The Brian Kelly era at Notre Dame officially begins Saturday as the Notre Dame Fighting Irish square off against instate rivals Purdue Boilermakers Saturday at 3:30 pm.
Many questions loom for the Irish. How will Brian Kelly deal with the pressure? How effective is this new up-tempo, spread offense? Will the defense continue to be a liability?
Here's is a preview of Saturday’s match up:
Notre Dame Offense:
The Irish start off the season without two standout players: quarterback Jimmy Clausen (3,722 yds, 28 tds, 161.43 rating 2009) and dynamic receiver Golden Tate (1,496 yards, 15 TDs) who have both left for the greener pastures of the NFL.
The Notre Dame Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks coach Charlie Molnar in tandem with Coach Kelly has built a spread offense based on the speed and athleticism of its players. It will feature receivers Michael Floyd, Theo Riddick and Duval Kamara, as well as Tight End Kyle Rudolph. Talented Freshman TJ Jones is also in the mix as a wide out.
Dayne Christ takes the Notre Dame Quarterback reigns from Clausen. The unproven QB has his work cut out from him in running this new offense. He has recovered from his injuries and looks to be a rushing threat and provide the mobility required by this spread scheme.
Fourth year Running Back Armando Allen looks to build on a solid campaign from last year. He will be joined at the position by the talented trio of Robert Hughes, Jonas Gray, Cierre Wood.
Purdue is led by trusty quarterback Robert Marve. The University of Miami transfer is a threat with his legs (two rushing touchdowns) and his arm. At Miami he threw for eight touchdowns in 2008. He has targets aplenty led by receiver Kevin Smith (6 TDs in 2009) and TE Kyle Adams.
The Purdue rushing attack suffered a setback when the team’s leading back, Ralph Bolden, suffered a MRI injury in spring. The inexperienced duo of Al-Terek Burse and Keith Carlos will try and fill Bolden’s shoes with their athletic ability. Carlos is especially ill-adapted at this position having been moved from Wide Receiver. Both Boilermakers proved themselves to be effective kick returners however.
Notre Dame Defense:
This is Notre Dame’s greatest area for improvement. They may continue to have their problems against the run as the Fighting Irish has been hit with injuries to linebackers Anthony McDonald and Steve Paskorz. Look for Manti Te’o and Carlo Calabrese to fill in on the inside of the 3-4 defense. Darius Fleming will be featured as an outside linebacker. Look for Kerry Neal, Brian Smith, or Steve Filer to play opposite him.
Defensive ends Ethan Johnson and Kapron Lewis-Moore should get to the quarterback along with supporting the linebackers. Notre dame is very thin in the backfield with only four scholarship cornerbacks. Look for the linebackers to help out on pass coverage.
The Boilermakers have a very weak defensive line that yielded 173 rushing yards a game in 2009. The team has chemistry with six of seven defensive lineman starters returning. Joe Holland, Jason Werner, and Chris Carlino form a linebacker trio responsible for 229 tackles. Werner stands out with 15 tackles for a loss.
The pass defense is the big question mark for the Boilermakers. The team is showcasing four new starters in the backfield. Purdue however will have Defensive End Ryan Kerrigan who notched 16 sacks.
In spite of Notre Dame’s questionable defense, the team's explosive offense will prove too much for a threadbare Purdue backfield and line.
Notre Dame - 21. Purdue - 13.