It's Purdue week. Whenever we play Purdue I think back to my Junior year at Notre Dame (1984) when over 6,000 Notre Dame students piled into 147 charter buses for the trip down to Indianapolis so that the Fighting Irish could "host" Purdue in the first football game played in the Hoosier Dome. At the time it was said that the excursion set a Guinness World Record for "longest bus caravan." I'm sure it must have been galling to Purdue fans and alumni that Notre Dame was the "home" team and had top billing for the dedication of a new football stadium in their own backyard. Despite Purdue's victory that day, Boilermaker nation has long come to accept that Notre Dame is the Big Dog in Indiana, and the most they can hope for is to steal a little kibble from the Irish bowl when the Dog is taking a nap on the porch. The Irish lead the all-time series against Purdue by a 51-25-2 count, and Notre Dame's 51 wins against Purdue are the second-most against any opponent -- 69 against Navy is the highest.
Yet when I look at the meeting with Purdue, I see some real problems. A young team, brutal early season schedule, and difficult match-ups of styles have created a perfect storm of bad news for Notre Dame fans so far this season. We have all been waiting for that softer part of the schedule where match-ups and team styles would work more in favor of the Irish. I don't think this is the week. As you look at Purdue in detail, it becomes obvious that although Notre Dame matches up well in some areas, Purdue has greater all-around depth as well as some potent weapons that the Irish simply have no answer for. I'll break it down by units.
The bands. In the trenches, Notre Dame has the "Band of the Fighting Irish." Purdue answers with the "All-American Marching Band." Both bands have solid tradition, good size and excellent sound. But upon closer examination - it's really a mis-match. Purdue traces the history of its band back to 1886:
The Purdue Band was first formed as a drum corps for the Purdue Student Army Training Corps, a predecessor of ROTC, which would begin just before World War I. In October of 1886, almost a year after the student newspaper noted the purchase of a bugle, the same paper noted that the band "as thus far organized, consists of Floyd and Lutz, cornets; Hicks, baritone; Remster, alto; Butterworth, tuba." From those five musicians attached to the military training came Purdue University Bands.
The drum corps played sporadically during the early years, depending upon whether anyone qualified to drill the group happened to be on the university staff. There was little or no musical training available.
So Floyd, Lutz, Hicks, Remster and Butterworth got together and played "sporadically" depending upon whether or not there was anyone on staff at Purdue who had a clue. That's the heritage of your All-American Band.
Notre Dame's band, on the other hand, had more auspicious beginnings:
The earliest reference to the band is in 1846 when it played at the first graduation ceremony. The importance of music on campus also caused a Music Hall/Auditorium to be built as the third major building of the new school after the classroom/dormitory building (The Golden Dome) and the Church. The legendary football coach, Knute Rockne, played flute for Notre Dame, and former Athletic Director Edward (Moose) Krause spent some years studying music before putting his clarinet on the shelf and devoting himself to athletics.Thus, when Purdue's band was first formed in 1886, Notre Dame's band had already been performing for 40 years.
The University of Notre Dame Band is the oldest college band (in continuous existence) in the United States and was honored as such by being declared a "Landmark of American Music" by the National Music Council, the Indiana Music Educators Association and Exxon Corporation during the 1976 U.S. Bicentennial.
The Band of the Fighting Irish has a long tradition of providing music and pageantry for the Notre Dame football games. It was on hand for the first game against the University of Michigan in 1887 and has not missed a single home game since. It should be noted that the Notre Dame Band was celebrating its forty-first anniversary when that historic first game was played.
Purdue's claim to fame is the Block "P". Notre Dame counters with the much more dynamic and recognizable interlocking "ND".
Of course, when it comes to marching bands, at the end of the day it's all about the music. Purdue's band cannot seem to make up it's mind and has three different fight songs (Hail Purdue!, Fighting Varsity, and For the Honor of Old Purdue), none of them memorable. The Band of the Fighting Irish counters with the most famous and stirring of all college fight songs - the Notre Dame Victory March! Advantage: Notre Dame.
