Let’s state the obvious: Either No. 12 Notre Dame or Purdue will suffer its first loss today. Based on the last two weeks, one could be forgiven for thinking it will be the Irish who will fall short, despite being favored by more than a touchdown.
Or perhaps Notre Dame’s struggles to start this season are exactly why it will prevail.
“They’ve had to work for the last two wins, which actually from their standpoint really is a good thing,” Boilermakers head coach Jeff Brohm said. “It gives them a chance to see the few things they need to work on to get better, but they found a way to win.
“That’s what winning football teams do.”
Brohm may as well have been paraphrasing Irish head coach Brian Kelly’s favorite postgame platitude: “Winning is hard.”
It is, and Notre Dame has proven itself a winning team by, well, winning these last two weeks, but Brohm’s point is still quite valid: The Irish have seen the things they need to work on.
Things To Learn: #NotreDame's questions run deep after two weeks, from inconsistent defensive performances to a tentative QB rotation — https://t.co/GFi6LfAb1G
— Notre Dame on NBC (@NDonNBC) September 17, 2021
TIME, TV: 2:30 ET on NBC. The game will also be streamed on Peacock. The broadcast will feature NBC Sports’ analyst Drew Brees in his second game with “ND on NBC,” this one rather notable given the eventual Hall of Famer starred for Purdue at the turn of the century. He will have to avoid old habits when discussing the Boilermakers today. Any usage of “we” would come across as unbiased.
“It’s probably going to be tough,” Brees said, probably joking. “But no, I can be a pro.”
Brees anticipates only improving as an analyst. After all, his first game included the most fundamental of lessons, realizing how much he had at his fingertips in the way of resources.
“I felt like I started off kind of slow for the first maybe quarter-and-a-half of that Notre Dame-Toledo game, just kind of trying to find the rhythm,” he said. “Probably midway through the second quarter, I felt like the lightbulb came on and it started to feel pretty natural. …”
“A lot of it is understanding what resources you have in the booth. TV screens — one has the program on it, one has the replay. A lot is having a conversation with Mike Tirico. And how do you want to communicate with the fans? I want to heighten the overall experience for those watching.”
Those Brees is aiming to help obviously are not the fans in the stands, however few or many they may be. A week ago, only 62,009 fans filled Notre Dame Stadium, a low in the 25 seasons since the stadium expanded before the 1997 season. Given the circumstances of the pandemic, Kelly did not express disappointment over the 16,000 empty seats, preferring them to be empty rather than filled with opposing fans.
“I don’t want to be in there when we play other teams and there’s more fans in the stands than our fans,” Kelly said Monday. “That’s when I’ll really be concerned.”
With today reportedly at or near a sellout, Kelly’s concern may be closer to reality against Purdue.
“I know our fans, I’ve heard it for the last six months, they’re looking forward to this game and getting a chance to go up there and watch Purdue play at Notre Dame,” Brohm said. “I’m happy that we get that opportunity and hopefully we can take advantage of it.”
As anyone on campus just heard, tomorrow's flyover aircraft have arrived! #iloveairplanenoise pic.twitter.com/QlcQbYRP4R
— Matt Cashore (@mattcashore) September 17, 2021
PREVIEW: The Irish ability to develop an offensive rhythm Will Likely once again hinge on two quarterbacks. While Kelly has switched quarterbacks midseason throughout his Notre Dame tenure — a stretch that is now one win away from tying Knute Rockne for the most wins in program history with 105 — this scenario is different.
Kelly’s most successful quarterback swap came in 2018. Three weeks into the year, Kelly replaced starter Brandon Wimbush with Ian Book, and the Irish stormed to the College Football Playoff, only turning back to Wimbush when an injury knocked Book out of one game late in the season.
When he was calling upon now-offensive coordinator Tommy Rees in clutch moments in 2012, Kelly would return to Everett Golson the next week for the bulk of the work. Rees’ cameos were educational opportunities of a sort, ones where the wily veteran could keep Notre Dame’s unbeaten season afloat.
