Notre Dame will look to extend its home winning streak to 26 games this weekend when the Fighting Irish take on the Purdue Boilermakers.
The Notre Dame offense has been a bit erratic through two games but will look to get on track against Purdue. If Notre Dame is going to do that the Irish will need to have success in some very important individual matchups.
#75 OT Josh Lugg, #79 OT Tosh Baker vs. #5 DE George Karlaftis
Through two games, Notre Dame’s biggest issue on offense has been weak offensive line play. Though the passing game has been able to succeed when quarterback Jack Coan has had time to throw, the Irish run game has been practically nonexistent over the first two weeks.
There’s no question the Irish offensive line looked out-matched and overpowered against the Florida State and Toledo defensive fronts, ceding 10 sacks and 20 tackles for loss against its first two opponents. To make matters worse, it’s still unclear whether second-string sophomore Michael Carmody or third-string sophomore Tosh Baker will get the start at left tackle on Saturday after Carmody went down with an ankle injury against Toledo.
The latest information is that Baker will get the start and Carmody's availability will likely be determined as we get closer to the game.
Notre Dame's tackles - which also includes veteran Josh Lugg - will be matched up against one of the nation's best pass rushers when they face Purdue end George Karlaftis. As a true freshman in 2019, the 6-4, 275-pound Karlaftis racked up 7.5 sacks and 17 tackles for loss while earning second-team All-Big Ten honors.
Considering Carmody and Baker have had trouble dealing with lesser competition thus far, the matchup with Karlaftis, who is still in search of his first sack on the season, should be a challenge for the young linemen. The same is true if Karlaftis lines up on the other side against Lugg. If the Irish offensive line can protect Coan and contain Karlaftis the offense should have a big day, but if Karlaftis takes over Notre Dame could be in trouble.
#4 WR Kevin Austin Jr. vs. #23 CB Cory Trice
Two games in to the 2021 season and it’s become clear the rumors were true, Kevin Austin Jr. is a game-changer. Austin has caught eight passes for 154 yards (19.3 YPC) and a touchdown in his first season as Notre Dame’s primary receiver. On Notre Dame’s three-play, game-winning offensive drive against Toledo, Austin is the one who got it started by making an improbable 34-yard reception down the right sideline while being draped by a defender (who was flagged on the play).
Though Michael Mayer has been Coan’s go-to pass catcher thus far, Austin has given a massive boost to the Irish passing game and given the team the deep ball threat they’ve been missing since Chase Claypool’s departure.
Against Purdue nothing will come easy for Austin when he is matched up against Boilermakers standout senior cornerback Cory Trice. In six games played last season, Trice made 27 solo tackles and had two pass breakups. As a sophomore in 2019, Trice tied for the team lead with three interceptions and also made 29 solo tackles.
Trice is known for his great size, athleticism, and man-to-man coverage abilities. At 6-2 and 215 pounds, Austin isn't going to face many corners with better size, but Trice is one of those rare players at 6-3, 215. In what is potentially a matchup between Notre Dame’s best athlete on offense and Purdue’s best on defense, this battle should be fun to watch the whole game. Whenever the Irish need a spark, they look for Austin, whereas Trice brings the stops for Purdue, making this one of the game’s best matchups.
Notre Dame Guards vs. Purdue Defensive Tackles
Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly hinted that we could see a rotation at guard against Purdue, which means we could not only see current starters Zeke Correll and Cain Madden, we could also see players like Rocco Spindler and John Dirksen.
Though this will be far from the flashiest matchup on the field Saturday, it is definitely one of the most important. I've already discussed the struggles of the Irish line, and the guards have been the biggest problem area for the line. After playing center in replacement of the injured Jarrett Patterson at the end of last season, Correll has struggled in his transition to guard. Madden, a preseason first-team All-American, has also struggled to start the season. The struggles at guard have been a driving force behind Notre Dame's inability to run the ball and have been a major contributor to the pass protection issues.
Purdue defensive tackles Branson Deen, Lawrence Johnson and Demarjhe Lewis have been effective clogging up the middle this season for Purdue, combining for 11 tackles and a tackle for loss. Purdue has only given up a little over 200 total rushing yards rushing total in its first two games. If Notre Dame can get a push inside, they’ll be able to open up a lot more offensively, making these interior matchups especially intriguing.
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