Heads Above Water

Notre Dame controlled the football and finally, a full game, in an overwhelming 28-point victory to move to 3-2 on the season.

WEST LAFAYETTE, IN – Complete? Not if you consider that 1/3 of the squad – Notre Dame's not-so-special teams – continues to strive for mediocrity.

But dominant? You bet, at scrimmage and in every other aspect of the team's offense and defense as for the first time in 2011, Notre Dame completely controlled an entire contest on both sides of the ball, and avoided crippling turnovers in the process, the end result a convincing 38-10 victory over Purdue Saturday night in West Lafayette.

"We haven't arrived. Thirty-something first downs and we missed opportunities, like missing an easy field goal," head coach Brian Kelly said of the effort in total. "We played well today, but we have to score more points on the road."

The team's best player predictably delivered the first haymaker – a 35-yard post pattern for a score on Notre Dame's second, and the game's third snap. Running backs Cierre Wood and Jonas Gray, as well as the stout Irish defense took care of the rest, establishing early ground dominance that yielded a 158-31-yard rushing advantage for the visitors in the first half and a commanding 287-84 edge for the contest.

Throw in another double-triple for Floyd (10-plus receptions for 100-plus yards) and the best offensive effort of the Brian Kelly era propelled his formerly buried Irish over .500 for the first time this season.

The first half saw Floyd, Gray and Wood hit pay dirt for a 21-3 halftime edge; Tyler Eifert, T.J. Jones, and struggling kicker David Ruffer concluded the scoring in the second as the Irish pulled away from an overwhelmed Boilermakers defense – the second half never in doubt.

No Hope

Most pre-season BCS-hopefuls ease into their season schedules with an inferior, lower-class competition. Notre Dame enjoyed that unplanned luxury in Week Five, playing – by a wide margin – its worst opponent to date.

The rudderless Boilers had no answer for Notre Dame's strength up front or its team speed. Worse, they continually shot themselves in the foot with needless personal foul penalties, mental mistakes, and unforced errors.

Purdue's offense was limited to a game played between the 20s, rarely mounting a significant threat, venturing inside the Irish red zone once; a 27-yard field goal the result and the only relevant points of the contest for the clearly inferior hosts.

Head coach Danny Hope's third edition produced 37 more penalty yards than rushing yards in the defeat and, prior to the game's final cosmetic drive, his penalized crew had accrued 137 passing yards with 118 overall subtracted by penalty.

The game's absurd yardage disparity showed Notre Dame with a first quarter advantage of 185 to 39; a second quarter difference of 314-126; a third quarter gap of 471-179; and the final tally, 551-276. It was the one aspect of Purdue's product that enjoyed any consistency.

Class Struggle

Oft-discussed quarterback Tommy Rees threw for 254 yards – his highest total in seven victories as a starter. The sophomore – who missed a handful of relatively open receivers over the first three quarters, added three touchdowns and – be-still-my-beating-heart – no interceptions or fumbles, the first such occurrence of the Irish season and just the fourth in the 18-game Brian Kelly era.

If not for requisite special teams follies, the Irish would have played a complete football game, but 3-2 will do just fine regardless. They're back among the living, with three home games and a bye week remaining to close October.

Just three weeks ago, the winless Irish were on the brink. Nw a 4-2 first-half of the season seems eminently attainable. They're not yet a player on the national stage, but they could be – for the first time since early-season 2005 – the squad is an underrated, dangerous football team, one capable of beating every team on its schedule and a group that will enter its next six contests as definitive favorites.

Four straight games vs. bowl-bound foes opened the Irish season. At least four more will follow with the ineligible Men of Troy not included. The Irish are far from a finished product. They're likely still three weeks and two (potential) wins from a return to the nation's Top 25. But they're also a considerable distance from the mistake-ridden crew that inexplicably fell from grace before a single leaf fell in South Bend.

Notre Dame's win over a terrible Purdue team doesn't signify revival – but it was a necessary step in a season-long process that includes no margin for error.

And for the first time since the conclusion of 2010, this mandatory step in Notre Dame's journey back was also easy on the eyes.

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