If the first two weeks were any indication as to how the season will play out for the 12th-ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish (2-0), we should expect a roller-coaster of a contest on Saturday when they welcome in the Purdue Boilermakers (2-0). For two teams so close in proximity, this will be the first meeting for the Shillelagh Trophy since 2014.
After it took overtime to beat a now-winless Florida State team in the opener, the Irish had their hands full at home with Toledo as they trailed the Rockets late in the fourth quarter and needed a game-winning touchdown from quarterback Jack Coan with a minute remaining in the contest.
If there was a time for Purdue to upset its in-state rivals, this week would be the time to do it. The Boilermakers are off to a 2-0 start after thrashing Connecticut last week, 49-0, putting up more than 560 yards of total offense while pitching their first shutout in 10 years. Purdue has not beaten a top-10 team on the road since defeating the Irish all the way back on Sept. 28, 1974.
Purdue at No. 12 Notre Dame
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 18 at 2:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Notre Dame -7
When Purdue Has the Ball
Pass, pass, and pass some more. The Boilermakers already rank 17th in the country in pass attempts per game (39.0) and now will be without their starting running back in Zander Horvath, who is expected to miss 4-8 weeks with a broken fibula. Thankfully for Purdue, they have one of the better quarterback-wide receiver duos in the country in stud wideout David Bell and Jack Plummer. The junior receiver caught three touchdown passes last weekend against Connecticut, but that production was to be expected, coming into the year as one of the best in the nation. The play of Plummer has surprised some, as he was entangled in a three-way quarterback battle during fall camp, but has come out firing, completing 74 percent of his passes with six touchdowns and zero interceptions in two games. Oregon State and Connecticut aren't providing much resistance to anyone defensively, but Plummer has done what's to be expected through two games.
Who cares about balance on offense when you're slinging it the way Purdue has to start the year, but the running game remains a concern, as the Boilermakers are averaging just 3.63 yards a carry and will be without their starting running back. This coming after the 2020 season where Purdue finished 124thnationally with just 82 yards per game on the ground. With Horvath out, it will be a committee approach in the backfield with King Doerue, UNLV transfer Dylan Downing, and possibly Ja'Quez Cross looking to pick up the slack.
When Notre Dame Has the Ball
It's unusual to see a Notre Dame offensive line struggle as much as it has through two games. Four starters needed to be replaced this season, but the Irish recruit the position as well as any team in the country and also brought in reinforcements through the transfer portal. But the struggles have mounted not only when it comes to running the football but also in pass protection. The Irish allowed six sacks to Toledo last week and are just 110th nationally in rush offense, averaging well under three yards a carry. Doesn't help when you are down to a third-string left tackle, as Notre Dame lost starter Blake Fisher for 6-8 weeks following the opener and then lost replacement Michael Carmody due to injury against Toledo. Not a position you want to be in with one of the best pass rushers in the country coming into town in defensive end George Karlaftis.
The other storyline to monitor on Saturday will be how head coach Brian Kelly and offensive coordinator Tommy Rees plan to use their quarterbacks, as we did see true freshman Tyler Buchner for a few series against Toledo, which will only raise questions moving forward. Coan has played well through the first two weeks as the starter with a 69 percent completion rate and six touchdowns, but his lack of mobility is noteworthy with how the offensive line is playing. Buchner completed all three of his passes last week while also adding 68 rushing yards on seven attempts, and he may force the staff's hand on playing time down the road.
The Irish appear to be ripe for the picking after nearly falling to a winless Florida State team and a MAC opponent at home thus far in the young season. Two key matchups will favor the Boilermakers on Saturday. Bell is a matchup problem for any defensive back in the country. And Karlaftis might be in the Notre Dame backfield all game long if he's going against a third-string left tackle. Will it be enough to notch their first win in South Bend since 2004? This game is likely in the balance in the fourth quarter if the first two weeks are any indication, but the Irish's luck continues with a narrow win.
Prediction: Notre Dame 31, Purdue 28
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— Written by Mike Bainbridge, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Bainbridge is a graduate of Northern Illinois University. Follow him on Twitter @MBainbridgeCFF.