As spring football season draws to a close across the country, BlueandGold.com will be providing a breakdown of how things wrapped up for each of Notre Dame’s 2012 opponents courtesy of the reporters that cover them on a regular basis.
Head coach Danny Hope starts his fourth season at Purdue with a 16-21 record.
Sept. 8, 2012 — 3:30 p.m. EST
Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Ind.
Head coach:Danny Hope (16-21 record entering his fourth season)
2011 record: 7-6
The head coaching chair in West Lafayette went from red hot to warm at the end of last fall. The Boilermakers won three of their last four games including a victory over Ohio State and in a bowl game to finish the season. Fourth-year head coach Danny Hope had his first winning season at Purdue and has some legitimate reasons to expect another step forward in 2012, according to Lafayette Journal and Courier beat writer Mike Carmin.
Purdue returns 19 starters from a year ago — more than any team in the Big Ten — and made it through the spring healthy and fully intact. The defense got a shot in the arm from new coordinator Tim Tibesar, who is expected to show more variety than the 4-3 every down defense Purdue has had in the past. He has the benefit of working with one of the best interior linemen in the country in senior Kawann Short. Carmin says Short has improved steadily each year, and he expects a similar jump in his final season. Many project Short as a first round draft pick at this time next year.
Like the Irish, Purdue spent its spring juggling quarterbacks. Returning starter Caleb TerBush remains No. 1 on the depth chart, but former transfer Robert Marve is expected to see plenty of action in the games. Junior Rob Henry, who began last August as the team’s starter before he hurt his knee, is also expected to contend for the job when he returns to full strength in fall camp.
Hope said he intends to use multiple quarterbacks throughout the year, but exactly how that will look during the season remains to be seen.
“We’re going to see at least two quarterbacks every game. We might see three, or it might not be the same two every week,” Carmin said. “The one day that we were able to watch the whole time [at spring practice] Robert Marve looked really good compared to TerBush.”
Biggest Strength After Spring: Secondary
Starting cornerbacks Ricardo Allen and Josh Johnson are the foundation of a defensive backfield that any team in the Midwest would be excited about. That duo combined to break up 18 passes and make five interceptions a year ago in their second season as starters.
At safety Purdue will need to replace to seniors, but Carmin thinks they’ve found the young talent to do it during the spring. Sophomore Taylor Richards and redshirt freshman Frankie Williams are the frontrunners heading into the summer.
“Those two have emerged as some of the top players in the secondary along with Normondo Harris, who had two picks in their closed scrimmage. They’re in pretty good shape back there,” Carmin said.
Biggest Question Mark After Spring: Linebackers
Depth in the middle of the defense is a major issue for the Boilermakers. They played this spring without their top two tacklers from 2011. Joe Holland graduated and Dwayne Beckford has been suspended from the team since police stopped him for driving under the influence in December. He is likely going to be back on the team next season.
“Having him back will help with the experience factor, but they just don’t have a lot of depth at linebacker. They’re going to need some more bodies there,” Carmin said.
Biggest Surprise of the Spring: No Torn Ligaments
Purdue has had horrible luck with blown out knees and major ligament tears during the past few season. Star running back Ralph Bolden was the most recent victim in the team's season finale last fall. Quarterbacks Henry and Marve both have been bitten by the ACL bug as well.
Bolden had ACL surgery for the third time this winter, and did not practice in the spring. He might be able to play in the fall, but there is also a chance that Purdue will be extra cautious and keep him off the field in hopes that the NCAA will grant him a sixth year of eligibility.
“I think he would have a good shot at getting an additional year if all the parties involved want to go that route,” Carmin said. “They would miss Ralph, but they have enough depth at the running back spot.”
Akeem Shavers and Akeem Hunt are both expected to see plenty of action regardless of when Bolden is ready to play.
Purdue might be looking at a slim window for a banner year in the new Big Ten this season. With plenty of experience returning to the Boilermaker lineup and a schedule that sets up well, the hopes of competing for a spot in the conference championship game might amount to more than just typical springtime bravado, says Carmin.
“I do think with the talent they have coming back and Ohio State being ineligible to go to the Big Ten title game, this is an opportunity for Purdue to maybe squeeze in there,” he said. “They need to get more than six wins. Anything less than six would be a disappointment. Seven would be a step forward, and if that leads to a spot in the Big Ten title game that would be significant for the program.”
Most of Purdue’s division in the conference is in transition in 2012. Illinois and Penn State both have new coaches. Ohio State is ineligible, and Indiana doesn’t pose much of a threat. The big bugaboo in that plan is Wisconsin, who despite losing Russell Wilson at quarterback, should be the odds-on-favorite to win the division again this year. Purdue’s schedule does set them up well, though. Most of their important conference games will be played in West Lafayette. They also catch a break against Notre Dame out of conference play since the Irish will be battling jet lag for much of the week leading into their game after returning from Dublin.
Hear more from Mike Carmin by following him on Twitter at @carminjc. Check back later this week as we continue to run through the Irish 2012 schedule.