squad they usually face. “Last year they had a game that went right down to the end against Indiana State, it was 20‑17.  The week before they got blown out against Cincinnati. And then they play us to obviously a tight ballgame.  It’s just in‑state rival. Just throw out all of what happened before, and they just played very, very well with a great deal of enthusiasm and emotion, and we’re going to have to meet and exceed that.”

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Torii Hunter Jr. will begin working with the team as he nears a return from a groin tear. With a bye week after Purdue, it might not be worth bringing Hunter back for Saturday night, but Kelly is keeping the window open.

“Hunter will work in to some team work and see how he goes today,” Kelly said. “Now we’ll get into some full speed cutting, (passing skeleton), and seven on seven team work and see how he responds to that.  He’s been working the passing tree, doing things against air.  Now we’ll put some live bodies up against him and see how he goes today.”

What we’ll see from Hunter when he does return remains to be seen. Kelly talked about his potential fit in the offense and what the redshirt freshman will bring to the field.

“He’s first of all somebody that is explosive. He’s an explosive player,” Kelly said. “He is somebody that yards after the catch I think will be one that we’ll talk about. He’s a strong player in the sense that he can handle somebody on top of him. It will be interesting to see.

“I think we’ve got to get him out there and really figure out what position. He’s somebody that could really play all three. He could be in the slot, but he could play on the perimeter. I’m anxious to really figure out where it is. But there is no question when we get him healthy he’s going to get an opportunity to play for us.”

After missing last season as he recovered from a broken femur suffered at U.S. Army All-American Bowl practice, getting Hunter onto the field feels long overdue.

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After struggling in his first start, safety Elijah Shumate was a huge factor on Saturday night, finishing tied for the team lead with 10 tackles and ending the game with a triumphant interception and touchdown return, the second part nullified by a Max Redfield personal foul.

When asked about the step Shumate took forward, Kelly talked about not just the complete game he played on the field, but his ability to step outside his comfort zone and communicate with his teammates.

“I think this was probably the best game that he’s played since he’s been here,” Kelly said. “What he did that he hasn’t been doing is he communicated so much more effectively outside of what his normal comfort level is. And I think we’ve talked about this a little bit.

“He’s not a guy that really is somebody that speaks out, and he’s not a great communicator.  He keeps to himself.  He did a really good job.  But there are still things that he has to improve on there. I really think it was he didn’t want to let his teammates down.  He knew he was counted on.  When you’re placed into that position, he didn’t want to let his teammates down.  I think that was really the impetus that put him in the kind of role of playing the way he did on Saturday.”