Kevin Brennan | Monday, October 3, 2005
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – The Notre Dame offense exploded Saturday, propelling the team to a 49-28 victory over Purdue as quarterback Brady Quinn orchestrated an Irish attack that amassed 621 total yards and had the Irish on top 28-0 at halftime. Quinn completed 29-of-36 passes for 440 yards and two touchdowns, setting a new Notre Dame record for most 300-yard games in a season.
“I thought [Quinn] had an exceptional game,” Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis said.
Wide receivers Jeff Samardzija and Maurice Stovall were Quinn’s primary targets. Samardzija hauled in seven passes for 153 yards and two scores, while Stovall added eight receptions for 134 yards.
“The receivers made plays and made them miss,” Weis said. “We got a lot of yards after catch. We’re taking three yard passes and turning them into 10-, 15-, 20-yard gains.”
Illustrating its offensive efficiency, Notre Dame’s only punt in the first half came after its initial drive stalled at midfield. The Irish scored a touchdown on four of their six first-half drives.
Notre Dame pulled away in the second quarter after Irish defensive tackle Trevor Laws blocked a 44-yard field goal attempt by Purdue kicker Ben Jones. The block set up a 73-yard drive which ended in a 4-yard Samardzija touchdown catch. On Notre Dame’s next possession, tailback Darius Walker, who finished the game with 80 yards rushing on 23 carries, scored on a 10-yard draw to put the Irish up by four touchdowns.
Notre Dame opened the game’s scoring on its second possession, which started from the Irish 10-yard line and did not feature a single third down. Samardzija made an athletic diving one-handed catch on a 41-yard scrambling pass from Quinn that gave Notre Dame first and goal from the 1-yard line. On the next play, senior fullback Rashon Powers-Neal took a handoff from Quinn into the end zone for the touchdown.
Purdue responded with a long drive of its own. Tailback Kory Sheets carried the ball 38 yards down the sideline before being knocked out at the 1-yard line by Irish cornerback Ambrose Wooden.
The Boliermakers looked poised to even the score, but the Notre Dame defense forced another red zone turnover when senior linebacker Brandon Hoyte jarred the ball loose from Purdue running back Jerrod Void on the following play. Cornerback Mike Richardson recovered the loose ball at the Notre Dame 2-yard line.
“I guess that’s sort of their M.O. this year,” Notre Dame tight end Anthony Fasano said of the Irish defense. “They really do well in the red zone when their back is up against the wall.”
The Notre Dame defense has forced seven turnovers in the red zone this season.
The Irish offense capitalized on the takeaway with a 98-yard, 15-play drive that took 5:36 off the clock. Quinn completed 7-of-9 passes for 99 yards during the possession. On fourth and goal from the 1, Powers-Neal found the end zone for the second time, bringing his season touchdown total to six.
Weis was thrilled with the team’s play in the first half.
“I think that one quick out early in the game to [Stovall] we’d like to have back,” Weis said. “But other than that it was a hell of a performance.”
Purdue’s offense came to life in the second half and began to move the ball on the Notre Dame defense. Quarterback Brandon Kirsch hooked up with receiver Dorien Bryant for touchdowns on both of Purdue’s first two second-half possessions.
Kirsch finished the game 29-of-44 for 274 yards and added 47 yards on the ground. Bryant had a career day, totaling 127 yards on 14 receptions.
Weis came away impressed with the Boilermaker offense. Purdue has added an option running game this season to complement its traditional high-flying passing attack.
The Irish defense was proud of the way it handled Purdue’s multi-faceted offense.
“We knew we had to step up with the versatility Purdue was going to show us,” Richardson said. “And I’m just happy that we actually made the plays when we needed to.”
Late in the third quarter, Richardson recorded another takeaway for the Irish, intercepting Kirsch in the end zone.
“I think it gives us the confidence,” safety Tom Zbikowski said. “And I think offensively they’re going to be worrying about that. When they get down to the one-yard line, it’s not going to be an automatic touchdown.”
The Irish offense continued to roll in the second half. On Notre Dame’s first drive, Quinn found Samardzija on a deep post that went for a 55-yard touchdown. After making the catch, Samardzija managed to stay in bounds and then break four tackles on his way to the end zone – his second score on the night.
“When you get those chances to make plays, you’ve got to make those plays because its going feed off into the coaches and the quarterback, and everyone is just going to have confidence,” Samardzija said.
Weis emptied his bench in the fourth quarter, giving Notre Dame’s reserves a chance to log minutes and gain experience. Backup quarterbacks David Wolke and Marty Mooney saw time, as did freshman offensive tackles Paul Duncan and Michael Turkovich.
With 6:17 left in the game, tailback Travis Thomas carried the ball 10 yards for a touchdown. Weis was impressed with the performance of the second-team offense.
“I think that sooner or later you are going to have to play those guys,” Weis said. “I was as happy as anything to have that second offense go down and score a touchdown.”
Notre Dame’s other fourth quarter score came on a 22-yard play action pass from Quinn to tight end John Carlson. The touchdown was the first of Carlson’s career.