How does No. 12 Notre Dame beat Purdue? By following these four keys to the game.
These keys to the game will likely decide Saturday’s matchup between No. 12 Notre Dame (2-0) and Purdue (2-0).
1. Keep Purdue grounded
The Boilermakers have certainly taken note of the two passing plays of 60-plus yards the Irish have allowed in the first two games of the season. Only UAB has allowed more completions (three) of that distance. With Purdue’s offense relying so heavily on the passing game (344 yards per game), the opportunities for big plays will be there against Notre Dame.
Purdue quarterback Jack Plummer certainly has a favorite target in wide receiver David Bell. Limiting the All-Big Ten receiver will be a challenge for the Irish and must be a priority. But defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman has to be careful to not pay so much attention to Bell that Purdue can find mismatches elsewhere against Notre Dame’s defense.
2. Use Buchner wisely
Whatever element of surprise that freshman quarterback Tyler Buchner presented when he entered the game last week against Toledo has been lost forever. Purdue should be well aware of his running ability when he enters the game Saturday. That doesn’t mean he will be easier to defend.
Offensive coordinator Tommy Rees should give Buchner a wider menu of the offense to run. The more he presents as a passing threat, the harder it will be for Purdue to overload the box and try to step the running game. Buchner’s athleticism can benefits Notre Dame’s offensive line and running backs because of the attention required to defend him. If he can be dual-threat as a thrower, the Boilermakers may have little hope in stopping him.
3. Support the offensive line
Barring a stunning turnaround, this Notre Dame offensive line won’t sniff the Joe Moore Award. The unit simply doesn’t have the ability to be dominant right now. But creative play calling from Rees can limit the exposure for Notre Dame’s offensive weakness.
The offensive line can be helped in the running game with more misdirection and read option. More run-pass options will also help take the pressure off the pass protection. It may be painful to limit the effectiveness of tight end Michael Mayer and running back Kyren Williams in the passing game, but they can also help alleviate the pass protection headaches with some chip blocks on the edge.
The coaching staff should demand improvement from Notre Dame’s offensive line, but there’s no sense in making its job more difficult as it tries to find better footing.
4. Don’t flirt with disaster
Believe it or not, football games don’t have to be decided by three points. The Irish have already been through enough late-game drama for the month. If Notre Dame needs more game-winning plays in a fourth quarter or overtime, the Irish luck will likely run out soon.
Notre Dame should try winning a game in convincing fashion. Give the starters some rest. Let the backups finish this one out. Take care of business early, but don’t let off the gas too soon like Freeman did at Florida State.
The longer Purdue remains in the game, the more confident it will become. The Boilermakers have just enough playmakers on offense and defense to sway a close game their way.
Follow ND Insider Tyler James on Twitter: @TJamesNDI.