Jeff Brohm could have gone to Notre Dame.
Then-Irish coach Lou Holtz actively pursued the 1988 Kentucky Mr. Football, whose father had gone to the same high school as Notre Dame Heisman Trophy winner Paul Hornung, but Brohm decided he'd rather try to build a winner at home with Louisville.
“At the time when I was recruited, (Notre Dame) had Rick Mirer committed, the top prospect in the country, and I was smart enough to realize that it's probably not a good place to go unless I like the bench,” Brohm said.
On Saturday, Brohm, in his fifth season as head coach at Purdue, will lead his underdog Boilers in a renewal of their rivalry against the Fighting Irish, the first time the in-state foes have met in seven years.
It is the continuation of a series that began in 1896 and was played annually for 69 years before abruptly going on hiatus in 2014. Now it's back, and Brohm says his team is looking forward to the opportunity to play at Notre Dame Stadium against the 12th-ranked Irish.
“We cherish getting that game back going because it's a great opportunity for our kids to play in that type of game,” Brohm said. “I think our guys look at this as a golden opportunity against a recent top-four program in the country.
“These are the measuring sticks that you dream of and we get a chance to do it this Saturday. So I know our guys are jacked up about playing against a great, high-caliber team.”
Notre Dame has reached the College Football Playoff twice in the last three years and it aspires to be a high-caliber team in 2021, but has not been yet. The Irish have squeaked out wins over Florida State and Toledo by three points apiece.
Notre Dame's players talked during the week about increased focus in practice after coach Brian Kelly blamed himself for a lack of intensity in the team's 32-29 win over the Rockets on Saturday.
“They have a standard and winning is not simply their standard,” Kelly said of his team. “They want to be champions, and they know that this performance over the last couple of weeks was good enough to get a win, but it's not going to take them to a championship level. They know and we know as coaches, we have to coach better and they have to play better.”
Purdue is hoping to take advantage of its rival's early-season struggles to improve to 3-0 for the first time since 2007. The Boilermakers, coming off a 49-0 pasting of Connecticut, will look to their superstars to try to exploit the weaknesses the Irish have displayed so far this season: a less-than-impressive offensive line and a penchant for giving up big plays on defense.
On offense for Purdue that means getting the ball to elusive wide receiver David Bell, who had two spectacular catch-and-runs for scores against the Huskies. Kelly has promised his team will respond with bracket coverage against Bell, trying to force Purdue to throw to anyone else.
On defense, the Boilermakers are hoping to crash through the leaky offensive line with aggressive play from defensive end George Karlaftis, whom Kelly called “arguably the best pass rusher in college football.”
Purdue will try to get Karlaftis matched up against Notre Dame's left tackle as much as possible: the Irish will have either backup Michael Carmody, dealing with a sprained ankle, or third-stringer Tosh Baker at the position.
Carmody will be a game-time decision.
Notre Dame vs. Purdue
When: 2:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend
Records: No. 12 Notre Dame (2-0), Purdue (2-0)
Radio: 1380 AM, 100.9 FM