SOUTH BEND — When Purdue takes on No. 12 Notre Dame on Saturday in South Bend, it’ll be the 87th meeting between the two in-state rivals.
But they haven’t met in seven seasons after facing one another the previous 69 consecutive years (1946-2014). The two teams were set to meet last season before COVID-19 altered both team’s schedules.
“I respect everything about Notre Dame,” Purdue coach Jeff Brohm said Monday at his weekly press conference. “It is a special place to play. We cherish (the opportunity) to get the game back (on Purdue's schedule). Playing against Notre Dame is a measuring stick type of game.”
The Irish lead the series 58-26-2 (dating back to 1896) and are 30-11 in games played in South Bend, including 19 of the last 21. In fact, Purdue's 26 victories are the third-most against Notre Dame behind USC (37) and Michigan State (28).
The Irish have won their last seven games against the Boilermakers, keeping the Shillelagh Trophy on campus since the 2008 season.
The Boilermakers last two victories at Notre Dame were in 1974 (31-20) and 2004 (41-16) when Kyle Orton directed the offense.
While Purdue is 2-0 after beating a solid Oregon State team (31-20) and a not-so-talented UConn (49-0), the Irish have struggled in spite of their 2-0 start, escaping with close wins at Florida State (41-38, OT) and at home against Toledo (32-29) last week.
Brohm sees Notre Dame’s close wins as a testament to their winning tradition.
“Good teams win those types of games and Notre Dame was able to do just that,” he said.
Fighting Irish head coach Brian Kelly is just one win away from tying Knute Rockne (105) for most wins all-time by a Notre Dame coach. Kelly and Rockne are the only two men to coach for 12 or more years in South Bend.
The Boilers will be without standout running back Zander Horvath, who suffered a broken fibula against UConn and is expected to be out 4-8 weeks. Brohm said King Doerue will be the “next man up” to fill the spot.
“King has played a lot of football for us,” he said. “He’s been a little injured here and there but we want him to go out there and play his brand of football.”
On paper, Purdue holds the statistical advantage, outscoring its opponents 79-21. The Irish have outscored its first two opponents 73-67.
Notre Dame’s defense has allowed 787 yards (388 rushing, 399 passing) of total offense through the first two games. By contrast, Purdue has 963 yards (275 rushing, 688 passing) of total offense so far in 2021.
Purdue’s offense has been powered by quarterback Jack Plummer wide receiver David Bell, and tight end Payne Durham.
Plummer has completed 45 of 61 passes for 558 yards and six touchdowns — and no interceptions. Bell has caught 14 of those passes 255 yards and three scores, and Durham has grabbed 11 for 174 yards and three TDs.
“It’s a really good offense. We’re going to have to do some things in coverage,” Kelly said. “We can’t just line up and play man the whole time. We have to do some other things to disrupt (Plummer) and we have to get a pass rush on him.”
Former Wisconsin QB Jack Coan now directs the Irish offense. He’s completed 47 of 68 passes for 605 yards and six touchdowns — but he’s been intercepted twice.
Standout receiver Michael Mayer has caught 16 passes for 201 yards and three touchdowns, while Kevin Austin has eight for 154 yards and a TD, and Kyren Williams has nine for 108 yards and score.
Williams also leads the Notre Dame ground game with 120 yards on 34 carries and a touchdown.
“They’ve got weapons, they’ve got skill and they’ve got really good players,” Brohm said. “They’re a very talented team and we’ll have our hands full.”
While Purdue’s offense is a cause for concern, Kelly is most concerned with the Boilermakers’ defense — especially defensive end George Karlaftis.
“He’s got fast twitch, which means he has great athletic ability and he has an incredible desire to get to the quarterback,” Kelly said. “He doesn’t have a sack this year, but he has 11 hurries so he’s going to disrupt the quarterback.”
Brohm said playing Notre Dame is the chance of a lifetime.
“It’s a great opportunity for our kids to play in that type of game,” he said. “These are the measuring sticks you dream about when you play and coach, and we get a chance to do it this Saturday. I know our guys are jacked up about playing a great, high-caliber team.”
Kickoff is set for 2:30 p.m. ET at Notre Dame Stadium. It will be carried by NBC, with Mike Tirico calling the play-by-play and former Purdue and future NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees providing the game analysis.