WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Purdue and Notre Dame are both looking for answers.
They want more consistency out of their quarterbacks. They want to finish drives with touchdowns, not field goals.
And, of course, they’re both trying to creep over the .500 mark after starting 1-1.
But as the Boilermakers try to show a prime-time audience that they can compete with America’s top teams, No. 21 Notre Dame has a different goal. It’s simply trying to meet or exceed coach Brian Kelly’s high standards after a loss to Michigan.
“Michigan played well. I’m not going to take anything away from them,” Kelly said this week. “But we made a lot of mistakes and that’s on us and we’ve got to clean up. We’ve got to coach better and we’ve got to play better. Look, at the end of the day, this comes down to execution when you need to.”
First-year Purdue coach Darrell Hazell is making the same point in West Lafayette, and he knows it will take a much better effort to beat the Fighting Irish than it did to hold off Indiana State last weekend.
Here are five things to watch Saturday:
1. RED DAWN: Notre Dame and Purdue are tied for 111th in the Football Bowl Subdivision in red-zone proficiency. And while the numbers may be skewed by the lack of early season opportunities, one thing is clear this week: Both teams are trying to improve those marks. The Fighting Irish have three touchdowns and one field goal in seven trips inside the opponents’ 20-yard line. Purdue has two touchdowns and two field goals in its seven chances. Whichever team turns that around this weekend is likely to be the team partying Saturday night.
2. ON THE REBOUND: It’s been nearly two years since the Fighting Irish have had seven days between a loss and their next game. While everybody remembers what happened in January’s BCS title game and the back-to-back losses to end 2011 (games that were played 33 days apart), Notre Dame hasn’t been in this spot since losing to Southern California on Oct. 22, 2011. Back then, the Irish responded by winning four straight. Whatever it is that Kelly does, he sure has a knack for getting his teams ready to stare down adversity. Kelly’s teams have not lost back-to-back regular season games since losing the first two to open the 2011 season — and the Irish don’t plan on changing the script Saturday.
3. COMEBACK QBs: Tommy Rees got his first chance to start at Notre Dame in 2010. This year, with Everett Golson suspended, Rees has reclaimed the job. Purdue’s Rob Henry is in a similar situation. He was the Boilermakers’ starter in 2010, lost the job in 2011 after tearing the ACL in his right knee and watched Robert Marve and Caleb TerBush take turns throwing passes last year. Now, Henry’s the starter again, too. While both seem like great story lines, it’s Rees who has played better so far. He’s averaging 330 yards per game, has already thrown five TDs and two interceptions and has an efficiency rating of 152.6. Henry, meanwhile, has struggled. In two games, he’s completed 55.9 percent of his passes for 311 yards with no TDs, two interceptions and a rating of 93.4
4. SECONDARY THOUGHTS: If there was one thing that irked Kelly in last weekend’s loss, it was the play of Notre Dame’s secondary. How upset was he? Kelly went so far as to call out cornerback KeiVarae Russell and safety Bennett Jackson. They know what the challenge will be this week against a school that dubs itself as the Cradle of Quarterbacks. While the Boilermakers are hardly the offensive juggernaut they were under former coach Joe Tiller, Russell, Jackson and the Irish secondary still have something to prove — to Kelly and Notre Dame.
5. END OF THE LINE?: It’s unclear whether this long-standing rivalry will soon come to an end. That’s not what Hazell wants. Saturday’s game marks the 85th meeting between the two Indiana schools, the second-most of any Notre Dame opponent. These two Indiana schools have met every year since 1946, which is tied for the nation’s fourth-longest streak among non-conference foes. Purdue has beaten Notre Dame 26 times, more than any school other than Southern Cal (35) or Michigan State (28). But Notre Dame’s impending entrance into the ACC might make the point moot. The Irish already have to drop one game next season and future schedules have only one opening, and that’s for a team that is only willing to play on the road. Stay tuned.