After rushing for just 51 yards in the previous two games, the Irish pounded the ball on the ground 43 times for 138 yards, which aided Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn to dissect the Boilermaker secondary for another 300-yard passing day as they rolled to a 35-21 victory over Purdue. The win moves No. 12 Notre Dame to 4-1 on the season with Stanford and their miserable defense heading to South Bend next weekend. For the first time in five games, the offense appeared to be clicking on all cylinders as they racked up 454 total yards. The balance, something lacking in the past few games, was key: 43 runs, 38 passes.
"That's the way I actually like to call every game," head coach Charlie Weis said. "I like to call run and play action. I like to call it like that. We made a commitment this week to make sure we didn't give up on the running game. I felt the last two weeks as a play caller, we gave up on the run because we got behind. I made a commitment, along with our players and staff, to make the running game go no matter what happens.
"Of course, the residual effects of that happening, it makes it easier to sprinkle everything else in. That's what happened today."
What was wrong with the running game, ranked 108th nationally coming into the Purdue game? Was it the offensive line? Was it Darius Walker? None of these appeared to be the case as Weis handed the ball off to his junior halfback 20 times in the first half for 103 yards. In the first 30 minutes of play, Walker touched the ball 27 times as he caught seven passes out of the backfield for 54 yards. He personally accounted for nine first downs in the half as Notre Dame totaled 22 first downs before halftime. It allowed the Irish to hold on to the ball for 20 of the first 30 minutes.
For the first time this season, Notre Dame scored a touchdown on their opening drive. They marched 70 yards in seven plays, with six of them being run plays. It ended when George West made the most of his first offensive touch as he ran an end around to the left for a 11-yard touchdown to make it 7-0 Irish.
"You noticed like in the first drive it was all runs," Weis said. "All runs and a screen pass, I believe. I think it was seven plays with six runs and a screen. So when you can come out there and say you're going to establish the run and run it on every down, you usually have a good chance. And then you're going to have, the residual affect of that is now they're going to look to start stopping the run and now your play action and those other things now become a little easier to do."
Purdue evened the score later in the first quarter when Kory Sheets took an option pitch seven yards for a score to tie it up at 7-all. In what would become a theme of the day, when the Boilermakers got on defense on the ensuing possession, they had no answer for the Irish offense. Notre Dame went up 14-7 when Walker scored on a 14-yard touchdown to culminate a seven play, 78-yard drive. For the game, Walker ended the day with 31 carries for 146 yards and nine catches for another 73 yards.
The second quarter was a little more Quinn with a special teams trick play added to the mix. The Irish quarterback found Rhema McKnight for a six-yard scoring strike early in the period to increase the lead to 21-7. On the drive, Quinn went 5-for-6 for 52 yards. Notre Dame made it 28-7 when, after being stopped on third down at the Boilermaker five-yard line, Jeff Samardzija, the holder on field goals, took the snap and wheeled his way into the end zone for a five-yard touchdown run. It's the second trick play that the Irish have executed on special teams this season to perfection.
"We had another time out left, so that was one where we weren't not going to get the field goal," Weis said. "But if they gave us the look, that wasn't like a check off, it was if they don't have the look, call timeout and we'll go out and we'll kick the field goal.
"But fortunately we had the look that exactly was the one we practiced on, so, and it worked."
The only negative of the second quarter: a Curtis Painter to Selwyn Lymon connection for a 88-yard touchdown right before halftime to cut the margin to 28-14. The Notre Dame defense was far from stout in the game, surrendering 490 yards, which actually outgained the Irish. Painter was 23-of-46 for 398 yards and two touchdowns. In the contest, Lymon burned the Notre Dame secondary for a whopping 238 receiving yards. The total is the most allowed ever by an Irish defense.
They did hold the fifth highest scoring offense in the country to 21 points, which is 19 under their average. Also, through five games, the Irish have held their opponents to a total of 36 points in the second half. It helped that Notre Dame dominated the time of possession stat, controlling the ball for 38 minutes to the Boilermakers 22.
"We're extremely young," Purdue head coach Joe Tiller said. "We won't play against as an experienced team as we did today and most likely this talented a team. We may as we get into Big Ten play. Against that type of team, we had our moments defensively. Anthony Spencer (15 total tackles, 4.5 for losses) had an outstanding game once again. From an offensive point of view, there was no secret coming into 2006 we were going to have to outscore some people. If they score 35, we need to score 36."
McKnight had a breakout game, catching a career high 10 balls for 120 yards and two touchdowns. His last touchdown was early in the third quarter when Quinn found him wide open over the middle for a 12-yard score. McKnight now has six touchdowns on the year. The Notre Dame quarterback wasn't bad himself, connecting on 29-of-38 passes for 316 yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions. In his last two games vs. Purdue, Quinn has accumulated 756 passing yards, seven scores and one pickoff.