In this rendition, graduate transfer Jack Coan and freshman Tyler Buchner will split time within an individual series. To a much smaller extent, Brees has some first-hand experience in that scenario, with the New Orleans Saints dabbling with utility knife Taysom Hill in place of Brees in particular moments the last three seasons of Brees’ career.
“It will be interesting to see how it evolves,” Brees said. “Right now it certainly appears that when Tyler Buchner is in the game, that really is the source of Notre Dame’s run game. Whether he’s the one running it or he just is a threat who is, in essence, taking up a tackler, [the opposing defense has] to account for him, so there are more favorable run looks for the backs.
“How does that evolve as it goes along? I definitely think that obviously the more reps he gets, the more confidence he’s going to gain, the more confidence the coaching staff will have in him, the more that they’ll begin to open up the playbook for him. That’s a winning formula for Notre Dame having both those guys involved in the plan.”
PREDICTION: Depending on the time of day and location, the Irish are favored by 7 or 7.5 points. As of Saturday’s earliest hours, that number is 7.5 with a combined point total over/under of 58.
That basic math predicts a 33-25 conclusion.
The Boilermakers reaching the mid-20s like that — four scores, for all intents and purposes — is hard to believe given they scored only 30 against Oregon State, and even though Notre Dame’s defense has allowed 30 points per game through two weeks, it is far better than the Beavers’. (SP+ ranks Oregon State’s defense No. 107 in the country, compared to the Irish at No. 33.)
Purdue did that with leading rusher Zander Horvath. Losing him for the next 4-8 weeks to a broken fibula furthers doubts the Boilermakers will score four times or find the end zone three or more times.
Undoubtedly, at some point, star Purdue receiver David Bell will break a big play the likes of which have plagued the Irish defense to date, but if Notre Dame improves to the extent of allowing only one chunk score in a game, rather than two, then suddenly that 30 points per game average would fall to 23 or so.
To help that cause even more, the Irish could find a run game, any run game. The usage of Buchner, as Brees detailed, makes that more likely. That success will cut into the Boilermakers’ time of possession while also helping Notre Dame score points without needing to panic in the game’s final moments.
The Irish have won 25 straight at home and 34 straight against unranked opponents. Make that 26 and 35. Kelly ties Rockne, and Purdue gets its first loss.
Notre Dame 34, Purdue 20.
(Straight up — 2-0; Against the spread — 1-1; Over/under — 2-0.)
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Under Jeff Brohm, Purdue has been a road underdog seven times. The Boilermakers went 6-1 ATS with two outright wins…
— Chris Fallica (@chrisfallica) September 16, 2021
INSIDE THE IRISH
— Notre Dame’s ‘survival’ of turnovers an annual occurrence
— Jack Kiser’s Purdue ties run deep, but the LB trusts his family not to do anything ‘stupid’
— USC’s, Navy’s coaching changes show how rare Irish stability is
— And In That Corner … Purdue’s return to ND comes at key point in Jeff Brohm’s tenure
— Things To Learn: Defensive, OL and QB questions linger as ND reunites with Purdue
— Renovation, COVID protocols keep Purdue drum out of Notre Dame Stadium
— An ode to Notre Dame Stadium’s new visitors tunnel
— Football weekend events: Notre Dame vs. Purdue
— Notre Dame linebacker Jack Kiser’s small-town Indiana story comes full circle with Purdue in focus again
— Notre Dame’s Jack Kiser took a different path than his Purdue-loving family
— ‘We are still in a pandemic’: Students report new difficulties with University’s COVID-19 response
— Not tHERE yet
— Navy football assistant Ivin Jasper looking forward, not back, as he returns to work
— The top 5 jobs in college football: 100-plus coaches and staff vote, with Bama on top and 8 more earning No. 1 nods
— Mountain West commissioner pushes back against possible poaching from AAC
For the @NDFootball offensive line, Thursday is pizza night — now sponsored by Jet’s Pizza. A couple of months after the new rules went into effect, the position group is taking advantage of NIL opportunities!
I talked about on it on last week’s pregame show on @peacockTV: pic.twitter.com/WtlXSFBsC6
— Caroline Pineda (@carolinepineda_) September 17, 2021