Solid OakNo sacks allowed; nearly 300 rushing yards; rushing scores inside the 5 and also outside the 50-yard line.
Notre Dame's veteran offensive line enjoyed one of its best Saturdays of the Brian Kelly era in the 38-10 rout of Purdue.
"They've done a great job of protecting the quarterback, and it's something that we take a lot of pride in," Kelly noted. "And we spend a lot of time, we really do, in terms of pass protections and getting in the right plays and getting the right things, and that's the running back (responsibility), too.
"Cierre Wood and Jonas Gray, both those guys need to get due credit, as well, because they picked up some pressures last night individually that if they don't pick them up, Tommy is going to be on his back."
Rees has been sacked just eight times in 38 competitive quarters of football as a starter and key reserve. Senior Dayne Crist has been sacked 17 times in his 33 quarters of action during the Kelly era.
Wood has been, along with seniors Michael Floyd and Robert Blanton, and classmate Zack Martin, one of the team's most consistent performers through five games. His five rushing scores matches the season-best of any Notre Dame running back since Darius Walker exited campus following the 2006 season. His 584 rushing yards just 19 from his team-leading total last year – and just over 100 yards shy of the highest full-season number (697) since Walker's early exodus.
"He's one of those guys that I want on our football team because he loves competition," Kelly said of Wood in the coach's weekly Sunday conference call. "It was just a matter of time (before he broke out), and once he was seasoned enough, I think we're seeing the results."
Though difficult to maintain over the course of a 13-games season, Wood's current 5.66 yards-per-carry average would rank as the highest qualifying number at Notre Dame since Julius Jones' solo mission in 2003 (5.5 yards per carry, 10 TD, 1,268 yards on an otherwise impotent offense).
His backup Gray has averaged a robust 8.1 yards per pop, albeit on far fewer carries (40 to Wood's 103). Gray's average is sure to decline due simply to short-yardage situations if not natural regression, but the senior backup has averaged 8.69 yards per carry since he fumbled his first hand-off of 2011.
"Our backs played as physical as any tandem out there," Kelly said of the duo's West Lafayette performance. "I mean, you've got to look at the way Gray and Wood ran the ball up inside as well as the speed they used on the edge. They finished off runs, (which) is what we were most impressed with."
For Kelly, the difference in Wood, Gray, and the offensive line is obvious: conditioning.
"I still believe our players are stronger, they're more fit, and we play physical," he said in comparison to his late December 2009 arrival. "It's just a mentality that we developed when we got here, about being the Fighting Irish that we were going to get after you, and it starts up front and it starts in the weight room and it starts when those guys show up for 7:00 a.m. weight training during the year.
"You start to see it come together on the field."
The Star and the X-FactorOne week after Pittsburgh's defense held Michael Floyd to a season-low four receptions, Notre Dame's top target broke out, snaring 12 Tommy Rees passes for 137 yards and a game-opening score.
And while balance is essential in a spread passing attack, Kelly admitted Floyd is one player the Irish must involve, heavily, on a weekly basis.
"The only guy that's got to get touches outside the realm of the offense, in other words: that it doesn't come to (in the natural flow), is Michael Floyd. Everybody else when they get their chance, they've got to be ready to perform."
Floyd's 12 receptions were half the team's total, the second such occurrence this season and sixth time since Kelly took over the program that Floyd secured at least 45 percent of the team's receptions in a given contest.
Junior slot Theo Riddick did not catch a pass for the first time in his 14 starts during Kelly's tenure. Riddick was limited to one reception in Week Three as well, though he's also posted a pair of six-reception contests this fall.
"You know, it's just week to week when you're in the spread," Kelly noted of Riddick's stat sheet silence. "(Purdue) played man-to-man on Theo with a nickel the whole game. I mean, press-man with a quarter safety over the top, so it just opens up other things for us.
"He's extremely important," Kelly said of Riddick, adding "Each (receiver) has to understand how important it is. But the configuration that we saw Purdue employ put Theo in a very difficult position to get a lot of touches."
As for the Boilermakers defensive tactics vs. Floyd?
"Week to week there are different schemes that are employed to try to take Mike Floyd away," Kelly said. "They (had) Ricardo Allen, #21, shadow him all over the field. Michael Floyd is just a guy that can't be denied, whether you throw the ball 35 yards down the field or you throw it five, it's just the individual Michael Floyd more than anything else making things happen after he catches the ball."
Rees' rating: The sophomore's bottom-line numbers were outstanding (24-40, 3 TD, 254 yards, 0 turnovers) but Kelly rarely notes his quarterbacks statistics in his post-film evaluations.
"He's doing some good things, you know, he's getting through his progression much better," Kelly said. "He's beginning to now extend plays, which he wasn't doing before. He's getting better in the screen game. Our screen game had been awful, and we have really focused on screens, and it requires the quarterback to change his arm angle, arm slot, make some throws under duress, I call them athletic throws.
"That progress is being seen week to week with him, and I just think the other areas are developmental. We've got to do a better job of getting the ball to Mike when we're throwing fades," he continued. "So there (are) many things that we could talk about, but we're seeing progress in some areas that is pleasing."
Rees missed three fade throws to Floyd during the contest; he missed the same number with Floyd in the loss at Michigan.