Each category marked a career-best in an Irish victory; each also could have been much more impressive had Rees not thrown the ball flat and out of bounds on several fade routes, missed open receivers throughout the first half, or noticed a wide open Cierre Wood for what would have been an easy 70-yard, untouched wheel route touchdown early in the second quarter.
Initial Analysis: Ultimately, Rees (should have) quieted his critics for at least seven days – a few missed throws are allowed in an evisceration of a Big 10 foe in enemy territory.
Wood and GrayConsidering the opponent, it wasn't Cierre Wood's most impressive outing, but it was easily the most productive and eye-opening, the junior accounting for 191 rushing yards on 20 carries including a 55-yard touchdown sprint, the longest of his career.
And for the fourth consecutive week, Wood was backed ably by senior Jonas Gray, whose career high 94 yards were accrued with just 15 carries, including his second career touchdown and second in as many weeks. Gray has averaged better than eight yards per carry since his season-opening fumble was returned for six by South Florida.
Wood repeatedly made defenders miss at the second level, but his scrimmage efforts again turned potential losses into gains, including one first quarter carry that included three moves in traffic for a 9-yard gain. The Oxnard-Calif.-native also authored his own scoring drive: 3 carries, 75 yards and the aforementioned 55-yard score to open up a 21-0 lead. He finished with eight runs of at least 10 yards; Gray adding four of his own.
Gray ran with authority, both through would-be tacklers and around them with the use of a rediscovered stiff-arm that felled more than a few Boilers in his path.
The freshmen tandem of Cam McDaniel and George Atkinson saw its first time from scrimmage; McDaniel rushing once for a yard and Atkinson catching a 10-yard pass, both on the team's final offensive series.
Initial Analysis: Statistically, it was the best performance by the Irish running game in more than seven seasons (at Stanford 2003) – more important, the Wood/Gray tandem showed every skill set necessary to contend at the highest level: second-level moves, breakaway speed, and a refusal to fall after initial hits.
Wood is one of the team's two best players to date; Gray just joined the Top 12 – a far cry from his ignominious season start.
Wide ReceiversThrough 19 game minutes, Michael Floyd totaled 112 yards and a touchdown on eight receptions. The rest of the Irish – three catches for 36 yards including a 20-yard catch-and-run from Wood. But when presented with one-on-one situations, Rees did as instructed, taking advantage of a perimeter mismatch and finding his senior target for 137 yards on 12 catches – the yardage the third-highest of the season for Floyd; the reception total tying his second-best career effort.
Tyler Eifert scored his second touchdown of the season and in as many weeks. After a quiet first half (1-8) the junior chain-mover caught three third quarter passes for 30 yards and an out-route score. Joining Eifert in the third quarter onslaught was sophomore T.J. Jones, who looked especially quick on a tunnel screen that gained 16 yards and an ensuing 11-yarder over the middle on which he capitalized for a score.
John Goodman added his first catch of the season and slot receiver Robby Toma broke free for an easy post-route score but Rees misfired – the connection would have yielded the first score of Toma's three-year Irish career.
Initial Analysis: Floyd has absolutely ridiculous hands in traffic, routinely plucking the ball from the air on slants and inside routes. With Eifert and Jones emerging as quality No. 2 and No. 3 targets, Notre Dame's passing attack will continue to overwhelm foes through October. The only negative? Another no-show from junior Theo Riddick, his third in five games.
Offensive LineThe left side of the Irish lane completely dominated the first half, with tackle Zack Martin and guard Chris Watt blowing massive holes at scrimmage and at the linebacker level for their pair of ball carriers.
Watt offered two big blocks to spring Gray with Martin doing the same in space. The left side combo opened a hole for 12 yards over the left side (with help from tight end Tyler Eifert) and aside from a whiff from Martin near the goal line and a false start on Watt at the 5, the pair played championship football – the unsung heroes of Week Five.
Senior right guard Trevor Robinson also excelled in space, notably sealing the edge on a pulling block to afford Wood a lane through the left side and a 19-yard gain – one augmented by a personal foul penalty post-play.
Braxston Cave should get half credit for Gray's touchdown run; it was the senior center than buried Gray's hanging tackler to allow his classmate an end zone plunge. (
Initial Analysis: We always consult the film for a full O-Line review, but there's no doubt coach Ed Warinner's group played its best game to date, plowing ahead for 7.2 yards per carry, and keeping quarterback Tommy Rees clean on 41 pass attempts.
Defensive LinePurdue entered the contest averaging 288 rushing yards – it managed 84 Saturday; 31 when the game was in relative doubt.
