Notre Dame Football Pre-Spring Opponent Preview: Purdue
A week after parting ways with Michigan for the foreseeable future, Notre Dame will do the same with Purdue. The Irish and Boilermakers, who have met every season since 1946, will not play again until 2020 following their Sept. 13 game at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
Purdue lost 11 games in a season for the first time ever in 2013, defeating FCS member Indiana State for its only win of the season. After a Sept. 28 loss to Northern Illinois, the Boilermakers scored only seven points in the next 41 days (three losses and two bye weeks). Second-year coach Darrell Hazell faces a steep road back to relevancy for a program that went to 10 bowl games in 11 years from 1997 to 2007.
Purdue moves to the new Big Ten West division this season, but will still play rival Indiana annually. The new format should benefit the Boilermakers, but how quickly can Hazell get the program back to respectability? And should Irish fans be worried after Notre Dame was nearly upset last season in West Lafayette?
Purdue kicks off the spring Mar. 6 and will hold its spring game Apr. 12. Let’s look at where things stands with the Boilermakers.
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Date: Sept. 13 (7:30 p.m. ET, NBC)
Site: Lucas Oil Stadium (Indianapolis, Ind.)
Last Meeting: Notre Dame 31, Purdue 24 (2013)
Last Meeting in Indianapolis: Purdue 23, Notre Dame 21 (1984)
Current Win Streak: Notre Dame—6
Record: 1-11 (0-8 Big Ten)
Leading Passer: Danny Etling (Fr.)—149-of-267, 1,690 yards, 10 TD, 7 INT
Leading Rusher: Akeem Hunt (Jr.)—123 carries, 464 yards, 1 TD
Leading Receiver: DeAngelo Hancey (Fr.)—32 receptions, 546 yards, 2 TD
Stats That Matter
Yards Per Play: Purdue—4.32 (118th nationally, 12th in Big Ten); Opponents—5.66 (76th nationally, ninth in Big Ten)
Turnover Margin: -2 (74th nationally, eighth in Big Ten)
Red Zone Touchdown Percentage: Purdue—57.69 percent (83rd nationally, ninth in Big Ten); Opponents—78.57 percent (119th nationally, 12th in Big Ten)
Third-Down Conversions: Purdue—30.81 percent (119th nationally, 12th in Big Ten); Opponents—56.55 percent (124th nationally, 12th in Big Ten)
Explosive Plays: Purdue—31 (123rd nationally, 12th in Big Ten); Opponents—57 (58th nationally, eighth in Big Ten)
Rob Henry’s injury-filled career has come to a close.
After being largely ineffective in five starts last season, Henry was moved to safety for the remainder of the year. The switch paved the way for true freshman Danny Etling to take over the starting role and allowed the Boilermakers to think about the future.
The 6’3” Etling steadily improved as the season progressed, completing more than 60 percent of his passes in each of his final three games with a 6-to-2 TD-to-INT ratio. The numbers aren’t pretty in totality, but there’s now hope at the quarterback position after years of shuffling between Henry and Robert Marve.
Sophomore Austin Appleby, expected to compete for the starting job at this time a year ago, will back up Etling. Appleby threw just six passes last season, but connected on five them—one for a touchdown late in a loss to Iowa.
The Boilermakers should get much more production from the quarterback position in 2014.
When Hazell was hired, the thought was that he could use Akeem Hunt much as he had Dri Archer in his final season at Kent State. Archer had almost 2,500 all-purpose yards for the Golden Flashes in 2012.
While Hunt did have 132 carries and 38 receptions, the struggles of the offense as a whole kept him from breaking out.
The senior returns for his final season in West Lafayette hoping to improve on his 3.77 yards per carry and one touchdown from 2013. At 5’9” and 184 pounds, Hunt isn’t going to grind out yards between the tackles, but is extremely dangerous in space. He had nine receptions and a touchdown against Notre Dame last season.
Fullback Brandon Cottom returns as well. The 259-pound senior had 45 carries last season, mostly in short-yardage situations. Sophomore Dalyn Dawkins and redshirt freshman Keyante Green should factor into the mix as well.
This unit has nowhere to go but up after finishing 124th of 125 teams nationally with just 67.1 yards per game.
O.J. Ross was expected to be Purdue’s top receiver last season, but Ross was suspended from the team in the spring and decided to enter the NFL Supplemental Draft. That left Gary Bush as the leading returning receiver, but the senior did not start a game and had only 10 receptions.
Hazell instead went the youth route. Among the top seven receivers, the only upperclassmen were Hunt and junior tight end Justin Sinz. Freshman DeAngelo Yancey led the Boilermakers with 546 yards, but there was quite a bit of shuffling at the position throughout Purdue’s disappointing season.
The good news for 2014 is that the losses are minimal with only Bush departing among notable contributors. Purdue also gets back tight end Gabe Holmes, who was lost for the season after two games and took a medical redshirt in order to return for a fifth season.
