Lovable coaches all around in this one
Since the Fighting Dukakises don't pose a serious threat this week, I decided (okay, Brian decided) that it would be a good idea to take a look ahead with this week's film study. Notre Dame and Purdue faced off last weekend in South Bend, giving us a look at a pair of future opponents; the Irish came away with a 20-17 victory that was closer than expected.
A quick overview: Neither team could get anything going on the ground while Notre Dame's vertical passing attack far outstripped Purdue's dink-and-dunk approach, leading to a 376-288 advantage in total yards for the Irish. The Boilermakers managed to hang around, however, and tied the game at 17 late in the fourth quarter after corner Josh Johnson made a stellar effort to strip the ball from ND QB Everett Golson. Golson was shaken up on the play, so it was much-maligned QB Tommy Rees who led the game-winning drive for a field goal in the waning seconds. Yes, that Tommy Rees. I'm seriously, you guys.
[To the breakdown, after THE JUMP.]
Notre Dame Offense/Purdue Defense
Offensively, Notre Dame operated almost entirely out of the shotgun and stayed balanced between the pass (39 attempts) and the run (36). Golson played the duration at quarterback until the final drive. Running back Cierre Wood was suspended, so Theo Riddick got the majority of the carries. As The Only Colors pointed out, "tight end" Tyler Eifert lined up almost exclusively as a wide receiver or in the slot—I don't remember a single play where he had his hand in the dirt.
Golson finished with relatively gaudy numbers, completing 21-of-31 passes for 289 yards and a touchdown and adding another score on the ground. He showed off a very strong arm and the ability to make difficult throws on the run; in fact, I thought he was better throwing on rollouts than when he stood in the pocket. Where his inexperience showed up, however, was in his pocket presence; Golson often created pressure by bailing from the pocket early, including a couple of instances where he had an open receiver, like so:
Yes, Golson scrambles for the first here, but throwing to Eifert could've easily resulted in a touchdown, and he got happy feet despite the Irish line maintaining a perfect pocket. Another instance with a poorer result goes here—Golson again has Eifert one-on-one against a much smaller defender, but can't pull the trigger and is sacked. I thought Golson was quite impressive throwing quick, one-read-and-throw passes, and less so when he had to stand in the pocket and read the defense—not a big surprise for a first-year starter.
Eifert, simply put, is a problem for defenses. At 6'6", 251 pounds, he's too big to be guarded by a defensive back and too quick for a linebacker. He finished with four catches for 98 yards and could've easily had more. He was by far Golson's top target, usually as the first read.
The Notre Dame line didn't have its best performance, giving up four sacks—with the main pressure coming from the interior—and failing to create any holes up the middle in the ground game. The Irish were forced to abandon any hope of gaining yards on the interior, choosing instead to attack the edge with quick pitches and a couple of reverses—these had middling success.
Purdue exacerbated Notre Dame's interior rushing woes by selling out against the run, forcing Golson to beat them with his arm. Kawaan Short played an All-American-caliber game, holding his ground against double teams and blowing up plays whenever he faced a single blocker. He recorded four tackles and two sacks, both coming when he made a lone Irish interior lineman look silly with a quick move off the line. PROTIP: Do not block Kawaan Short with one person.
Boilermakers cornerback Josh Johnson played a phenomenal game despite being given the difficult task of matching up with Eifert one-on-one. He did as well as anyone could expect in that situation—most of Eifert's catches came against other defenders. Johnson also made the critical strip of Golson that led to Purdue's tying touchdown, showing great awareness to reach in and rip the ball out.
The rest of Purdue's defense was less impressive. Corner Ricardo Allen and nickel Frankie Williams can be picked on, especially by bigger receivers, and the linebackers struggled in coverage. They looked very susceptible over the middle—feel free to entertain thoughts of Devin Funchess running wild up the seam.
Purdue Offense/Notre Dame Defense
Notre Dame's cornerbacks have been ravaged by injuries, forcing them to start converted wideout Bennett Jackson and true freshman KeiVarae Russell. As a result, not only is downfield coverage an issue—Russell got turned around badly on a couple of routes—but edge tackling is a major problem. It didn't help that non-Teo linebackers weren't wrapping up either. Purdue has several players who are at their best in space—especially O.J. Ross and Antavian Edison—and they found room to operate against the Irish. Quick throws to Jeremy Gallon, please.
Up front, the Irish are relatively stout, and Purdue had little success with the run, though they weren't trying to establish that much anyway. Instead, they went with their usual array of short passes to the perimeter, and Notre Dame did a solid job of limiting yards after the catch when they weren't completely biffing tackles like the ones above.
Purdue's lack of downfield throws made it hard to evaluate the Irish pass defense, but the cornerbacks looked lost when asked to cover deep, while the safeties did a solid job of limiting big plays. A huge help was the line's ability to get penetration and bat down passes at the line—I lost count after three tipped passes, including a couple by nose tackle Louis Nix.
One wrinkle that Notre Dame threw out there was putting defensive ends Kapron Lewis-Moore and Stephon Tuitt at defensive tackle on third-and-long to bolster the pass rush. This got them a big rush on a couple occasions, but also resulted in a first down scramble by TerBush when both tackles rushed to the outside, leaving a gaping crease up the middle. Please, please, try this against Denard.
The Boilermakers rotated Robert Marve and Caleb TerBush at quarterback; this won't happen against Michigan since Marve tore his ACL—yes, again—which is especially unfortunate since Marve looked like the better player. TerBush is decent at creating yards with his feet but is not much of a threat to bomb it out downfield; he had accuracy and decision-making issues underneath, as well, finishing just 8-for-19 for 79 yards, a touchdown, and two picks.
Overall, Purdue's offense looks a lot like it did last year—lots of short stuff to quick dudes with the hope that they can make a couple guys miss. Notre Dame's defense looks strong up front, but their secondary could be susceptible to a big passing day if they face off against a more high-powered offense.