Right defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore regularly penetrated his gap, finishing with a tackle-for-loss and pass defended. He forced another incompletion by dropping into the passing lane on an intended slant throw. Lewis-Moore's only gaffe was the abandonment of his rush lane in the dime defense that allowed Boilers QB Robert Marve a free run through the middle for 11 yards on 3rd and 10.
Nose guard Louis Nix was active throughout, not credited with a stop, but the redshirt-freshman anchor appeared four times in my notes for forcing run efforts between 0 and 2 yards, including one in which he tossed a single-team block aside and forced the scrambling Marve into linebacker Manti Te'o for no gain.
Two developments keyed the insertion of backup sophomore defensive end Kona Schwenke for the first time:
- Freshman defensive end Stephon Tuitt did not make the trip due to "a violation of team rules."
- Senior defensive end Ethan Johnson left the game after the second series with an ankle injury and did not return (Johnson wore a boot on the sidelines).
Head coach Brian Kelly had indicated this week that Schwenke might be headed for a red-shirt season – one that's now lost.
Picking up the slack at end was frosh force Aaron Lynch, who finished with a sack, tackle-for-loss, and three tackles. The official stat sheet shows no QB hurries – my notes indicate two, including one pass rush in which he simply bulled over right tackle Justin Kitchens – pressing two hands into the blocker's chest – before chasing Marve to the sidelines.
Senior nose guard Hafis Williams recorded a sack late. Williams hadn't played in two weeks after seeing ample time in Ann Arbor in Game Two.
Initial Analysis: The unit remains the team's best, dominating the line of scrimmage against a Purdue team that came out throwing – its weakness – likely because it believed deep down it couldn't run. Tuitt's undisclosed offense/decision caused his teammate a potential extra season of football at Notre Dame.
LinebackersManti Te'o played his best game of the season, finishing with eight tackles including three for lost yardage, and more important, playing All-America level football in space vs. a pair of mobile signal callers. Te'o was all over the field, and appeared far quicker afoot than any game played this season to date.
Senior Darius Fleming finished with two pass breakups and a sack – the latter overturned by his needless face mask on the play (Marve surrendered in a heap). Fleming second PD could have been a pick six as he read on out route to the boundary just after halftime.
Instant Analysis: After four weeks of solid football, Te'o was a force –the most important defensive development of the season through five games.
Defensive BacksThe Boilermakers threw 38 passes and managed 192 yards – 55 of which were completely cosmetic on the contest's final drive vs. Irish reserves.
Gary Gray opened the contest with a first-play interception – one that led to a post-patter score to Michael Floyd two snaps later. Gray added a pass defended on a short hook in a relatively quiet day (he was beaten once deep but bailed out by a big hit by Harrison Smith).
Fellow cornerback Robert Blanton again dominated his edge, recording six solos including one for loss. The senior has five stops behind scrimmage through five game's, trailing only Te'o (6). His aggressiveness and desire to play through the whistle drew the ire of Boilers wide receivers, a development that contributed to a 15-yard retaliation personal foul on a frustrated Antavius Edison.
Blanton was tested by the Boilers on a combination wheel route in the second quarter – he never hesitated, reading the pattern from the outset and shutting down Marve's deep option. The senior has been, without a doubt, the team's most complete defender through five games.
5th-year senior Harrison Smith was officially credited with a pass breakup and three tackles: a closer look shows the last line of defense broke up a deep sideline route in the first quarter, recorded a stop-in-space to take down a reverse before halftime – with all green grass behind him – and another pass breakup in tandem with free safety Jamoris Slaughter late.
Slaughter and Zeke Motta remained quiet, with the former registering a tackle and the latter not appearing on the stat sheet (or my notes).
Instant Analysis: Purdue's longest pass play prior to the irrelevant final drive was just 16 yards. That type of coverage/defense will win a lot of football games. More important, they never gave the Boilers second half hope after the offense raced out to a 21-3 half time lead.
Special TeamsAnother bad snap leads to a blocked field goal, another to a missed kick. The missed kick? A chip-shot that has to be converted...The punt return team managed to lose only three yards (that could be a season-best, I'm too depressed to check)…punt returner John Goodman chose not to fair catch a ball at the 36-yard line that subsequently bounces and rolls 18 yards inside the Irish 20…the kickoff coverage unit allows one return to the 46-yard line…Ben Turk shanks a punt after which long-snapper Jordan Cowart gets into a scuffle, losing his team 15 yards in the process…Cowart airmails a punt snap (Turk makes a fantastic catch and drops a rugby punt to the PU 2-yard line thanks to a kind roll)…
Notre Dame has terrible, impossibly bad special teams. The comedy of errors noted above wasn't among the two worst performances of the season through five games.
Instant Analysis: Failure.