Second Half Rally Falls Short

WEST LAFAYETTE, IN- A fast start has been on Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis' weekly top-10 list for his players a few times this year. It hasn't manifested itself on the field yet for the Irish. On Saturday against Purdue, it was imperative not to fall behind on the road and play catch-up. Unfortunately, this was the case as a bad first half was enough to doom Notre Dame's upset bid.

Despite showing a lot of fight and an ability to move the ball in the second half, the first 30 minutes saw the Irish fall behind 23-0 en route to a 33-19 loss to Purdue. In front of 65,250 fans at Ross-Ade Stadium, Notre Dame made it a game in the fourth quarter after freshmen Duval Kamara and Golden Tate made touchdown grabs to cut the deficit to seven points. But Dustin Keller's acrobatic 14-yard touchdown reception was the nail in the coffin and ended hopes of another historic Irish comeback.

The defeat sends Notre Dame to 0-5 on the season, the first time in school history. The Irish will try to earn victory No. 1 next weekend when the team travels to Los Angeles to take on UCLA at the Rose Bowl. Kickoff is at 8 PM and ABC will have the television broadcast.

At the end of the day, Notre Dame outgained Purdue 426 to 371 and the offensive line allowed only two sacks in 52 pass attempts.. But 11 penalties, three turnovers and continuing bad play on special teams were the ingredients for another loss. Weis did see a huge positive with the way his team played in the final 30 minutes.

"I just told them in there that for the first time, we played a half of football we could win," Weis said. "You still have an interception in the red zone. You still have three penalties on another. It was far from perfect in the second half but that's closer to winning football."

Notre Dame went into the locker room down 23-0 and showing little signs of life. The odds makers, who had Purdue pegged as a 21-point favorite, looked like they had it right. The Irish were going to come out of the locker room one way or another: fight and try to make it interesting or call it day, something the team did two weeks ago in a 38-0 loss at Michigan. Notre Dame decided to fight.

"At the Michigan game, I talked about character and fighting to finish the game," Weis said. "This time it was a little bit more rough at halftime. I had had enough about going out there and being down 23-0 at halftime. It was a collective effort for the offense, defense and special teams. When you put yourself down 23-0, I had had enough of playing losing football. I told them they better be trying to win the game. I don't care. They better be planning on winning the second half."

After Tom Zbikowski nabbed his first interception of the season, freshman quarterback Jimmy Clausen drove the team 37 yards in six plays. On 4th-and-Goal from the five-yard line, Clausen hit John Carlson for a touchdown in the corner of the end zone. It was the fifth-year senior's first score of the season and Clausen's first of his career. However, kicker Brandon Walker missed the extra point to make the score 23-6.

After a Purdue field goal made it 26-6, junior Evan Sharpley came on to replace Clausen, who injured his hip during the game. The freshman was 18-for-26 for 169 yards. Sharpley immediately led the Irish down the field, capped with a seven-yard touchdown to Kamara. It was the freshman's first score of his career and Kamara ended the day with six grabs for 68 yards. This time, though, Nate Whitaker botched the PAT to make it 26-12 Boilermakers.

On the next drive, it was time for the other freshman, Tate, to stand out. Sharpley, who was 16-of-26 for 208 yards on the day, found the speedster and Tate made a jumping catch in the end zone on a go route for a touchdown to cut the lead to 26-19 with just under eight minutes remaining. Tate finished with three receptions for a team-high 104 yards, including a diving 43-yard grab on 4th-and-1 in the fourth quarter. The freshmen made an impact on Saturday.

"Duval we knew was going to be involved heavily in the game plan," Weis said. "Golden, I spotted him more. To be perfectly honest, a few of those were drawn up in the dirt plays. He had no idea. I told someone to get him over here and said, ‘We're running a go and throwing it to you.' Really good coaching on my part. And almost everyone of them gave us a big play."

The Notre Dame defense was stiff in the second half. The Irish allowed 108 yards of offense to Purdue in the final 30 minutes of action. But 59 of those came on the clinching drive of the contest. After Tate's touchdown, the Boilermakers drove down the field in five plays and ended the march when Painter floated a pass towards Keller, who made an athletic catch and dove over the goal line for a 14-yard score. Purdue head coach Joe Tiller was complimentary of Notre Dame's effort in the second half.

"I thought we started poorly at the start of the second half because we didn't make good decisions," Tiller said. "I find it really interesting that when the other team scores, people focus on what we did poorly instead of giving the other team credit. (Notre Dame) had a phenomenal catch in the end zone and had another on a fourth down where your corner had perfect position on him. Congratulations to (Notre Dame), they made some good plays."

Purdue wasted no time in getting on the scoreboard. The Boilermakers took the opening kickoff 54 yards and kicked a 27-yard field goal to make it a quick 3-0. Purdue's next series saw the team march 80 yards in eight plays, capped with a Kory Sheets one-yard touchdown run. In the game, Sheets ran for 141 yards on 27 carries despite sitting out for a period of time with an injury.

With the running game going nowhere, Notre Dame tried to pass its way back into the contest. But Clausen was intercepted by Terrell Vinson and the Boilermakers capitalized with another Chris Summers field goal. The Irish ran the ball 26 times for 49 yards on Saturday.

Painter made it 20-0 one series later when the senior quarterback found Dorien Bryant for a 11-yard touchdown. The scoring drive was Purdue's best all day, going 81 yards in 11 plays and taking 4:46 off the clock. Another Summers field goal, after an Armando Allen fumble, made it 23-0 Boilermakers heading into halftime. The first half was all Purdue before Notre Dame staged a late rally to make it a contest. For Weis, it was another loss despite the second half comeback attempt.

"I hate losing no matter where I'm coaching," Weis said. "I hate losing. I don't care if I lose by one or by 50. I hate losing bad. What I do like, for the first time this year, you can walk into the locker room and the second half of the game the guys came out to try to win the football game. The problem was in the first half of the game, they put themselves in a hole that was almost insurmountable. You had to play a perfect second half to win the game. We didn't play a perfect second half but we made some plays."


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