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Irish Insider: Second string shines in late win

Michael Bryan | Monday, September 28, 2009

For the storybook ending, it was the usual cast of Notre Dame stars that connected to give the Irish a 24-21 win at Purdue. But before Jimmy Clausen and Kyle Rudolph’s heroics, it was an unheralded set of Irish backups that staked the injury-plagued team to an early 17-7 lead and set the stage before Clausen led the comeback win.

Without the starting quarterback, running back, fullback and wide receiver out, sophomore quarterback Dayne Crist guided two consecutive scoring drives in the second quarter, receiving significant contributions from second-string running backs Robert Hughes and Jonas Gray.

With a far different offensive personnel group in the game, Irish coach Charlie Weis showed the Boilermaker defense many different formations and packages, including junior wide receiver Golden Tate taking snaps out of the Wildcat and lining up at running back behind Crist.

“[Crist] managed the game very well,” Weis said. “He came in to a tight game and did a great job of leading us to a 17-7 lead.”

The very first play with Crist under the center, the sophomore showed his athleticism with a 16-yard run.

“Dayne can bring something Jimmy doesn’t, he can run the ball, and you saw some of his speed and power,” Tate said.

After Tate picked up a first down on a draw play while lined up at running back, junior Robert Hughes took over to finish the drive. Hughes, who been primarily used as a fullback since senior James Aldridge was injured against Nevada, ran four straight times for 37 yards and the first Notre Dame touchdown.

“That’s the hardest I’ve seen him run,” Weis said of Hughes. “He wanted the ball and wanted to run people over.”

With the Irish up 10-7, the second possession with Crist under center featured a combination of Tate lined up in the Wildcat, Hughes pounding the ball and freshman Theo Riddick making a big 24-yard run around the right edge.

“It was fun and exciting to know the team is depending on me,” Tate said. “It’s something I look forward to.”

Tate scored the second touchdown of the quarter out of the Wildcat, taking the snap and finding the right edge on a 16-yard run to the end zone.

Between runs out of the Wildcat, end around plays and lining up at running back, Tate carried the ball nine times for 57 yards. The junior was also the leading Notre Dame receiver with five catches for 57 yards.

The combination of Hughes, Gray and Riddick combined for 170 yards in junior Armando Allen’s absence

“I was encouraged with how the running backs practiced this week,” Weis said. “We practiced Jonas and Robert a whole bunch, and I thought we would end up getting some good production today.”

While it was Clausen who led the clutch game-winning drive in the fourth quarter, the big contributions from deeper on the depth chart continued. Senior Robby Parris, whose role has expanded since the season-ending injury to sophomore Michael Floyd, made a critical catch on the sideline for an Irish first down on third and 14.

“All of us have to step up to the best of our abilities and just perform,” Hughes said.