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Purdue University

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Purdue’s defense is solid up front, led by tackle Bruce Gaston, who leads the Boilers with 12 tackles this season.

Boilers also boast stout defensive line

Purdue coach Darrell Hazell has answered plenty of questions about Louis Nix III and Stephon Tuitt, who will be two of the Boilermakers’ biggest problems Saturday when they play No. 21 Notre Dame.

While Nix, a 6-foot-2, 342-pound defensive tackle, and Tuitt, a 6-6, 312-pound defensive end, will be in the spotlight, the Boilermakers want to use this opportunity to show the nation that their defensive line has similar talent.

The Irish have already taken notice.

“I think that’s a strength of their defense, led by Bruce Gaston,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. “And then again, up front, Ryan Russell; they are physical up front.”

Gaston, a senior captain and defensive tackle, and Russell, a junior left end, help make up a unit that has the most depth and the most talent on Purdue’s defense.

The Boilermakers also have senior end Greg Latta, sophomore nose tackle Ryan Watson and starting-caliber backups in Jalani Phillips, Jules Williams and Ryan Isaac along the line.

Gaston, who leads the team in tackles with 12 and tackles for loss with 3.5, has had his eye on this game since at least late July, when he spoke about it during the Big Ten media event in Chicago.

It’s probably been longer than that, given how heartbreaking that 20-17 loss in 2012 was for the 310-pound lineman.

“We’ve played some game that we may not have finished: Notre Dame and Ohio State,” he said. “It’s not how you start the fight, it’s how you finish.

“I can tell you one thing: that we will finish.”

The Boilermakers did just that in Week 2, albeit against a much weaker opponent in Indiana State.

The Purdue offense has struggled to get rolling through two games and scored only 20 points on its FCS-level opponent. The front line on defense responded with four sacks – two by Gaston, and two by Phillips – and a paltry 1.8 yards per carry on runs by the Sycamores.

Both of ISU’s scores in the 20-14 loss came on passes.

“Bruce Gaston had a great game,” Hazell said. “I thought that they played harder, looked a lot fresher – I don’t know if they were fresher or if that was just the perception. Generally, you’ll see a couple plays guys are taking off or not playing as hard as they should be playing. You didn’t see that.”

The Irish likely won’t see it when they visit West Lafayette, either.

Notre Dame is coming off a loss to Michigan that featured squandered red-zone opportunities and a lack of a run game. While Purdue is a 20 1/2 -point underdog, its defense gives the Boilermakers a chance Saturday.

The defensive line has accounted for 30 percent of Purdue’s tackling, eight of its 10 tackles for loss and all six of its sacks after two games.

It adds up to an intriguing battle, especially if the Notre Dame offensive line is as good as Kelly thinks it is.

“Our offensive line, you know, I thought has shown the last couple of weeks they can hold our own,” Kelly said Wednesday.

“So all signs point that it’s going to be a physical game up front between a very good offensive line and a very, very stout defensive line,” Kelly said.

smorrison@jg.net

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