It's an annual rite of passage for so many Boilermakers. How will this year's crop of students, new fans, old fans, players, etc., deal with Notre Dame? Will they be like so many before them and find themselves frustrated, confounded, angry, etc., after yet another Purdue implosion? Or will they be among the precious few who feel that common bond of times when Purdue put a hurting on Notre Dame by turning the tables?
There's really no in between, right? Sure, there were some lean years, where it was a simple guaranteed loss (I'm looking at you, Jim Coletto and Fred Akers). No fuss, no muss. The Domers would just go out and run the Boilers over like vermin on the highway to bigger and better things. But there were also the good years and good times.
Most of what was in between those two were things like the 1995 game -- my first in-person Purdue-ND tilt -- when the Boilers got the ball down near the ND goal line trailing 35-28 with a scant minute or so to go... and then, with Mike Alstott on the roster, chose to pass into the end zone four times with Rick Trefzger. (Truth be told, I always liked Trefzger for his willingness to take his lumps as an undertalented QB -- and I've always secretly wanted a Trefzger throwback jersey, so if someone can make this happen, please let me know.)
No, it's been a sordid history, with Purdue winding up on the wrong end too many times, usually in painful fashion. Everyone remembers the Boilers failing to show up last year in a nighttime, blackout, home game. If you've been watching a little longer, you probably recall the 2009 game, when the Boilers first displayed the Danny Hope-era, all-black uni look, and looked terrible for a large portion of the game... only to stage a riveting comeback in the second half, culminating with a brilliant play and long TD pass back across the field to good soldier Jaycen Taylor with less than four minutes to go. Some have told us it's the loudest they've heard Ross-Ade, certainly since the halcyon days of Brees and Tiller.
Alas, the Boilers found a way to find the banana peel again, between a strange time out call from the Purdue bench when ND was scrambling to line up for a 4th & goal attempt with under 30 seconds to go and then Jimmy Clausen finding Kyle Rudolph for the game-winning TD.
I've actually often thought about that game and how that one minute of game play could have changed the course of Danny Hope's career at Purdue. Who knows what the 2009 team does without another early heartbreaking, soul-crushing loss (the other being the 38-36 loss at Oregon two weeks earlier)? But that's all in the past.
What do your fearless editors think of this year's chapter? Well, not good things.
History isn't on Purdue's side -- Brees, Campbell, Herrmann and many other great Purdue QBs couldn't win in South Bend...and I believe one of the UND teams that Brees played against, on that day, was in the bottom 5 UND teams in the last 40 years. But in spite of the weird mix of voodoo and Catholicism, Notre Dame's stadium has no special powers...and the Lord of the Universe actually doesn't favor Notre Dame, contrary to the belief of many.
Jerome Bettis won't be playing Saturday, nor will Brady Quinn...or any other of the ex-Irish greats, so isn't it kind of silly to bring up teams coaches by Willingham, Holtz and others? On one hand, it is, one the other hand, I like history and I think we can learn from it. So here's what's fresh in my mind:
Good teams play badly when they're nervous. And good play can be quickly forgotten when special teams woes erase defensive stops or nullify previous TDs. These types of issues have killed Purdue in the past at UND...and based on what we all saw last Saturday, Purdue needs to be very wary of special teams mistakes. A two or three QB system has never led Purdue to victory at UND...honestly, I don't know if a 3-QB system has EVER led a team to consistent wins...so Hope is looking to rewrite what's accepted and considered normal in college football.
I think Marve should be the starter...but if TerBush is the guy, let him play, dammit. Until this is one guy's team, I'm not so sure Purdue will beat anyone who is good.
Purdue's strength, the front four, will be tested, but I think the linebackers will be picked apart. Kelly's a good offensive coach and this year he's got a defense that's fast, tackles well and is opportunistic. In spite of multiple suspensions and supposed jet lag, the unlikeable Irish roll.
Danny Hope said part of the reason for starting TerBush was because they needed a "mistake-free" start, implying that TerBush is better-suited to provide that. I guess Coach Hope was in the john when Caleb threw an ugly pick on the first possession of the game last year, which effectively let all the air out of a pumped up Ross-Ade.
He also said that Caleb was the clear #1 and separated himself from Marve and Henry in the preseason, which is also odd since he said at the start of camp that since they wouldn't be taking off the green jerseys there was no way anything would change, etc. Doesn't that mean there's no way a guy could distance himself, either?
I only bring this up to get to the point that it's getting really, really hard to believe that Danny Hope is an evil genius. However, if this actually turns out to be either a sandbagging effort and we see Robert Marve light up UND or we see that Caleb really has improved to the point where he's clearly the best option, then all will be forgiven. I don't think Purdue has to win this game to justify all this QB nonsense -- but I do think Purdue needs to compete. They have the horses to do that, no matter what shortcomings you think they may have. Danny Hope said it himself -- that this is the most talented team he's had at Purdue. If that's the case, this Notre Dame team shouldn't be an insurmountable Sharpie game (TM, Boiled Sports).
And yet, I think both of us feel that it is indeed just that -- almost a sure loss. That's not to say I won't get my hopes sky-high by kickoff, especially if Purdue starts strong. I just know that Purdue simply does not win in South Bend. I agree with b-dowd that history and previous players have no impact on the current crop of players, but I also know that it's hard to argue with something this consistent. Purdue simply wets the bed in South Bend, regardless of how good Notre Dame is. The 2004 team that actually did win there was -- particularly at that point -- a blend of talent, experience and confidence that I don't think Purdue fans have seen in a long time, perhaps ever.
I, too, would like to see Robert Marve use his talents against an inexperienced UND secondary. I don't think trying to win this game by "keeping it close" or "managing" the game is the way to get it done, but I also agree with b-dowd that mistakes will kill Purdue in this sort of matchup. To win a game like this, you need to have near zero mistakes, turnovers, mental blunders, etc. Can Purdue do that? It's possible. They cut down on penalties in the first game, but not on turnovers. Will that improve as they go on the road and face an infinitely better opponent than EKU? Can you read that question without cringing?
This, as always, goes in the "We'd love to be wrong" bucket, but I just don't see Purdue winning this one. But give us a great effort and a respectable showing and then go win the rest of your non-conference games, and there will still be a lot of hay that can be made of 2012. Get destroyed, though, or fail to show up again, and the slide towards a disastrous season could begin early.
Notre Daaaaaaaaaame: 38
*Note: Thanks to HistoricFootballPosters.com for providing the artwork you see here. They're "the only company nationwide that's licensed to sell posters of these images to fans as wall art." Check 'em out.