Explosive plays were a problem for this unit a year ago, as the Boilermakers had just 27 pass completions that went 20 yards or longer. As the leash is loosened a bit on Etling, expect Purdue to take a few more chances this season. Having both Holmes and Sinz on the field should help as well.
The offensive line was thought to be a strength for the 2013 Boilermakers, but the running game was a mess and quarterbacks were sacked a whopping 39 times. Youth can’t be blamed, as 32 of the 60 starts were by seniors.
Purdue must replace 64 career starts with the loss of tackles Kevin Pamphile and Justin Kitchens and guard Devin Smith. After starting the first seven games, Smith lost his job to freshman David King. With King, Jordan Roos and center Robert Kugler, the Boilermakers do return their three interior starters from the end of 2013.
With Pamphile and Kitchens gone, Purdue will likely turn to a pair of sophomores from Texas to fill the void. Both J.J. Prince and Cameron Cermin redshirted in 2012 and saw limited action last season.
This unit is less experienced, but can’t fare much worse the 2013 group did.
The strength of the failed Danny Hope tenure at Purdue was defensive line play. Defensive end Ryan Kerrigan was selected in the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft. The 2011 and 2012 Boilermakers teams had as good of a pair of tackles of any in the Big Ten in Bruce Gaston and Kawann Short.
Short, whose play almost helped the Boilermakers stun the Fighting Irish in 2012, departed when Hope did. Gaston returned last season, playing both end and tackle in the team’s new multiple defense. He now departs along with 12-game starter Greg Latta and part-time starting nose guard Ryan Isaac.
The 2014 Boilermakers will be young up front with the only starting experience coming from junior ends Michael Rouse and Zach Watson. Sophomore Jake Replogle, whose three older brothers all played at rival Indiana, could win one of the starting end jobs after playing in seven games as a freshman.
This will be a transition year for the Purdue front—a group which Notre Dame should have little trouble running against come September.
Purdue never figured out what exactly it wanted to do defensively last season, operating out of 3-4, 4-3 and even 3-3-5 formations. Junior Ryan Russell shifted from defensive end to a "Jack" linebacker at midseason, but his numbers declined from 2012. Russell returns for a final season, one which he hopes is more stable than 2013.
Two of the three rotating starters at the inside linebacker positions return. Leading tackler Will Lucas departs, but both Joe Gilliam and Sean Robinson are back for their senior seasons. Gilliam’s six tackles against Notre Dame last September were a season high. He’ll be playing in his home city when he faces the Irish this year in Indianapolis.
Russell is the key to this unit. He showed a lot of promise as a young player, but last season, like it was for most of the Boilermakers, was mostly forgettable. At 270 pounds, he has to be disruptive. If that happens, this unit could be one of the Big Ten’s best linebacking corps.
Will Purdue will be able to play as much nickel in the black-and-blue Big Ten West? The 3-3-5 defense is a good counter to spread offenses, but the Big Ten West, with teams like Iowa, Nebraska and Wisconsin, may be the most physical division in college football.
The Boilermakers secondary is a veteran group now, but its lone loss from 2013 is a big one.
Ricardo Allen started for four years at Purdue, making his college debut all the way in back in Brian Kelly’s first game as Notre Dame head coach. He was a second-team All-Big Ten selection in each of his final three years.
Junior Frankie Williams assumes the No. 1 cornerback role with junior Anthony Brown and senior Taylor Richards returning at safety. Williams was the only Purdue player besides Allen to record multiple interceptions last season. Sophomore Leroy Clark, who started two games last season, has the inside track for the No. 2 cornerback spot.
Purdue’s lone first-team All-Big Ten selection from 2013 was punter Cody Webster, who averaged 43.5 yards in 70 punts. The four-year starter departs, and no other player on the roster has ever punted in a game. Junior kickoff specialist Thomas Meadows could add punting to his 2014 duties.
Junior Paul Griggs is strictly a placekicker, but converted on only six of 12 attempts last season, including 1-of-2 against Notre Dame. His 47-yard kick against the Irish tied for his longest make of the season. Consistency remains an issue for Griggs after two years.
Return duties were shared by a number of players last season. Williams and wide receiver B.J. Knauf both handled punt returns, while Hunt (vs. Indiana State) and Raheem Mostert (vs. Penn State) both had kickoff return touchdowns.
How the return teams will look this season is a mystery heading into the spring.
2013 was a historically bad season for Purdue. There’s no way to sugarcoat 1-11. But Hazell turned around a struggling Kent State program in his previous spot. With a lighter schedule and some stability at quarterback, they could even contend for a bowl.
Etling was thrown into the fire last season after Henry couldn’t cut it, and the young quarterback responded well. There’s enough skill position talent to make some noise if the line holds up. Defensively, well-respected coordinator Greg Hudson looks to be content with a 3-4 base with some 3-3-5 mixed in.
Notre Dame gave a less-than-inspired effort last year against Purdue following the Michigan game. This year’s Boilermakers will be better, but it shouldn’t be enough—even against a lethargic Irish team—to end a six-game losing streak in the series.
Five wins and reclaiming the Old Oaken Bucket from Indiana would be a nice second season for Hazell.