Notebook: Recent Purdue history has attention of Kelly, Notre Dame

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

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SOUTH BEND —The bloated point spread, the uncertainty at quarterback in the opposing camp, the admission from Purdue head coach Darrell Hazell that his team missed 17 tackles Saturday kind of cornered Brian Kelly into cliché-land on Tuesday.

All the fifth-year Notre Dame head football coach was lacking perhaps was the ability to channel mentor and coaching icon Lou Holtz and utter, “We’re scared to death about the University of Purdue.”

Actually, some recent history with the Purdue University football team could put a scare into the 11th-ranked Irish (2-0), which would be fine with Kelly as an anti-apathy remedy. The teams meet for the 69th straight season and 86th overall Saturday night, but for the final time until 2020.

Kelly said there’s no word on whether any of the five indefinitely suspended players, at the center of the university’s academic fraud investigation, could rejoin the team this week.

The last two games in the Purdue series have both been decided late in the fourth quarter and by a combined 10 points. That’s 11 points fewer than what Central Michigan beat Purdue (1-1) by Saturday in West Lafayette.

That followed a narrow escape of Western Michigan (43-34) in week one, the lone FBS victory on Hazell’s résumé in 14 games since succeeding purged head coach Danny Hope last season.

“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,” Kelly said at his weekly Tuesday press conference. “We know our opponent, and we know about the resolve that they'll play with.

“They'll get a lot of enthusiasm and emotion on their side, so we know what's going to happen Saturday night from Purdue's end. Now it's about what we do and how we respond to that. ”

The site this time is Indianapolis, and there’s some dubious history there that Kelly can use as motivation. Thirty seasons ago, Gerry Faust’s eighth-ranked Irish entered the dedication game of the old Hoosier Dome as a 21-point favorite and left on the wrong end of a 23-21 score.

This meeting will be in the Hoosier/RCA Dome’s replacement, 6-year-old Lucas Oil Stadium, as part of the Shamrock Series. The Irish have won the previous five off-site home game contests.

If the 28½-point spread holds through the week, the Boilermakers will be the largest underdog Notre Dame has faced since taking on 29-point underdog Stanford in 2006 (a tip of the cap to IrishEyes.com’s Tim O’Malley.)

And in this week’s bowl projections provided by college football analyst Phil Steele, Purdue is the only one of ND’s 12 opponents not to be projected into either a bowl game or the college football playoff.

Steele projects Notre Dame, incidentally, to face Kansas State in the Russell Athletic Bowl in Orlando.

Hazell is contemplating replacing incumbent sophomore starter Danny Etling at quarterback with sophomore Austin Appleby, who would be making his first career start against the Irish if it goes that way.

Perhaps he can take some encouragement from the quarterback who faced the Irish last season in the 31-24 near upset. Since-graduated Rob Henry gashed the Irish defense for a career-high 256 passing yards and three touchdowns. Less than three weeks later, he had lost his job to Etling and was working a safety.

“I think with this football team in particular, and we'll just talk about 2014, they just enjoy playing,” Kelly said. “Whether it's Purdue or North Carolina, it's always been about preparation for this group and not about the opponent, per se.

“So as long as we keep that as central to how we play each and every week and not rise to a particular opponent, then I feel really good about going into this week and our opponent.”

Raise the roof?

The retractable roof at Lucas Oil Stadium will be open Saturday, a Notre Dame official said Tuesday, barring a change in the weather forecast.

The weather forecast, per weather.com, calls for a high of 64 during the day and low of 44 at night, with partly cloudy skies and a 10 percent chance of rain during the day, 0 percent at night.

For those who are sticklers for detail, the UV Index is 7 and the moonphase is a Waning Giobbous.

NFL rules for roof openings — which don’t apply here but are interesting, nonetheless — allows the home team determines if the roof is to be opened or closed 90 minutes before kickoff.

The exceptions are if precipitation is within the vicinity, the temperature is below 40 degrees, or wind gusts are greater than 40 mph. Then roof is automatically closed. It remains open unless there are hazardous conditions (lightning, severe winds, precipitation, low temperatures, etc.) Once closed, the roof may not be reopened.

Kelly didn’t have a strong preference one way or another.

“I would kind of defer to what they normally do there,” he said. “I think for us, more than anything else, it's kind of like when we're indoors at Loftus, it's not about hot or cold as much as ventilation.

“So whatever gives us the best air flow, even if it's a little cooler for those that are in the stands, I really don't care. It's more about ventilation for us. “

Grace period?

Another week of encouraging little signs, but another week of a fuzzy timetable for a return for former starting middle linebacker Jarrett Grace.

The 6-foot-3, 253-pound senior, whose last game action was Oct. 5 against Arizona State, won’t play Saturday against Purdue.

Given the complications of returning from a leg fractured in four places that has required two surgeries, has Kelly considered punting 2014 and pressing for a sixth-year petition eventually that would give Grace eligibility in 2015 and 2016?

