It still stings, Frankie Williams says. A year later and the Notre Dame game that could have been won, the season that potentially could have been changed, lingers in the Purdue cornerback's psyche like a toothache.
“I still have a bitter taste from last year,” he says. “To have a game so close and let it get away from us.”
The Boilers lost 20-17 at Notre Dame Stadium when they couldn't get a defensive stop in the final two minutes. Instead of the offense having a chance to produce a come-from-behind victory, Irish quarterback Tommy Rees came off the bench to direct a game-winning drive. Kyle Brindza's 27-yard field goal with seven seconds left ended it
Now the No. 21 Irish (1-1) come to Ross-Ade Stadium tonight and Purdue (1-1) seeks to make a nationally televised statement. The Boilers are three touchdown underdogs in their own stadium, which reflects their struggles against Cincinnati (a 42-7 loss) and Indiana State (a 20-14 win), as well as their five straight losses to Notre Dame.
Notre Dame is, in many ways, the Boilers' top rival, and if the Irish don't view it that way, so what?
“We take a lot of pride in this game,” Williams says. “We look forward to the opportunity to show our talents.”
In Williams' case, that means helping to shut down Rees and receivers such as TJ Jones (15 catches, a 15.5-yard average, one touchdown) and DaVaris Daniels (nine catches, 14.7-yard average, two TDs), plus tight end Troy Niklas (seven catches, 20.3-yard average, two TDs). Rees has thrown for 660 yards and five touchdowns, although his turnover tendency resurfaced when he threw a pair of interceptions in last Saturday's loss at Michigan.
“(Rees) is a great quarterback, and he utilizes all his weapons,” Williams says.
Niklas (6-6 and 270 pounds) and Daniels (6-1, 203) are big targets, but nothing the Boilers haven't seen in practice with Dolapo Macarthy (6-5, 220), Shane Mikesky (6-4, 211) and DeAngelo Yancey (6-2, 200).
“We've got some big guys we go against every day,” Williams says, “so we'll utilize what we have and play to the best of our ability.”
Williams also might go against Notre Dame running back Amir Carlisle, the son of Purdue director of sports performance Duane Carlisle. The younger Carlisle has rushed for 133 yards on 19 carries. He's a transfer from USC.
What makes the Irish offense formidable, coach Darrell Hazell says, is the big guys up front.
“They've got a great offensive line. They're very simplistic, but they're very sound. They're big and they stay low. We're going to have to battle up front. We can't give up big plays. We have to make them earn every inch of the field, every blade of grass.”
Purdue scaled back the offense the first few weeks to boost execution. Look for a slight upgrade in the offensive package for the Irish.
“We're starting to get those plays that we initially installed,” Hazell says.
“You've got to be good at running in two or three different schemes. You've got to have four or five base patterns that you can run out of the different formations to allow you to be successful. The more guys do it, the more comfortable they feel with those schemes.”
Is a scaled-back offense easier to defend? Not necessarily, Hazell says.
“(Notre Dame) has got to know when we're going to do things (to be successful). That's part of the whole issue. We come out in a run formation, we can do four of five different things out of it. It's important that we keep mixing it up so they don't know what we're running.”
The offensive key remains quarterback Rob Henry. He wasn't very good against Cincinnati (18-for-35 for 161 yards, two interceptions), was better against Indiana State (15-for-24 for 150 yards, no interceptions), but has yet to throw a touchdown.
“He definitely took steps forward,” Hazell says. “He needs to play better and he knows that.
“He took steps forward in communication and in taking care of the ball. We didn't have any turnovers (against Indiana State). We need to get better at seeing the field. He had a couple of slants on the back side where he didn't see it that were uncontested throws. We need to see those.”
If Henry does, if the Boilers play to their potential and execute, Hazell says, it could be a special night.
“The pulse of this locker room is very good. Those guys understand where their shortcomings are. They understand the deficiencies and how to correct them. They can see the film and say, Hey, if we do this, this and this, we can be pretty good.”