Football: Full steam ahead
Jay Fitzpatrick | Monday, October 2, 2006
Charlie Weis finally got his wish.
Notre Dame confused the Purdue defense with a variety of straight runs, passes and play-action fakes – something the Irish had failed to do in the past two games – en route to a 35-21 victory over the Boilermakers Saturday.
Irish quarterback Brady Quinn completed 29-of-38 passes for 316 yards with two touchdowns, and running back Darius Walker pounded, ducked and wove his way to 146 yards on 31 carries – both season highs for the junior.
Walker’s six touches on Notre Dame’s opening, seven-play drive set the tone for the rest of the game. After keeping Purdue on its heels with four runs and two screens to Walker, Weis called a play-fake and freshman wide receiver George West took the end-around 14 yards to the end zone for the game’s first points.
Notre Dame moved the ball with relative ease throughout the game, finishing with 169 yards on the ground – more than the team gained in its last two games combined.
“I just felt that the last two weeks, as the play caller, that we had to give up on the running game because we got behind,” Weis said. “I just made a commitment, along with my staff and my players, that we were going to make the running game go no matter what happened.”
But that commitment to the running game showed no signs of slowing down the explosive Irish air attack.
Irish wide receiver Rhema McKnight sliced through the 114th-ranked Purdue secondary, and Quinn found him time after time. McKnight had 10 catches for 120 yards – both season highs – and two touchdowns. Walker was second in the receiving column with nine catches for 73 yards.
“Week to week, teams are going to give you different things and basically give and take away certain things,” Quinn said. “You just want to utilize that.”
Purdue and Notre Dame traded punts after the initial Irish score, and the Boilermakers tied the game at 7-7 with a six-play, 86-yard touchdown drive culminated by an 8-yard run by tailback Kory Sheets.
“It’s important to come away with points in the red zone,” Boilermakers coach Joe Tiller said. “It’s not always critical to score a touchdown when you’re down there, but you need points.”
The Irish responded to those points with a continued commitment to the run in their next possession. And Walker’s gains early in the drive set up big-yardage plays downfield.
Tight end John Carlson caught a pass over the middle for 25 yards, and wide receiver Rhema McKnight caught one for 11. Walker capped the drive with a 14-yard touchdown run, aided by a Carlson block five yards past the line of scrimmage.
“Obviously [Walker] was getting a lot of work in, and you get to see how productive he is and how special he is,” Quinn said.
For the second straight season, Quinn torched Purdue in a 28-point first half for the Irish. He entered the break 18-of-22 for 190 yards, including a 6-yard touchdown pass to McKnight that gave Notre Dame a 21-7 lead with 8:50 left in the second quarter.
“[Working with the wide outs in practice] played a huge part in it,” Quinn said. “Rhema and I were able to communicate. If he saw something, if I saw something [and] we made a big play out of it.”
The Irish scored their final points of the half on a Jeff Samardzija 6-yard run on a fake field goal with 1:22 remaining before the break. But Purdue cut the Notre Dame lead to 28-14 seconds later when Boilermak-ers quarterback Curtis Painter hit Selwyn Lymon deep and Lymon broke two tackles to go 88 yards for the score.
Painter finished 23-of-46 for 398 yards and two touchdowns. Lymon’s eight catches led to two scores and 238 yards, setting a record for most receiving yards by an Irish opponent.
But for all of Purdue’s successes, they could never close the gap against the Irish.
Quinn found McKnight in the end zone for a second time with 9:38 left in the third, a 12-yard score that capped off the day for the Irish offense and put Notre Dame ahead 35-14. That would be more than enough for the Irish.
Notre Dame converted on 8-of-14 third downs and twice on two fourth-down attempts, helping the Irish nearly double the Boiler-makers’ time of possession. Notre Dame had the ball for 38:01 to Purdue’s 21:59.
“Well [third-down production] was significantly better this game,” Weis said. “I include those couple of fourth downs in there as well so … we were 10-for-16. We were averaging about two percent for the last couple of weeks.”
By comparison, Purdue converted just 4-of-14 third-down attempts.
Notre Dame’s defense forced a turnover for the fourth straight game, this time a fumble both forced and recovered by cornerback Terrail Lambert. With Notre Dame ahead 21-7 but Purdue driving, Lambert jarred the ball loose of Purdue tight end Dustin Keller at the Notre Dame 31-yard line and fell on the ball. The ensuing series ended with Samardzija’s touchdown run.
Lymon caught his second touchdown pass of the game to cut the Boilermaker deficit to 14 with 7:16 left in the fourth. But Purdue didn’t have a comeback in store.