What's boiling? Purdue playing well entering game with Notre Dame football
{{ timeAgo('2021-09-14 09:02:35 -0500') }} football Edit

What’s boiling? Purdue playing well entering game with Notre Dame football

How long has it been since Notre Dame lost to Purdue? Put it this way: the last time it happened, the very first iPhone was released exactly three months prior — Sept. 29, 2007. A lot has changed since then.

For starters, Notre Dame has beaten Purdue seven straight times. The Irish have changed head coaches just once, from Charlie Weis to Brian Kelly. The Boilermakers have made three changes, from Joe Tiller to Danny Hope to Darrell Hazell to Jeff Brohm.

Coaching changes tend to mean a lack of stability. A struggling program. In simple terms, more losses than wins. That has surely been the case in the last 14 seasons.

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Since Purdue beat Notre Dame 33-19 in West Lafayette 14 years ago, the Boilermakers have gone 59-100 while the Irish have gone 116-51.

And yet, Brohm is confident in this Purdue team — the fifth of his tenure.

“I really feel like that we’re close,” Brohm said. “We have been in a lot of close games without question. We got to learn how to compete and finish and do a lot of small things a little bit better.

“But that’s part of growing and part of learning and part of coaching is improving and figuring out how to find a way to win.”

The first game of this season was a step in the right direction, for sure. Brohm and the Boilermakers beat Oregon State 30-21. The Beavers haven’t exactly equated to a quality win over the last decade, though. They’ve had their fair share of coaching changes — three since 2014 — and more than their fair share of losses. Seven straight losing seasons, in fact.

Purdue then blew out UConn — another vastly struggling program — 49-0 in week two.

So, what kind of threat does Purdue present to a Notre Dame team that hasn’t lost at home in 25 tries? On the surface, not much of one. But maybe Brohm is right. Maybe Purdue is on the cusp of stringing together wins in a way it hasn’t since a pair of 6-6 regular seasons in Brohm’s first two years on the job.

Of course, 6-6 isn’t the signature sign of glowing success. But for a program that recorded a losing record in eight of the previous nine seasons before Brohm arrived from Western Kentucky in 2017, a 7-6 mark with a win over Arizona in the Foster Farms Bowl that first year wasn’t so bad.

Purdue started 2-0 in last year’s COVID-shortened season before losing its final four games of the year. The kicker? Three of the four defeats came by a touchdown or less. The Boilermakers closed the season with a 37-27 loss to Nebraska.

Purdue has been in games. It just hasn’t gotten over the hump.

“We’ve got to understand that win or lose, you’ve got to be tough enough to move on to the next game regardless of how good you played, which you can sometimes let your foot off the gas, or how bad you possibly have played, where you sometimes start to second-guess and doubt and listen to a few naysayers,” Brohm said.

Powerful passing

Purdue was average or just below it in every sense of the word last season.

The Boilermakers had the country’s No. 56 total defense and No. 70 total offense. They allowed a shade less than 400 yards per game and gained a touch more than 390. They allowed a hair less than 30 points per game and scored just more than 27. Obviously, if those sets of numbers reversed then it could be the difference between 2-4 and 4-2.

The conversation about Purdue wouldn’t be what does Brohm have to do to get the program going in the right direction, but whether it can stay pointed upward. At the moment, Purdue is teetering on a seesaw favoring the low end of it. Like Brohm said — his team is close, but it’s just not fully there yet. It isn’t at the point where it can go on the road to play a top-15 team like Notre Dame and have talking heads in the media picking an upset special.

Now, if junior quarterback Jack Plummer plays like he did against Oregon State and UConn the rest of the year then maybe that narrative will come about when Purdue takes on No. 10 Iowa and No. 3 Ohio State in hostile environments later this season.

In the two wins, Plummer has connected on 45 of 61 throws for 558 yards with six touchdowns and zero interceptions. He certainly isn’t afraid to sling the ball around a little bit; his 313 yards against Oregon State didn’t come close to his career-high mark of 420 yards against Maryland two years ago. He threw for 327 against Iowa in the very next game that year.

Purdue Boilermakers quarterback Jack Plummer prepares to take on the Notre Dame Fighting Irish football
Purdue junior quarterback Jack Plummer has thrown for 558 yards with six touchdowns and no interceptions during the Boilermakers’ 2-0 start. (AP)

In three games last year, Plummer threw for 367, 237 and 334 yards with eight touchdown passes and two interceptions. This is the first season in which Brohm has handed the keys to the Purdue offense to Plummer, and he has taken them and run with them.

“I thought Jack was a great leader throughout the game, did some good things,” Brohm said of Plummer’s performance in the Oregon State game. “He was able to extend some plays with his feet, which helped us at times. He was able to buy some time to get a couple completions, and buy some time to throw the ball away and not take a sack, and those are always beneficial, and then I thought that down the stretch, he played clutch for us and delivered.

“I think that was just due to the work ethic that he had and the preparation he put in. So, I was proud of his performance.”

It’s no surprise junior wide receiver David Bell was Plummer’s top target. Bell had more than 1,000 receiving yards as a freshman and averaged more than 100 yards per game last season as a sophomore. Bell caught eight passes for 134 yards in in the opener, and added six catches for 121 yards and three touchdowns against UConn.

He’s going to test Notre Dame cornerbacks Cam Hart and Clarence Lewis. At 6-2½ and 205 pounds, the longer, bigger Hart will likely be matched up against him.

“He just makes plays,” Brohm said of Bell. “He’s a guy that has tremendous ball skills. He competes for the football. Normally on a 50/50 ball he’s going to come down with it.

“In a clutch situation where you need to make a play he’s going to get it done.”

Up-and-down defense

Purdue has three defensive coordinators. Yep, that’s right.

The trio of Brad Lambert, Ron English and Mark Hagen were named co-defensive coordinators. Lambert has play-calling duties. Outside of that, it’s a collective effort to put the best defensive product on the field every week.

“I think this year I wanted to get on the defensive side of the ball myself quite a bit more and I wanted to surround myself with a lot of guys that had experience, that wanted to work together, that wanted to put a plan together,” Brohm said. “Yes, there needs to be one play caller, but we want a lot of voices in the room giving their opinion and giving their input and putting the best plan together for our guys to go out there and make plays.”

The Purdue defense held Oregon State to 78 rushing yards on 25 attempts. The passing defense, meanwhile, gave up 285 yards. Notre Dame’s offensive strategy could be the same as it was in the first week against Florida State: come out passing. Graduate student quarterback Jack Coan and company could feast on a Purdue secondary that has struggled in recent seasons. The Boilermakers ranked 94th or worse nationally in passing yards allowed in the last four seasons with a low point of 128th in 2018.

The first game of this season didn’t give Purdue fans many reasons to believe the secondary would finally turn a corner; Purdue came out of Week 1 ranked 100th in passing yards allowed.

With Plummer trying to keep pace with Coan and the Irish, Saturday’s game could be a shootout. And Purdue just isn’t at a place where that will work in its favor — especially on the road at Notre Dame.

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