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Notre Dame Football

Notre Dame Opponent Preview | Purdue

June 17, 2024
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It was a steady rise for Ryan Walters. He went right from playing at Colorado to the coaching ranks in 2009. It took him less than 10 years to get his first Power 5 coordinator job at Missouri and he had five years as a defensive coordinator before his first head coaching opportunity.

Purdue hired him when he was 36 years old after two very successful seasons in charge of Illinois’ defense. They finished his final season as the third ranked defense in DF+ (combined FEI and SP+ rankings).

Walters didn’t find instant success at Purdue with them going 4-8 in year one of his tenure. He didn’t exactly inherit an ideal roster and in addition to losing players to the NFL and graduation, he’s had 55 players transfer out of the program with almost as many coming in to replace them.

The roster is in a better position to qualify for a bowl game this season despite some impact players leaving the program. There’s plenty of reasons for optimism on defense with Walters’ track record. Four of his five seasons as a DC saw his defense finish in the top-25 in DF+.

Purdue plays Indiana State in week one and that’s followed by a bye week before they host Notre Dame in week three. That means we won’t know very much about this Purdue team at that time, but they also won’t know much about themselves.

Post-Spring SP+ Ranking

They are 72nd in the post-spring SP+ projections. They are 74th on offense, 68th on defense, and 128th on special teams.

Key losses

RB Tyrone Tracy Jr. was an elusive runner who was selected in the 5th round of the most recent NFL Draft. He was the only Purdue player drafted on offense.

S Sanoussi Kane, 7th round, declared for the draft when he could have come back for another season.

The biggest loss is edge Nic Scourton (Texas A&M). He was one of the best pass rushers in the Big Ten last season and is a projected first round pick. They also lost edge Khordae Sydnor (Vanderbilt) and DT Sulaman Kpaka (Mississippi State) in the transfer portal. Add in the graduation of DT Malik Langham and most of their defensive line from last season is gone.

DB Cam Allen and his 13 career interceptions are also out the door.

WR Deion Burks (Oklahoma) was their leading receiver and he had more than double the amount of targets than the second most targeted receiver. He has a likely NFL future and was one of the top pass catchers available in the portal.

They also lost WR Abdur-Rahmaan Yaseen (South Florida), TE Garrett Miller (Texas A&M) and WR TJ Sheffield (UConn). That's their top-four receivers from last season all gone.

Interior OL Josh Kaltenberger was a depth piece who could have competed to start at guard, but is now the projected starter at center for Maryland.

Key additions

How good Purdue can be is going to largely depend on how well it works out with the transfers they added. While there are some with experience and production at their previous programs, they took a lot of chances on individuals who haven’t done much yet in college.

WR CJ Smith (six catches for 116 yards in garbage time) and WR De’Nylon Morrissette (four career catches) were former blue-chip recruits who are transferring from Georgia. Smith ran a 10.3 100m in high school and he’ll have an open path to playing time at Purdue.

WR Kam Brown (UCLA) has been a contributor for three years, but never had more than 24 catches in a season. He only had 13 in 2023.

RB Reggie Love (Illinois) led the Illini in rushing and averaged 4.9 yards per carry. He’ll be a solid option.

LT Corey Stewart (Ball State) might end up as the most significant addition they’ve made on offense. He faced plenty of good rushers in the MAC and was first team all-conference. He also went up against Kentucky and Georgia last year and only gave up two pressures in those games.

LT Joshua Sales (Indiana) is a decent depth piece. He has experience at both tackle spots and played 324 snaps in 2022.

DJ Wingfield (New Mexico) was a transfer who was hurt in 2022, but did well at right tackle last fall in the Mountain West. They are kicking him inside to guard.

CB Nyland Green (Georgia) was a 5-star recruit, but has only two pass breakups over 143 snaps in his career. Walters loves to play press man outside and that could be the right fit for Green’s skill set.

Sterling Smith started nine games at safety as a true freshman for Holy Cross. He’s originally from Indianapolis.

Edge Shitta Sillah (Boston College) has experience, but little production. He had three TFLs in 2023 and has never had more than 13 pressures in a season.

Edge CJ Madden (Georgia) was stuck behind a loaded group of edge rushers. He only played 52 snaps the last two years, but he’s another former blue-chip recruit.

Edge Calvin Smith (Illinois) was recruited by the Purdue staff that came from Illinois with Walters. He has four years of eligibility left.

Edge Jireh Ojata was a star defender at Franklin College (D-III). He’s 6-4 260 and was the conference player of the year on defense. He had 29 TFLs the last two years and blocked four kicks. At the very least he’s an intriguing athlete worth taking a flier on.

Freshman S Koy Beasley is an undersized, but ultra-athletic 4-star prospect. He had elite times in the 100 and 200m in high school and was impressive at the Polynesian Bowl. He’s the top candidate to make an early impact as a rookie.

