Coach Brian Kelly had more than seven months to prepare Notre Dame for its next contest following a loss in the BCS national championship game, but he’ll have a much smaller window this time around.
He’ll also have to figure out why his units on either side of the ball didn’t meet expectations last week before the 21st-ranked Fighting Irish visit Purdue on Saturday night.
Notre Dame (1-1) rode a dominating defense to a 12-0 regular season before being routed by Alabama for the national title Jan. 7. It shined defensively again in a 28-6 win over Temple in the season opener Aug. 31, but it couldn’t slow then-No. 17 Michigan on the ground nor through the air in last week’s 41-30 defeat.
The 460 total yards allowed were the Irish’s most in their last 20 regular-season games. Notre Dame is 27-1 excluding bowl games under Kelly when giving up 382 yards or fewer, and 1-9 when allowing more.
Kelly, who was hired prior to the 2010 season, is 26-0 in the regular season when the Irish allow 21 points or fewer.
“Last year we had to rely on our defense to win football games. I don’t want to have to do that week in and week out,” Kelly said. “I think there are going to be some times when our offense has to win some ballgames.”
He wasn’t exactly pleased with that unit, either. Tommy Rees finished 29 for 51 for 314 yards and two touchdowns, though he also threw two interceptions. The Irish had only 19 rushing attempts for 96 yards, and Kelly didn’t say he plans to balance his team’s attack more against Purdue.
“Whatever it takes to win football games, we better be good at it,” Kelly said. “We better be good at scoring points throwing the ball, we better be good at scoring points running the ball.
“I’m confident that we can fix the things that need to be fixed.”
Kelly is hoping a tough week of practice after the bitter loss will help, too.
“Dinner doesn’t taste good, meetings are a lot harder, practice is probably a little bit more spirited,” Kelly said. “We have to be smarter and more disciplined as a football team.”
Notre Dame has won five straight meetings with Purdue, which gave the Irish one of their toughest games last season before falling 20-17 on Kyle Brindza’s 27-yard field goal with seven seconds remaining.
“This is an instate rival that certainly plays well against us,” Kelly said. “We just have to look at last year’s game.”
The Boilermakers (1-1) are looking more into the future under coach Darrell Hazell, who is in his first year in West Lafayette after two seasons at Kent State.
After committing four turnovers in a 42-7 loss to Cincinnati on Aug. 31, Purdue hung on to beat FCS opponent Indiana State 20-14 last Saturday. Akeem Hunt returned the opening kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown before rushing for 82 yards on 22 carries.
“There are times when you win ugly and you lose pretty,” Hazell said. “You learn to appreciate the wins. Obviously we made it a little bit harder than we should have, but it still goes in the win column.”
Purdue’s last victory in the series was 33-19 on Sept. 29, 2007, and Hazell knows his squad will have a tough time ending its losing streak to the Irish.
“I’m excited and our guys should be excited about the game,” Hazell said. “It’s a heck of a challenge for our football team, and I know they’ll be up for the challenge. The things that we can control, all the mistakes, we have to control those. If we do, we have a better chance of being successful.”
Quarterback Rob Henry was used mainly as a running back and receiver in 2012 and didn’t play at all against the Irish last season. He’s thrown two interceptions and no touchdowns through the first two games.
Purdue will be without safety Landon Feichter, who suffered a broken leg last week.