Auxiliary Units. Notre Dame's band is accompanied by the world famous Irish Guard. The members of the Guard are big, tough, and nasty (especially on a Saturday morning when they are hung over). Man for man and pound for pound they match up very well against anyone. But there are only ten of them. Purdue 's first auxiliary unit is the twirlers, a group of eleven seasoned veterans led by the flashy, brassy Golden Girl. The Golden girl is joined by the Girl in Black, the Silver Twins, and seven other accomplished twirlers. Certainly the Irish Guard would be a heavy favorite against the twirlers. But this is where Purdue's depth really starts to make a difference. The twirlers are backed up by the 20 members of the Golduster Dance Team AND the 16 members of the Golden Silks Flag Corps. All told, the Purdue auxiliaries go at least 47 members deep! And they are armed with batons and flag poles and many, many sequins. The Irish Guard are badasses, but they are also Notre Dame men, and the twirlers, Goldusters and Golden Silks are, after all, female. Advantage: Draw (with lots of regret in the morning).
Mascots. Purdue Pete is not really the official mascot of Purdue University. But to most college football fans, this wild-eyed, freak-show melonhead is the face of Boilermaker football. He will be lined up against the Notre Dame leprechaun. Pete has the advantage of being higher than a kite (thus the crazy eyes) and wielding a dangerous blunt instrument. But his over-sized head hurts his athleticism, as he can't change directions quickly or bend over without falling down. The leprechaun has a big advantage in quickness and agility, has a long history as a brawler, and is aided by leprechaun magic. Advantage: Leprechaun.
Drum Majors and Cheerleading Squads. Both Universities are well represented by their drum majors and cheerleaders. One would surmise that as an engineering school Purdue's cheerleaders might be below average, but my research indicates otherwise. There is no real statistical difference to exploit here. Advantage: Pick 'em.
Specialists. So to this point, Notre Dame has the advantage in Marching Band and mascot, and is able to keep things even in the Auxiliary and Cheer categories. You'd think we ought to be feeling pretty good about our chances. But you'd be wrong, because Purdue features of couple of specialists of unique talent and ability, for which I don't think the Irish have any answer. I am speaking, of course, of the Big Bass Drum and the Boilermaker Special.
The Big Brass Drum has at times been claimed as the World's Largest Drum. It's big, eye-catching, and totally preposterous. Yet, Notre Dame has nothing that can match up with the drum. Touchdown Jesus? The Grotto? Maybe, if this were a home game. But TD Jesus and Mary aren't getting on the bus on Friday. The drum will be totally uncovered and it will kill us. The same goes for the Boilermaker Special (which is the actual, official Purdue mascot). The Fighting Irish have nothing that can compete. No car, truck or horse. No cannons. Nothing. The Dome? The "Play Like a Champion Today" sign? Maybe at home, but they don't help us on the road. Advantage: Purdue (Big!).
Bottom Line: It will be a very good match-up on Saturday between Notre Dame and Purdue, but because of Purdue's astounding depth, you have to believe that Purdue will out-perform the Irish during the half-time show.
As for the football game: Who the heck knows? Purdue is a very different team than those we have played until now. All four of our opponents to date have been run first, pass second (if at all) teams. They have had big offensive lines and strong running backs and have just overpowered us at the point of attack. Our secondary has not been really tested yet, but they have given up an astonishingly high ratio of of TD's per pass thrown. I expect the Irish offense to build on last week's success on the ground, pounding away with Aldridge and Hughes to move the chains and keep the ball away from Purdue. If we can soften up the Purdue defense and make them respect the run, then we'll take some shots in the passing game. Purdue's defensive line and pass rush should not be nearly as formidable as those we have faced to date, so I would expect that at times Jimmy Clausen will actually be able to set his feet in the pocket and make some throws. I would expect Notre Dame to improve upon last week's 14-point offensive outburst. On defense, the key question will be: Can our allegedly improved secondary really cover anyone? I was excited to see two effective young pass rushers for Notre Dame last week in Kerry Neal and Brian Smith. Unless Purdue runs more effectively than usual, I hope to see Neal and Smith get a lot of action putting early pressure on Purdue QB Painter and thus protecting our secondary from the big play. If we can cover and pressure, then we will have our best chance yet at a victory. Purdue is waaayyy overrated, having defeated three absolute cream-puffs and one near cream-puff. For the first time this season, Notre Dame will enter the game as the more athletic and more physical team. The question will be whether we can execute. If we execute at a high level, we win. If not, we lose. My pick? Notre Dame manhandles Purdue and gets its first victory of the season, 31-27.