Friday, September 3, 2010
Opportunity awaits Boilers around the Bend
By Adam Rittenberg
According to Danny Hope, Notre Dame already has been the perfect Week 1 opponent for Purdue.
You might ask: How is that possible? Hope's Boilermakers and the Fighting Irish don't even play until Saturday afternoon in South Bend.
Purdue coach Danny Hope called facing Notre Dame in Week1 a "blessing in disguise" for his football team.
What if Purdue gets pummeled? It wouldn't be the first time, as Notre Dame leads the all-time series 53-26-2 and has won 15 of the teams' last 16 meetings at Notre Dame Stadium.
But leading up to Saturday, Notre Dame has served its purpose for Purdue. The Irish have helped the Boilers practice harder. They have motivated the Boilers to show up for summer workouts. They have motivated Purdue's many young players to listen to the veterans.
"It was a blessing in disguise for this football team," Hope told ESPN.com earlier this week. "This is a developmental football team in a lot of ways, and the faster you can develop before you kick it off in the opener, the better chance you have of winning, but also the further along you get for the rest of the season.
"A very tough opener, but one that's created a heck of a sense of urgency for us to prepare."
The spotlight Saturday undoubtedly will be fixed on the Notre Dame sideline, as Brian Kelly makes his coaching debut. National media members will be on hand to watch Kelly, quarterback Dayne Crist, receiver Michael Floyd, linebacker Manti Te'o and others as a new chapter begins for the Irish.
Purdue will be an afterthought. Sure, there's some buzz about Miami transfer Robert Marve and his debut as Purdue's starting quarterback. Say the name Ryan Kerrigan and knowledgeable college football fans should know who you're talking about.
But for the most part, the Boilers are anonymous.
"You're going in there as an underdog, and you're going in there for the coming-out party for a new head coach at a storied program," Hope said. "Our guys see it, too. There will be millions and millions of eyes watching the Boilermakers and the Irish. What a great opportunity for us. We've got to go down there wide open and having fun.
"We certainly can't go down there motivated by fear or failure."
That part shouldn't be a problem, not after last season.
Purdue snapped a 19-game slide against ranked opponents by stunning No. 7 Ohio State, snapping the Buckeyes' 16-game Big Ten road win streak in the process. Three weeks later, the Boilers went to Ann Arbor and won at Michigan Stadium for the first time since 1966. Hope's players won't care that only one Notre Dame coach has lost his debut since 1934 (Lou Holtz in 1986).
"We've been jinx killers as of late," Hope said. "To me, [Notre Dame's success in the series] is just more numbers. It sounds like just the right formula for us, and that's exciting."
Hope acknowledges Notre Dame's talent and Kelly's sparkling coaching record, but he likes the matchup for the Boilers. Kerrigan and fellow defensive end Gerald Gooden could be a handful for a young Notre Dame offensive line.
Purdue's new-look secondary will be tested by Floyd, Theo Riddick and tight end Kyle Rudolph, but Hope points out that the Boilers' defensive backs practice daily against All-Big Ten senior Keith Smith and several other good receivers. Hope said ball security and quarterback performance will be major keys for both teams, as Marve and Crist take center stage.
"A win at Notre Dame would be a signature win for the program," Hope said. "It would be a historic win, a great springboard opportunity for this team and this program. There's a million things to gain from it. But win or lose, I don't see how we can go wrong playing Notre Dame in the opener.
"All around, it's been the best thing for our football team."