No. 21 Notre Dame narrowly avoided an upset at Purdue on Saturday. The Fighting Irish (2-1) were clearly suffering from a hangover after losing to Michigan the week before, but a strong fourth quarter led to a 31-24 victory.
All credit is due to coach Darrell Hazell and Purdue’s (1-2) coaching staff. They entered the game with an outstanding plan and a tremendous amount of energy courtesy of the crowd.
After rough start by Notre Dame, which saw the offense score just three points in the first half, the Irish rallied and used a strong fourth quarter to close out the game.
Purdue Game Notes:
- Finally some offense. Purdue struggled to find anything resembling consistency on offense in the first two games of the season. The opening drive of the game was beautifully executed and put an awful lot of pressure on the Irish. Following that drive, it was clear that this wouldn’t be an easy out for Notre Dame. While the opening drive used a nice mix of pass and run, the Boilers were really only able to find success through the air (something that had been missing prior to this game).
- Rob Henry really is a QB. Henry looked awful before Saturday. It was clear that he didn’t have an understanding of the play book and was struggling with accuracy. He completed 62 percent of his passes, up from a 58 percent season average. He also had three touchdowns, making his season touchdown total…three. Aside from the bad throw on his lone interception, Henry had a solid game. It was clearly and improvement for Henry and indicates that he is more comfortable in this offense. It could be enough to keep the Boilers in games or to lead a game winning drive.
- Does Purdue have a real option at wide receiver? Running back Akeem Hunt led the team in receptions with nine, next closest was tight end Justin Sinz with six. Hunt is also the season leader with 12. Purdue needs to find Henry a reliable option at receiver, Hunt can’t continue to handle the dual role of primary running back and receiving target.
- The defense was interesting. While 31 points might seem like a lot, seven of those points came off an interception return for a touchdown. 24 points isn’t all that bad and would have been enough to force overtime. Purdue gave up just 2.5 rushing yard per carry and held Notre Dame under 100 yards rushing total. That said, the secondary gave up 400 yards. It was a mixed bag for Purdue, but holding an opponent of Notre Dame’s caliber to just three in the first half is impressive.
Notre Dame Game Notes:
- Flat Start. This is how a team starts a game after a disappointing loss to a rival. The Irish were emotionally drained and poorly motivated. This is part of the problem with the BCS system. One loss and your season aspirations are essentially done. Just look at Texas A&M, a lot of teams have to lose before they could even be considered for berth in the title game. Its the same for the Irish, albeit with a bigger hill to climb. You would imagine a team coming off a loss would want to kick the hell out of an opponent, I certainly did, but the opposite can be equally true and it showed up on Saturday.
- DeVaris Daniels. Notre Dame was losing, until WR Daniels got tired of losing. He literally scored touchdowns on back-to-back plays on offense. Even with CB Ricardo Allen draped all over him, Daniels found ways to get open (and his stiff arm on Allen while tightroping the sideline was unreal). The two touchdowns gave the Irish a lead that they wouldn’t relinquish.
- Defensive Improvement. Last week, the Irish gave up 460 yards of offense to Michigan. This week they held Purdue under 300. Granted, the Boilermakers aren’t as potent as the Wolverines, but it is still an improvement. Cornerback Bennett Jackson rebounded with a nice game that included an interception for a touchdown that sealed victory for the Irish. The defensive line gave up just 36 yards rushing as well. Overall, it was a better effort.
- The final drive was beautiful. With a seven-point lead and over seven minutes left in the game, Notre Dame had the ball, and never gave it back to Purdue. It ended up being a 61-yard drive that Purdue was incapable of slowing down. Not a single play run by Notre Dame stopped the clock. And while it was primarily run heavy, Tommy Rees made a nice pass early in the series on 3rd-and-6 to Daniels to shatter Purdue’s hope at a comeback.
If there is such a thing as a quality loss, this is it for Purdue. The offense finally came out and produced while the defense finally played up to its potential. Purdue has a history of playing the Irish tough, and this was no exception.
For Notre Dame, this win is symptomatic of the problems with this team. The tough defense of last season isn’t there anymore, but it is possible that the Irish have a better offense.
Both teams have a rough path ahead. Purdue hits the road to face No. 24 Wisconsin. Notre Dame will face Michigan State in South Bend.
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