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2013 Notre Dame Opponents: Purdue

Purdue (6-7)
Sept. 14, at West Lafayette, Ind.
The Boilermakers join USC and Navy as the only three programs who have played Notre Dame every season since 1946. The current five-game winning streak by the Irish against Purdue is the second longest since World War II, topped only by the 11 in a row under head coach Lou Holtz from 1986-96.

Darrell Hazell was hired as Purdue's new head coach in December after leading Kent State to an 11-3 record last season.

Purdue is 54-57 since 2004, never winning more than eight games in a season and losing a minimum of five games each of those nine campaigns.

With a 22-27 record during his four-year reign, 2009-12 head coach Danny Hope was fired at the end of the regular season, and Purdue mailed in its 58-14 bowl loss to Oklahoma State. It was one of the few teams that had a rougher time than Notre Dame in the 35 postseason games.

Top Offseason Note
Darrell Hazell, who led once hapless Kent State to an 11-3 record in 2012, replaced Hope as the head coach, although initial reports of the head coaching vacancy were linked to Cincinnati’s Butch Jones (now the head coach of the Tennessee Volunteers).

Hazell’s new defensive coordinator is Greg Hudson, a linebacker at Notre Dame from 1986-89, who was assistant head coach and linebackers coach at Florida State the past three years. Hired as offensive coordinator was John Shoop, who held the same post for Butch Davis at North Carolina from 2007-11 and was out of football in 2012.

Even before his first game, Hazell already has had one defection on his staff. Jim Bollman, who had been former Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel’s offensive line coach, was hired for the same role at Purdue. However, Bollman left the Boilermakers recently to become the offensive coordinator at Michigan State.

A renewed commitment to the program appears to be taking place, but there is no choice if Purdue and the rest of the Big Ten want to catch up. The overall coaching war chest is reportedly around $4.6 million, or $2 million more than the previous regime.

Prime Assets
Purdue returns eight starters on defense, although it lost 315-pound anchor Kawann Short — a second-team AP All-American — along the line and Josh Johnson (16 passes broken up and three interceptions last year) in the secondary. Notre Dame netted only 52 yards rushing against the Boilermakers last year, and players such as Ryan Russell and Bruce Gaston return for the Purdue front seven that more than held its own against the Irish.

Offensively, Rob Henry provides some experience at quarterback. He became the starter in the latter half of 2010 and was a quality dual threat with 996 yards passing and 547 rushing. His performance and leadership were so impressive, he was named the starting QB in 2011, as well as co-captain, but tore his ACL in the preseason and fell to third team.

With Robert Marve and Caleb TerBush out of eligibility, Henry is the front-runner for the starting role, although nothing is guaranteed under a new staff.

Akeem Hunt returns at running back after averaging 8.0 yards on his 42 carries, and punter Cody Webster (29 punts downed inside the 20 in 2012) could be one of the top players at his position in the Big Ten.

Prime Concerns
There was not one area last year where Purdue could consistently hang its hat. Its highest ranking was in kickoff returns and pass efficiency defense, both No. 43. Everything else it was 55th or lower.

Top receiver Antavian Edison has graduated, second-leading receiver O.J. Ross has been indefinitely suspended, and two of the top three rushers from last season are also gone.

Purdue has a long-standing proclivity to play up or down to the level of competition. Last year there were only two 12-0 teams during the regular season, and the Boilermakers took both to the wall on the road before losing 20-17 at Notre Dame and then in overtime at Ohio State after seemingly having control in the fourth quarter. Yet it lost its five other games by an average of 28 points, the closest a 44-28 defeat versus Minnesota.

Purdue falls into the same category as Boston College, who does not play the Irish this season, or Pitt over the past decade: Win or lose, you can usually count on the Boilermakers playing one of their three best games of the season against Notre Dame, especially when the game is at Ross-Ade Stadium (2011 being a notable exception during a 38-10 Irish romp).

This will be an early marquee game for Hazell and his staff, so the energy level should be high. On paper, Notre Dame would appear to be a 10- to 14-point favorite, maybe, in the preseason. However, with this game sandwiched in between the trip to Michigan and a home game versus Michigan State, it has the “trappings” of a potential upset.

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