WEST LAFAYETTE -- Can Purdue win at Notre Dame on Saturday?
You'd better believe it
If it plays to its potential -- and potentially this is the best Boiler team since the 2003 squad went 9-4 with three heartbreaking losses (two in overtime, another by one point) -- it wins at Notre Dame Stadium for the first time since 2004.
So will it win?
That is the key question. If the Boilers do, prospects of a championship season soar. If they don't, well, it's not the end of prospects, but it's an indicator of potential not fulfilled.
Consider what Kawann Short has to say. He's the Boilers' standout defensive tackle, a 6-3, 315-pound guy athletic enough to still dunk a basketball. He has to be a difference maker, and that starts with stuffing the run.
Notre Dame rushed for 295 yards last Saturday against Navy. Purdue needs to reduce that by about 200 yards.
“Their O-line is great up front,” Short said. “Now we'll see what our defense is really about. It basically will be power on power. We'll see who has the advantage.”
Here's one Boiler advantage. Short played just 30 snaps against Eastern Kentucky because coaches wanted younger guys to get work. Figure he'll get 70 to 80 snaps against Notre Dame unless the Boilers produce a bunch of Irish three-and-outs.
“I expect a lot of double teams,” Short said. “It will take a lot of energy to deal with, but it will open things up for the linebackers.”
Energy includes harassing Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson, a dual-threat sophomore who started his first college game against Navy and threw for 144 yards and a touchdown. He didn't run because he didn't have to. He likely will have to against Purdue.
“He's like a lot of the quarterbacks in the Big Ten,” Short said. “He's very versatile and moves around out of the pocket. We've got to keep him contained and help our DBs.”
Short, by the way, grew up in East Chicago, Indiana, where college talk mostly centered on Notre Dame and IU.
“I didn't hear about Purdue,” he said. “All the young kids wanted to go to Notre Dame. It was a dream to make it there. They didn't recruit me. They talked to me after I had committed to Purdue. Once I opened my eyes, I made the right choice in coming to Purdue.”
Purdue has a roster full of right choices. It has speed to burn with its small-but-athletic receivers, versatile tight ends and don't-let-'em-breath defensive backs. It has more starting experience at quarterback than any team in the country (four players have started at least one game). There's a bit of uncertainty at linebacker and with the kickers, but the Eastern Kentucky victory helped solidify things.
Football is a passionate game played by fierce competitors, and the Boilers have plenty of those.
“The one thing about this team that sticks out in my mind is that they really compete against each other,” Hope said. “They get after it in practice. Sometimes we go so hard I'm afraid we'll leave it on the practice field. I'm trying to slow them down so we can be fresh on Saturdays.
“This team has a lot of pride. They're very motivated and driven. They get themselves in position to expect to win.”
Expectations can lead to pressure, but not more than the Boilers can handle, Hope added.
“We know what a big game this is. It's a huge game. But it's certainly not a one-game season.
“We feel good about about how we match up against them. They're a great program and a great team, but this is the best team we've had at Purdue from a talent standpoint. So our odds of wining have increased. That's exciting.”
So will Purdue win?
If it plays with discipline, focus and intensity, you'd better believe it.
Boiler keys to success
1. Minimize the turnovers -- Purdue committed four against Eastern Kentucky. That can't happen again, especially not at Notre Dame Stadium.
2. Defensive line dominance -- The Boilers have to dictate with a line anchored by All-America candidate Kawann Short. Can they do it against a big, strong, veteran Irish offensive line? Victory depends on it.
3. Pressure Everett Golson -- The Boilers have to get to him early and often. He's young with limited experience. Purdue can't let him get comfortable passing.
4. Play-making quarterbacks -- Purdue's three quarterbacks have to make plays. This is Caleb TerBush's season debut. He has to be poised and accurate, especially early. The same is true with Robert Marve. Add Rob Henry and you have the potential to give the Irish defense fits.
5. Win the special teams -- Coach Danny Hope talks about this area giving Purdue the winning edge. That has to happen on Saturday. Special teams coordinator J.B. Gibboney will earn his salary.