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Irish always find a way to beat Purdue

Matt Lozar | Friday, September 26, 2003

Whether it has been fleet-footed Gary Godsey at quarterback, the last game with Bob Davie or not scoring an offensive touchdown, the Irish have always managed to beat Purdue. In each of the last three years, the Irish overcame significant obstacles to beat the Boilermakers.

This year’s obstacle – no one gives them a chance.

Ask the bookies and they’ll tell you the Irish are 10 point underdogs. Read articles on the Internet and the experts write that this team could go 2-10 while a .500 record would be something to be proud of come Dec. 6. Talk to students around campus and hear about cancelled road trips for Saturday.

Notre Dame coach Tyrone Willingham put it best Tuesday after practice in summing up the annual battle for the Shillelagh Trophy by saying this game comes down to execution.

In 1999, the Irish were at the Purdue 1-yard line with time running down. Communication problems between quarterback Jarious Jackson and the running backs led to confusion and the clock expiring after just two plays. The Irish lost 28-23.

Believe it or not, Godsey actually had one more completion than renowned former Purdue quarterback Drew Brees in 2000. Using a limited game plan, Godsey directed the Irish down the field and Nicholas Setta hit his first game-winner as time expired. One year later, the Irish had two returns for touchdowns, gained only 162 yards of total offense, but still beat Purdue 24-18. The Boilermakers only got one touchdown and three field goals out of four trips inside Notre Dame’s red zone.

The 2002 game had a carryover effect as the defense and special teams carried the Irish to a victory while the offense still couldn’t find the end zone. Purdue gained 115 more yards on offense, but two fumble returns and one interception return for touchdowns sent the Boilermakers back to West Lafayette with a 24-17 loss.

Each of these games comes down to taking advantage of the opponent’s mistakes. Purdue had four turnovers each of the last two seasons and the Irish capitalized.

So far this year, the Notre Dame offense has scored three touchdowns, reaching the end zone in only two of 12 quarters of football this year. The last time the offense put six points on the board against a ranked opponent was 11 months ago today at Florida State. Whoever the coaching staff puts in as quarterback faces a defense ranked 16th nationally, not an easy task.

The defense has created nine turnovers, but is not doing what it did best in 2002 – directly putting points on the board. Heading into the fourth game last year, the special teams and defense combined for four touchdowns.

Simply put, this year’s team, except for the fourth quarter against Washington State, really hasn’t executed.

Look back at the Courtney Watson fumble strip against John Navarre on the third play of the game at Michigan, and the Irish offense went three and out. Look back at how the defense produced three turnovers in the first half against Michigan State, yet the offense only put three points on the board.

All of the problems currently facing this team would rival the length of offensive line coach Mike Denbrock’s scroll from the Michigan State pep rally: a quarterback controversy, no consistent running game, wide receivers dropping passes, questionable play-calling, injuries, a run defense ranked 66th, an offense ranked 113th, being outscored 110-19 in the last three games against ranked opponents and going on the road Saturday to face a team that is looking for some payback, just like a number of other schools on Notre Dame’s merciless schedule.

No matter how bad things have looked, the Irish always find a way to beat Purdue. This weekend, as usual, their backs are against the wall.

If the Irish want to salvage their season, this weekend is the time to get it done.

The opinions expressed in this column of those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer. Contact Matt Lozar at mlozar@nd.edu