Top returners and returning production

They are 63rd in returning production (37th on offense and 92nd on defense). QB Hudson Card didn’t light the world on fire after transferring from Texas. He completed 58.7% of his passes and threw 15 touchdowns against nine interceptions. He’s reportedly 22 pounds heavier than he was last spring.

They need him to be better. He finished 100th in 3rd down passing efficiency and 90th in ESPN’s QBR with 10 fumbles.

They have three starters back on the O-line led by C Gus Hartwig, one of the best centers in the Big Ten. He has over 2,700 career snaps.

Mahamane Moussa played LT last year, but he’s kicking inside to guard with the addition of Stewart. He’s a multi-year starter. RT Marcus Mbow had an elbow injury that took him out for the season halfway through the year. He’s another multi-year starter. One would think they have the pieces to at least be competent on the O-line, but they were 96th in blown block percentage on designed runs.

RB Devin Mockobee was their leading rusher. He finished with 811 yards (4.7 per carry). That sounds great, but his eight fumbles were a serious problem.

WR Jahmal Edrine transferred from FAU last year. At 6-3 215, he was the projected WR1 for them based on how he performed in the pre-season, but he tore his ACL and was out of the year. He had 39 catches for 570 yards with six touchdowns in 2022 at FAU.

TE Max Klare was putting up numbers before an injury ended his season after five games. He had 22 catches and is a reliable possession target. He hasn’t shown much ability after the catch.

The best player on their roster is S Dillon Thieneman. He had a sensational freshman season and is an All-American candidate. He had six interceptions, 106 tackles, and12 havoc plays. Thieneman was clocked running 22.3 mph with GPS. The only safety Notre Dame’s offense will face this season that is on Thieneman’s level will be in practice.

CB Markevious Brown had 11 havoc plays after transferring from Ole Miss, but was up and down with his performance.

The most interesting move for Purdue is switching Kydran Jenkins from the edge to inside linebacker. He had 15.5 TFLs and 7.5 sacks last season. We’ll see how well that transition goes, but it’s a move that isn’t attempted often before players move to the NFL.

LB Yanni Karlaftis (55 tackles) is the likely other starter next to Jenkins. He’s the brother of former Purdue DE George Karlaftis.

DT Cole Brevard lost 20 pounds and they’re hoping a slimmer version of him can be better than he was during his 416 snaps at nose guard last season.

Sophomore Edge Will Heldt is 6-6 250 and generating buzz as a potential breakout player. He wasn’t a big factor as a freshman.

Three big questions

Can they fix their coverage issues?

I’m never a huge fan of coaches trying to fit players into a scheme rather than fitting the scheme to the players. I think Walters and defensive coordinator Kevin Kane made a mistake last year in trying to run what they did at Illinois without the same personnel at Purdue.

They didn’t have the corners who could succeed playing so much man coverage. They finished 131st in PFF’s coverage grades, were 114th in EPA (expected points added) per dropback, and were 126th in receptions of 20+ yards against.

The most important piece to all of it is Green playing closer to the player people thought he’d be at Georgia.

Can they get what they want out of the rebuilt defensive line?

Losing Scourton and moving Jenkins means they have 92 pressures they have to replace on the edge. They have to feel good about some of the players already on the roster to move Jenkins and they need a bunch of transfers who look good getting off the bus to start producing.

There’s some concern from them about the defensive tackle position as well and it looks like the weak link of their defense.

Can the unproven transfers ignite the offense?

Notre Dame fans are familiar with Graham Harrell. He was previously the offensive coordinator at USC and spent one year at West Virginia before Walters brought him to Purdue.

They didn’t have the personnel to run the type of Air Raid attack Harrell has in the past. They threw the ball only 47.4% of the time, which is drastically different than when he was throwing the ball close to 60% of snaps in his three seasons at USC.

Replacing their top-four receivers might mean they can't run the offense Harrell wants to run, but maybe a healthy Edrine and Klare combined with a couple of the transfers hitting will change that.

They were 92nd in points per drive last season and they have to find a way to score more in 2024.

How they’ve recruited

Purdue has signed only six blue-chips from the 2021-2024 recruiting cycles. With that in mind, it makes sense that they’re rolling the dice by bringning in several underachieving blue-chips via the transfer portal.

11 of the transfers they’ve added in the last two years were ranked as 4 or 5-stars as recruits. The thought is that hopefully a few of them hit big, but it’s to be determined with the ones they brought in this offseason.

The Boilermakers will never be able to match talent with a program like Notre Dame, so it’s critical they identify and develop players at an extremely high level. They’d probably feel much better about renewing the rivalry a year or two later into Walters’ time at Purdue than where they are right now.

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