Was the game pretty? At times. Was the game ugly? At times. But it's 4-1 and it happens to be exactly where I thought and I think many others thought Notre Dame would be at this time. In other words, why complain?
While there are a few negatives from this game, there are also a lot of positives. Let's take a look.
Sound rushing game
The Irish opened the game with a very impressive scoring drive. Running back Darius Walker picked up eight of 147 rushing yards on the very first play of the game. Notre Dame wanted to find themselves in third-and-short or not third down at all and did this most of the game. Walker also picked up another 23 yards rushing on this drive and the Irish set an anchor with a sound running game early on.
The Irish Respond
After Notre Dame's first score, the Irish defense did their job pitching a three-and-out of the Boiler offense. Notre Dame failed to respond and capture momentum with another impressive drive and pitched a three-and-out of their own. Purdue then marched 86 yards on just six plays for their first score and it looked like they had captured the first wave of momentum on the day.
Irish quarterback Brady Quinn then picked up the team and put them on his shoulders with another impressive drive. Quinn complete 4-of-5 passes and Walker closed the drive with a 14-yard scamper up the middle to increase the Irish lead to 14-7.
This was a key drive in the game in my opinion and the Irish delivered.
Offensive Line Gets Physical
One of the main reasons the Irish had been struggling on offense this season had been finding themselves in third-and-long far too often, which led to their abysmal third-down conversion rate.
In the first half on Saturday, the Irish were in a third down situation four times that kind of relate to my point. The Irish found themselves in third-and-three on the first drive and Walker picked up 14 yards rushing—they would later score. Notre Dame found themselves on third-and-16 on the second drive after two negative rushing plays, which led to Notre Dame's only three-and-out of the first half. Third-and-five on another drive with a Quinn completion to McKnight to later score. Third-and-two, which led to an incompletion to Samardzija right before Notre Dame ran the fake field goal on fourth-and-two to go up 28-7. On Notre Dame's other two scoring drives; they didn't find themselves in third down the entire series.
Getting Off to a Good Start
We've already mentioned the first drive production of both the Irish offense and defense in the first half, but they also impressed in the second half.
With Purdue snatching momentum at the end of the second half with an inexplicable 88-yard touchdown pass with :50 seconds left to go in the half to narrow the lead to 28-14, and with the Boilers getting the ball first at the beginning of the second half, the Irish defense had to respond early. The defense force a three-and-out series (actually Greg Orton dropped a ball on third-and-three), and Notre Dame got the ball back with a chance to make a statement.
Notre Dame's offense did respond with an eight-play, 64-yard scoring drive capped off by a Quinn to Rhema McKnight 12-yard touchdown pass to increase Notre Dame's lead to 35-14. This was a critical series in the game and the Irish delivered a crushing blow to Purdue's chances of upsetting Notre Dame with this drive.
The Return of Brady Quinn
Irish quarterback Brady Quinn looked to be a Heisman hopeful once again on Saturday. Anytime you complete 76 percent of your passes for over 300 yards and throw in a couple of touchdowns, you've played a great game. Quinn seemed much more relaxed, accurate and in command on Saturday than he's been all year. In my humble opinion it was his best game of this young season.
The Irish didn't do a great job of protecting Brady Quinn allowing four sacks on Saturday and he was hurried more times than anyone would like. An all-senior Irish defensive line couldn't muster even one sack against a young Boiler quarterback on Saturday. This must improve.
At the end of the first half the Irish looked to be marching for a possible field goal as Notre Dame marched to the Boiler 43-yard line. But a boiler sack and a Notre Dame holding penalty ended that Irish scoring threat.
Later in the second half, with Notre Dame up 35-14, the Irish marched to the Boiler 18-yard line facing a third-and-seven. Quinn was sacked for a 10-yard loss and then Carl Gioia missed a 47-yard field goal attempt and Notre Dame left empty-handed after an impressive drive that would've probably put the game way out of reach. This sack was likely the difference between the Irish blowing out the Boilers and the bewilderment many Irish fans are feeling right now.
Yes, there was some ugly. Ugly is allowing 398 passing yards. Ugly is also allowing one guy to get 238 of those passing yards (Selwyn Lymon).
But probably the ugliest stat was the number of big plays that all eventually led to scores. The Irish gave up six plays of 20 plus yards including plays of 39, 23, 26, 88, 40 and 22 yards. Each Boiler scoring drive was the direct result of the Irish surrendering a big play.
Fear Not Irish Fans
One must remember that Notre Dame started a true freshman at corner on Saturday and another played that hasn't played much all year (if at all). One also must remember that Purdue was a top five offense coming into this game. They have a number of playmakers and it's hard to defend them all. The Notre Dame defense, while gouged most of the afternoon, stiffened at the key moments of the game, and I'm going to guess this was the game plan.
The Irish now face a struggling Stanford team and likely should be 5-1 after next Saturday with a week off to heal some nagging injuries and hopefully fix some problems on defense.
Remember, we did see a lot to be excited about on Saturday, and Notre Dame is still in the same position many thought we'd be in at the beginning of this season. Sit back and enjoy the week.
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