“We're going to continue to press,” Kelly said of a 2014 return. “I think we have to keep that for him — the thought of playing this year. There has to be something there for him to keep pushing and motivating factors to play football this year.

“There is still a lot of football out there. We've got two bye weeks along the way.”

Personnel matters

Sophomore wide receiver Torii Hunter was scheduled to work at full speed and with live contact Tuesday as he recovers from a groin tear suffered Aug. 5, the second day of training camp.

His status of Saturday night, should become clearer later in the week. The 6-foot, 190-pound Prosper, Texas, product missed all of the 2013 season while recovering from a broken leg.

“He's an explosive player,” Kelly said of the player Irish fans will see when he finally makes his debut. “He is somebody that yards after the catch, I think, will be one (quality) that we'll talk about.

“He's a strong player in the sense that he can handle somebody on top of him. 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 (wide receiver spots).

“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.”

• Starting safety Austin Collinsworth will miss his third straight game with an MCL injury in his right knee.

Moving on — again

Former Notre Dame running back/slot receiver Will Mahone’s stay on the Youngstown State football team was short-lived.

The Austintown, Ohio, product was auditioning at linebacker for the handful of days he was with the FCS program. He did not play in a game for the Penguins and is no longer on the team.

Mahone’s ND career ended this summer after a June arrest that initially resulted in five charges, three of which were felonies. On July 23, he pleaded guilty to four misdemeanor counts, which include resisting arrest, disorderly conduct, assault and aggravated menacing. He was sentenced to 10 days of jail time.

Squibs

• Notre Dame sophomore linebacker Jaylon Smith was named the Lott Impact Player of the Week, a national award for defensive players, for his 10-tackle performance against Michigan last Saturday night.

• After Notre Dame's 31-0 win over Michigan, ND's national championship odds went from 50-1 to 25-1 per Bovada.LV. Michigan’s went from 50-1 to 250-1.

Since the Michigan game, Irish quarterback Everett Golson's Heisman Trophy odds down to 16-1 from 20-1. Six players are ahead of him, led by Oregon's Marcus Mariota at 11-2.

• Mishawaka Marian High product Kirk Barron, a 6-foot-1, 305-pound freshman, is listed as Purdue’s second-team center for Saturday night’s contest.

• Purdue is 1-16 all-time against teams ranked 11th in the country. The one win, though, is against Notre Dame.

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly will have plenty to motivate his 11th-ranked Irish heading into Saturday's game against Purdue at Lucas Oil Stadium. (SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)

The University of Notre Dame’s Shamrock Series football game Saturday against Purdue at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis will also include a series of events throughout the weekend at various locations in the Indianapolis area.

Here are some of the featured events during the weekend:

• A Friday night pep rally in the Georgia Street/Pan Am Plaza area in downtown Indianapolis featuring the Band of the Fighting Irish, the Notre Dame cheerleaders, Irish Guard and the leprechaun (free and open to the public; 4:30-6:30 p.m. EDT).

• A Saturday morning Shamrock Series 5K run from Bankers Life Fieldhouse through downtown Indianapolis to Pan Am Plaza (8 a.m. EDT; signup/registration details at gameday.nd.edu). Registration is $30 through Thursday—and $35 on event day. Proceeds benefit graduate student fellowships at Notre Dame.

• A Saturday morning Mass at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church (126 W. Georgia Street in Indianapolis), with Indianapolis Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin, as celebrant and Notre Dame president Rev. John I. Jenkins as homilist (10 a.m. EDT; free and open to the public)

• The Shamrock Series Fan Fest in the Georgia Street/Pan Am Plaza area, featuring food trucks, a beer tent, an Under Armour merchandise tent, live musical entertainment, Indy racing cars, inflatable games, interview segments with VIP guests, plus appearances by McKillen and Indy Irish Fest musicians (11 a.m.-6 p.m. EDT Saturday; entry is free and open to the public).

• The Notre Dame band pregame concert that begins at 4:15 p.m. EDT at Monument Circle and then moves to Pan Am Plaza (4:45-5:15 p.m. EDT Saturday; free and open to the public). The Band of the Fighting Irish at 5:25 p.m. EDT will step off from Pan Am Plaza to Lucas Oil Stadium.

The Westin Indianapolis will include a Notre Dame Hammes Bookstore satellite store, as well as hospitality desks manned by the Notre Dame Alumni Association, Notre Dame University Relations and Anthony Travel.

WHAT: No. 11 Notre Dame (2-0) vs. Purdue (1-1)

WHEN: Saturday at 7:30 p.m. (EDT)

WHERE: Lucas Oil Stadium; Indianapolis

TV: NBC

RADIO: WSBT-AM (960), WSBT-FM (96.1), WNSN -FM (101.5)

LINE: Notre Dame by 28 1/2.