Spring Football in getting underway across the country, and Notre Dame's opening game is less than 180 days away. Blue & Gold Illustrated will be breaking down the 2012 schedule and ranking teams based on difficulty during the next two weeks to get you ready for spring practice.
No. 10: Purdue
Sept. 8, 2012 — South Bend, Ind.
Spring Practice Dates: March 7 – April 14
Last Meeting: Notre Dame took out its frustrations on Purdue after a rough month of September, beating the Boilers on the road 38-10. Cierre Wood ran for 191 yards and the Irish doubled Purdue’s offensive production with 551 total yards.
Purdue returns plenty of experience from its 2011 team that finished 7-6 with a Little Caesars Bowl win over Western Michigan. Eight starters are back on offense and seven on defense for fourth-year head coach Danny Hope. The Boilermakers, who beat only one team above .500 last year, struggled throwing the ball while shuffling quarterbacks, and that is expected to continue this season. Depth on the offensive line is another concern for Hope, who will have to replace his right guard and left tackle in the fall.
All three of the team’s top rushers are back on the roster, but senior running back Ralph Bolden might be a non-factor after offseason knee surgery. Purdue should be able to beat up on the weaker teams on its schedule again and could gain some traction late in the season against divisional opponents that have undergone coaching changes this offseason. But Notre Dame will still be a very stiff test for the Boilermakers.
Top Returners: RB Akeem Shavers, DT Kawann Short
With Bolden’s future in doubt it appears that Shavers will become the No. 1 option in the backfield for Purdue this season. The junior college transfer ran for 519 yards and six touchdowns in his debut season. Hope, while talking to local media after a spring workout, said Shavers has the size and speed to measure up with the top 10 percent of backs who recently ran at this year's NFL combine.
Short, a fifth-year senior, will be making his final push for the NFL Draft board this season. The 6-foot-3, 310 pound defensive tackle is a run-clogging force in the middle of the Boilermaker defense. He also has the speed to stop a play before it starts. He led the team in tackles for loss (17) and sacks (6.5) last season. Next year will be his second season as a team co-captain.
Top Newcomers: DC Tim Tibesar, DE Ryan Watson
Tibesar joins the Purdue staff as defensive coordinator after spending a year with the Montreal Alouettes in the CFL. He ran a 3-4 defense at his last college stop in Kansas State and will implement the new alignment at least some of the time along with the Boilermakers traditional 4-3 formation. Tibesar has his work cut out for him replacing leading tackler Joe Holland and plugging the gaps in a leaky secondary.
Ryan Watson (6-foot-3, 275 pounds) is a four-star prospect at defensive end and the gem of Purdue’s recruiting class. The Boilermakers graduated two of their four defensive ends on the two-deep last season. Watson could be lining up with Short and fellow defensive end Ryan Russell in Tibesar’s 3-4 defense by the end of the season.
Biggest Losses: Safeties Logan Link and Albert Evans
Link and Evans played all 13 games for Purdue in the defensive backfield last season and leave a pretty large void to fill for those left on the roster. The Boilermakers struggled against the deep passing game last season and will have even less experience on the field to try to fix that in 2012. This early September game will be a good chance for Notre Dame offensive coordinator Chuck Martin to prove his claims that the Irish will stretch defenses vertically much more in 2012.
What To Watch For: Purdue started the spring with four candidates at quarterback, and all four have game experience. Sean Robinson has since been moved to linebacker but Caleb TerBush, Robert Marve and Rob Henry are all still splitting reps. Henry and Marve have both missed big chunks of time with knee injuries, which gave TerBush a chance to establish himself as a starter last season. Hope said he’ll likely play two quarterbacks next fall. The competition for who takes the majority of snaps will be the biggest storyline for the next six months in West Lafayette.
Why They’re Here: Notre Dame has won the last four meetings with Purdue. Last year’s game showed a pretty clear gap between the two teams’ talent levels. The discrepancies in the two passing attacks make this a match-up that Notre Dame should win.