Players to Watch: Four to keep an eye on during Purdue-Notre Dame football game

Tom Noie
ND Insider
Notre Dame senior defensive lineman Jayson Ademilola has quietly had two solid games to start the 2021 season. The rest of the Irish cannot say the same.

NOTRE DAME 

DL JAYSON ADEMILOLA 

A lot of criticism has been heaped on the Irish defense the first two weeks, but Ademilola has quietly had a solid beginning to his first full season as a starter. The 6-foot-3, 280-pound senior from Jackson, New Jersey has made five stops each in games against Florida State and Toledo. That leaves him one tackle shy of his total tally – 11 – from all of last year heading into Week Three. 

Ademilola also has a tackle for loss and a half a sack in the first two games, which has seen the Irish defense rank 89th nationally in total defense (393.5 yards) and 109th (189 yards per game) against the rush. There have been issues, but No. 57 hasn’t been one. He’s played well, and will need to do so again Saturday, especially because the depth behind Ademilola is so unproven. He’s not. 

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Notre Dame sophomore left tackle Tosh Baker has gone from third string to starter only two weeks into the 201 season.

LT TOSH BAKER 

The Irish might work with their third different starting left tackle in as many weeks if Baker gets the early nod. Freshman Blake Fisher is out for an extended time with a knee injury while sophomore Michael Carmody left in the first half of the Toledo game with a sprained ankle. 

Carmody is listed as the starter, but expect to see a lot of Baker. If Carmody can’t go, the 6-foot-8, 307-pound former four-star prospect will make his first collegiate start. The third-stringer was pushed into extended duty against Toledo for the first time in his two-year career. 

Whoever plays has to do it against one of the game’s best edge rushers in defensive end George Karlaftis. It’s a tall order, one that Irish coach Brian Kelly believes Baker is up for – with a little help from a guard here or a tailback there. Just getting through a complete game would be a big step for an Irish left tackle. Any left tackle. 

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Linebacker Jaylan Alexander has been a handful to deal with through Purdue's first two games. He leads the Boilermakers in tackles.

PURDUE 

LB JAYLAN ALEXANDER 

Pay too much attention to and concern too many guys with the high-motored Karlaftis on the edge and that opens opportunities for the 6-1, 240-pound senior from Hoffman Estates, Illinois to go and do work. 

An honorable mention All-Big Ten selection in 2020, when he was second on the team with 49 tackles, Alexander currently leads the Boilermakers in stops with nine. That included a team-high tying five tackles in Saturday’s 49-0 victory at Connecticut. 

He makes plays at the line of scrimmage and makes plays in space. He just makes plays, a bad sign for an Irish offense that has had trouble getting out of its own way, particularly behind the line of scrimmage.

Avoiding negative plays – i.e. sacks – has been an issue for Notre Dame the first two weeks. Fail to account for Alexander, and it will be three straight weeks. 

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Purdue wide receiver David Bell provides potential game-breaking ability against what has been a shaky and suspect Notre Dame defense.

WR DAVID BELL 

Big plays have been a big problem for the Notre Dame defense to date. Now along comes Bell, who Kelly classified earlier this week as a potential game-breaker. 

The wide receiver and former standout at Warren Central caught six passes for 121 yards and tied his career high with three touchdowns against UConn. The 6-2, 205-pound junior now has 12 games of at least 100 receiving yards, two games shy of tying the school record. He can run every route on the tree, which means Irish corners who haven’t really been tested all that much the first two weeks might be in for a trying afternoon. Let Bell get past them, and they’ll pay. 

Bell leads the Boilers with 281 all-purpose yards. Somebody's due to really test the Irish corners. Bell might be that guy. 

Follow South Bend Tribune and NDInsider columnist Tom Noie on Twitter: @tnoieNDI