Film doesn't lie. Purdue right tackle Justin Kitchens knows all about that. He's seen Notre Dame nose guard Louis Nix — all 6-foot-3 and 357 pounds of him. He's knows all about All-American defensive lineman Stephon Tuitt, who is 6-foot-6 and 322 pounds.
They are the heart of the Irish defense. Neutralize them, as Michigan did, and all offensive things are possible. Let them dominate and a shaky Boilers offense could be in for 60 minutes of nationally televised misery Saturday night.
Bring it on, Kitchens says: “We're going against some of the best competition in the nation. It's a challenge, but it's also an opportunity to show how good we are, too.”
Kitchens is 6-foot-4 and 290 pounds, which makes him small by Purdue offensive line standards. Left tackle Kevin Pamphile is 6-foot-5 and 315 pounds; left guard Devin Smith is 6-foot-6 and 320; and right guard Trevor Foy is 6-foot-7 and 300. His backup, Jordan Roos, is 6-foot-5 and 320. Center Robert Kugler is 6-foot-3 and 284 pounds, but you don't necessarily want massive men at that position.
The bottom line is Purdue (1-1) has the size and experience to dominate up front. But it has not. That is a problem that has to be fixed.
“We had a lot of missed opportunities in our first two games,” Kitchens says. “We didn't help ourselves. We were just a little bit off. It's not effort or talent. Sometimes it's just execution. Sometimes a little bit can make a big difference.”
Don't judge the Boilers by the Cincinnati and Indiana State games, Kitchens says. There's a lot more than that.
“We know what we can do. We're confident in ourselves. We know what we have," he says. "The first two games didn't give a good perspective on our team. We know our talent level. This could be the game we put ourselves on the map.
“This is a big game, a big deal. We'll give our best effort.”
Coach Darrell Hazell expects nothing less against the No. 21 Irish (1-1).
“Notre Dame is very good up front. The thing that impressed me about (Nix) is to watch him run down and chase the ball at 350 pounds. He plays — you wouldn't think a guy that big would play with so much energy down the field, but he does a great job.”
Nix was good enough against Michigan (four tackles, one for loss) for coach Brian Kelly to say, “Louis Nix was a beast. (Michigan) couldn't block him. He played as well as he's played for us. They had no answers for him inside.”
Purdue figures to double team Nix and Tuitt, while still making no gaps appear for Irish linebackers to exploit and bust into the backfield. They did just that in last year's 20-17 loss at Notre Dame, which builds confidence for Saturday night at Ross-Ade Stadium.
“We give (Nix and Tuitt) the utmost respect,” Kitchens says. “They're good players. It's also a way to show what we can do. We played them hard last year. We're confident in our abilities, too.
Purdue has improved its communication and chemistry, Kitchens adds. Now it has to prove it in a game.
“All the butterflies are gone. We're used to the calls. We're talking to each other. The overall chemistry is so much better," he says. “When you get to the goal line, you've got to get it in the end zone. We played aggressively (against Indiana State), but it didn't happen for us. I think we'll get it right this time.”
Purdue, which has lost five straight games to Notre Dame, is pushing to continue a series that has been played every year since 1946. The Irish's move to the ACC has left future schedule uncertainty.
“This is a big deal,” Kitchens says. “People talk about it throughout the summer. You can hear the students chattering about it in class. They ask you about the game. It's like the biggest rivalry of the year.”
The Boilers project as 21-point underdogs, which doesn't diminish the excitement, Kitchens says.
“We have nothing to lose. We're trying to make something happen.
“The fact it's a night game gives it a different atmosphere. It's in the air. You can feel it. A night game takes it to a whole new level.”