I was not able to attend the game although I certainly tried. I pulled a "clutch fan" on the drive down. I'm listed as probable for Pitt. No game recap from me today but I would like to focus on the team. There are positives from this game. Irish fans wanted a win but they're going to have to settle for positives.
The reality of the Notre Dame football team right now is that they are not very good. They do have the potential to be good or possibly even very good but they are not there yet. Willingham's challenge as a coach this year will be keeping the morale of his team up long enough for this young and inexperienced group of players to come together and field a competitive offense. That's the bottom line. Can he keep his veterans playing hard until the rest of the team can get up to speed? The more losses they incur, the more difficult this becomes.
Before I begin let me make it clear that I am not commenting on where this team should be at this point. I'm only commenting on where they are and where they should be is up for debate. I think most Irish fans are upset because they think this team should be farther along than they are. That is debatable but not the point of why I'm writing this. The reality is where they are and worth discussion because this team can and probably will get better.
I told you there were some positives and there are some positives. The Irish defense played very well actually. Purdue rushed 41 times and the Irish surrendered 96 yards on the ground or 2.3 yards per carry--not great numbers but not bad numbers. They did hold the Purdue passing attack to just 127 yards passing, very good numbers. More impressive stats, 5 sacks. The best numbers were 2-15 on third down--a very impressive statistic. Defensive coordinator Kent Baer said his defense needed to improve in this area and they undoubtedly did--excellent job by him and his staff.
Another impressive defensive stat was red-zone defense. Purdue had four red-zone chances and scored one touchdown and three field goals. The touchdown came after Quinn threw his last interception and Purdue had the ball on the Notre Dame 12 yard line.
The positives for the offense are this team actually looked like an offense. I thought offensive coordinator Bill Diedrick called an excellent game for the most part. Bill Diedrick did not drop the passes, did not throw the interceptions and did not miss assignments.
What he did do was give quarterback Brady Quinn a game plan he could be successful with. I saw a much improved offense and game plan. I didn't see the execution of the game plan. Yes, Notre Dame threw the ball almost 60 times but Diedrick knew that was his only chance on this day and did what he had to do to give this team a chance. I doubt this was the game plan but he adjusted well.
I didn't like the last drive at the end of the game but we are not sure how much of that was Diedrick or Quinn. Still, he did call plays that were or could've been successful and gave Quinn a chance to win the game. Right now, that is his only option until they can generate a rushing attack.
The offensive line is improving in the passing game. Quinn had a number of opportunities where his line gave him very sound pass protection. The offensive line had break downs in the passing game, no question, but they did have a number of plays where they did a good job of protection. This is encouraging to me.
The backs did a much better job of picking up the blitz. This was a larger problem than most thought--another encouraging sign to me.
Brady Quinn took a number of hits but he kept battling. The most encouraging sign to me on Saturday was Brady Quinn and Diedrick's willingness to let Quinn play his game. Quinn is a kid Notre Dame can and will win with. He's tough, he's a leader and he seems to understand the offense and makes plays within the system. My comments are not meant as disrespect to Holiday, I don't think he fit the system they apparently want to run.
Field position and special teams, the Irish are struggling in special teams. The Steve Breaston punt return in the Michigan game should've been a sign but this game sealed it for me. The Irish lost this game because of field position. They gave Purdue too many chances with excellent field position.
Purdue's first scoring drive began on the Purdue 44 yard line. The Irish went three-and-out and Purdue started on their 44 yard line. 7-0 was the result.
Quinn threw his first interception giving the Boilermakers the ball on the Notre Dame 20 yard line. 10-0 was the result.
Purdue returned a Nick Setta kickoff to the Purdue 47 yard line after the Irish narrowed the lead 10-3 on a Setta field goal. Another field goal and the result was 13-3, Purdue.
Purdue returns the second half kickoff to the Purdue 38 yard line. The result was another field goal giving Purdue the 16-10 lead.
Quinn throws an interception in the 4th quarter giving the Boilermakers the ball on the Notre Dame 12 yard line. 23-10 was the result and the final score.
If Setta doesn't make a couple of tackles; both returns would've gone for touchdowns. This is a problem that needs to be fixed.
The Notre Dame offense had 4 turnovers and the Irish defense didn't force a single turnover. Purdue just played a sound football game and the Irish turned the ball over.
The offensive line has really struggled in the running game. They are currently ranked 105th in the country in rushing offense. They are averaging just 91.25 yards per game, 2.77 yards per rush and have rushed for a total of 365 yards in four games. This is not getting the job done.
The Irish running backs dropped a number of balls again this week after struggling catching the ball in the Michigan State game. They have to be able to catch the ball for this offense to be successful.
The Irish wide receivers also dropped too many passes.
The Irish pass protection was a positive for me but still needs improvement. Quinn took far too many hits but I do see progress in pass protection.
Quinn had four interceptions which will always hinder the chances of being successful. Quinn is a freshman starting his first game on the road so one would expect him to struggle. Still, this team will not win many games if the offense continues to turn the ball over in the passing game. I do think he will improve significantly in the very near future.
The real challenge for Willingham and his staff will be to keep his team focused and playing hard. He has to keep this team hungry and willing to give the effort they have up until now. The team has played hard up to this point. They haven't played up to the level they did last year during their 8-0 run.