It’s hard to ever really classify a season opener as a “must win” scenario, however, in the case of Brian Kelly and the Fighting Irish, it is exactly what they face. A team loaded with talent is playing at home as an 11 point favorite in front of 80,000 plus fans in what figures to be the most electric environment since the USC game in 2005. The Irish open up with in-state rival Purdue on Saturday as they attempt to get the Brian Kelly era started off in the right direction. Exactly 100% of the pressure is on the Irish to win their home opener and start off 1-0 heading into the Michigan game next week in South Bend.
In what should be a fairly high scoring affair (over/under 55 pts), look for key turnovers to either keep this game close (Purdue) or turn it into a blowout (ND). Notre Dame has the following working in their favor: 80,000 fan home field advantage, superior talent at nearly every position, and a new coach who runs an offense that has never been stopped anywhere he has been in the last 19 years. There is good reason that the Irish are an 11 pt favorite in this game; and for the Boilers to keep it close, they will have to rely on turnovers, forcing ND to kick field goals in the red zone, and Miami transfer Robert Marve making as many big plays as Tate Forcier did vs the Irish last year in leading Michigan to an upset victory in Ann Arbor. The issue for Purdue in this game is simple. Notre Dame is absolutely loaded at the skill positions, boasting the best WR in the nation in Michael Floyd, the best TE in the nation in Kyle Rudolph, and a stable of 4 talented running backs led by Armando Allen and the next big star out South Bend, Cierre Wood. Throw in Theo Riddick, this years version of Golden Tate (explosive athlete converted to slot receiver from running back) and you have a Purdue defense that simply doesn’t have answers for all of the above. Purdue’s run defense ranked dead last in the Big Ten last year for the second year in a row and their young secondary is projected to be even worse against the pass. Assuming Dayne Crist does not get hurt and the Irish are able to keep defensive end Ryan Kerrigan in check, look for this game to be decided fairly early behind the electricity of the home crowd screaming for Brian Kelly to restore the most prominent brand in college football back to where it belongs…at the top.
On the Purdue side of the ball, the biggest talk may be revolve around who won’t be in uniform on Saturday. Ralph Bolden, the third leading rusher in the Big Ten last season, tore the ACL in his right knee during spring practice and is likely out for the year. With very little experience behind him, Purdue will likely struggle to run the football all season. On a positive note, the Boilers are expecting big things from quarterback Robert Marve this year. Marve, a transfer from the University of Miami, is a big time talent who will be looking for first team All Big Ten receiver Keith Smith early and often. Smith led the Big Ten with 91 receptions last year and shouldn’t have too much trouble finding his way against a vulnerable Notre Dame secondary. On the other side of the ball, All American senior DE Ryan Kerrigan leads a veteran defense that will be looking to do what they do best, attack the quarterback. Kerrigan isn’t the only player the Irish have to worry about. Defensive end Gerald Gooden had eight tackles for loss and 4 1/2 sacks last season while outside linebackers Jason Werner and Joe Holland combined for 18 tackles for a loss and six sacks. Knowing that Dayne Crist has yet to absorb a hit in practice due to a torn right ACL ten months ago, look for the Boilers to welcome him to the real world come Saturday.
Many feel that the most important factor in this game will be how the Irish defense adjusts to their new 3-4 scheme under Bob Diaco. Diaco directed a Cincinnati Bearcat defense to top ten finishes in both sacks and tackles for a loss in 2009. The Irish are extremely talented up front led by the best sophomore linebacker in the country in Manti Te’o. Look for him to be dominant on Saturday (and all season), along with Darius Fleming and Kerry Neal from their respective linebacker positions. The defensive line also boasts 5 star talent in juniors Kapron Lewis-Moore and Ethan Johnson to go along with senior nose tackle Ian Williams. The big question mark (as usual) is the secondary, thus, it will be imperative that the front seven keeps the pressure on Marve and forces him into making the difficult decisions that often lead to turnovers. If this is the case, the game will not be close; if it isn’t, we will have a shootout on our hands and Purdue may be able to keep up with the Irish. If there is one thing we know for certain, Notre Dame will score plenty of points on Saturday in Brian Kelly’s new look spread offense. With that said, the TL 5 star prediction is: ND 34 Purdue 20…Notre Dame covers the 11 point spread.
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Written by Tim Lewis