Purdue loses to UND at the finish

Murali Balaji

Michael Dougherty
It seems as if Notre Dame finally figured out a way to stop quarterback Drew Brees and the high-powered Purdue offense.
They kept the ball away from him.
The Irish capped a late rally with a 17-yard field goal with 57 seconds left in the game to defeat the Boilermakers 31-30 in South Bend, dropping Purdue’s record to 2-2 heading into Saturday’s matchup against the Gophers.
Behind the running of senior tailback Autry Denson, the Irish pounded the ball against the Boilermakers’ suspect defense. Denson finished the day with 143 yards on 31 carries, including two touchdowns.
The Boilermakers looked sharp early, with Brees connecting with seven receivers in the first half to build a 24-14 lead before the intermission.
However, the Irish stayed in the game, relying on the legs of Denson to open up the passing game. To help matters, quarterback Jarious Jackson, who struggled throughout the first half, found his rhythm late and marched the offense down the field for three second-half scores.
Jackson hit tight end Jabrai Holloway with 3:36 left, to cut the Boilermakers’ lead to 30-28. However, it was the Irish defense that came through late.
Safety Tony Driver, who had pondered leaving Notre Dame after being switched from running back, picked off an errant Brees pass and ran it back to the Boilermakers’ 5-yard line with 1:39 left.

Purdue on Defense
The Boilermakers’ defense kept the Irish passing game in check early, using several stunt alignments to fool Jackson. The only thing the Irish could do was run the ball, which they did, giving it to Denson on delayed handoffs. Denson, a low-to-the-ground runner with outstanding speed, repeatedly ran between the tackles and down the middle of the Purdue defense.
The Boilermakers could not contain Denson because of his ability to hit the holes quickly. The Irish also had the advantage of a mammoth offensive line, which pushed Purdue’s front seven backwards on almost every play.
Defensive end Rosevelt Colvin, an all-Big Ten performer last year, was quiet all afternoon and did not get close to the quarterback.
The Boilermakers’ secondary, which gave up 368 yards passing the previous week against Central Florida, gave up 142 second-half passing yards to Jackson, who is not known for his arm.
Safeties Adrian Beasely and Billy Gustin played the run through most of the game, leaving corners Da’Shann Austin and Michael Hawthorne in isolation coverage against the Irish receivers.
The Notre Dame passing offense relied on Jackson making quick reads from the three-step drop and finding his receivers on short slants and hooks. While Hawthorne and Austin are effective in deep coverage, their reluctance to play up in short-yardage situations allowed the Irish to have an effective short passing game.

Purdue on offense
Despite the loss, Brees played a strong game against Notre Dame, throwing for two scores and running for another, as he proves to be the perfect candidate to run Purdue coach Joe Tiller’s spread offense.
The spread offense is similar in many ways to the West Coast offense popularized by the San Francisco 49ers and Green Bay Packers. Both offenses rely on a quick-strike passing game and three and four receiver formations to control the ball.
Like Brett Favre and Steve Young, Brees is very comfortable with this game plan, taking advantage of the Boilermakers big receivers and spreading the ball around.
This sort of offense will certainly produce fits for the Gopher defense, primarily because the Gopher defense prides itself on stuffing the run, but has a “bend but don’t break” secondary.
Unfortunately for Gophers coach Glen Mason, it’s probable Brees will spend next Saturday bending the smaller Minnesota secondary like Gumby in a sauna.
Brees, using mainly a three-step drop, likes to take advantage of his lanky receivers, Randall Lane and Isaac Jones, with quick slants and fade patterns — throwing the ball high and outside and letting his receivers make the catches.
Against Notre Dame, Brees completed 24-of-36 passes for 261 yards, and was also the Boilermakers leading rusher with 45 yards on 11 carries.
That last stat represents the lone weakness in this offense — the running game. Purdue’s starting running back, J. Crabtree, was held to 42 yards on 16 carries.
This weak running game cuts down Purdue’s time of possession, thus forcing its defense to be on the field longer than they’d like.
And that is where the Gophers must look if they have any plans of scoring an upset on Saturday. First they must keep the Boilermakers’ high-output offense off the field with a pounding ball-control offense. Secondly, the defensive backfield has to play a couple inches taller and be physical with the Boilermakers receivers.