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Week Five: Purdue

Andrew Owens | Sunday, October 2, 2011

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — For the first time this season, Notre Dame did not commit any turnovers, allowing the Irish to roll to a 38-10 win over Purdue.

“I don’t know that it’s a sign of relief as much as we have a way we need to play the game if we’re going to be successful and we said that since day one — making good decisions and bringing it hard,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said.

The Irish (3-2) did not waste any time shifting momentum to their advantage after senior cornerback Gary Gray intercepted a pass on the first play from scrimmage. On Notre Dame’s second play, sophomore quarterback Tommy Rees connected with senior receiver Michael Floyd for a 35-yard touchdown and a 7-0 Irish advantage.

“Obviously on the road against a Big Ten team … getting Michael Floyd the ball early on really gave us a lot of confidence offensively,” Kelly said.

Only a week earlier in Notre Dame’s 15-12 win over Pittsburgh on Sept. 24, the Panthers held Floyd to four catches and 27 yards, forcing Rees to distribute the ball to other receivers.

“I think more of a concerted effort to make sure [Floyd] got his touches and making it part of our gameplan,” Kelly said. “He has to touch the ball. Mike’s going to get the ball.”

Floyd finished the game with 137 receiving yards on 12 receptions and the first-quarter touchdown that put Purdue (2-2) in a hole from which it would not recover.

“It’s just what the defense gives us,” Floyd said. “We watched some film and thought we could take advantage of some things they do on the field and we exploited it … You just have to stay the course and whenever the big play comes, you have to make it.”

Rees finished the game 24-of-40 through the air, with 254 passing yards and three touchdowns in the blowout victory.

“The offense was really clicking tonight,” Rees said. “We had limited turnovers. We were fundamentally sound, but there is still work to be done. Everyone was on the same page.”

Kelly said he noticed some improvements from his sophomore signal-caller besides simply not turning the ball over.

“I saw some really good things [from Rees],” he said. “On the last touchdown he threw where he started his progression with Mike Floyd on an individual route and worked his way back to his fourth receiver. I told him … those are the signs I’m looking for.”

Yet, the development is a work in progress.

“Then he goes and misses a wide open receiver in the end zone and we have the conversation that we need to be consistent,” Kelly said.

Notre Dame’s running back tandem of junior Cierre Wood and senior Jonas Gray powered an Irish rushing attack that gashed the Boilermaker defense for 287 yards, the most for the program in eight years.

“Our running game setup everything we did today,” Kelly said. “I thought physically our backs, Jonas Gray and Cierre Wood, really asserted their will on Purdue today. Playing that way gives them a confidence that there’s no reason the ball should be on the ground.”

Irish freshman defensive end Stephon Tuitt did not travel with the team due to a violation of the team’s policy on class attendance, and the defensive line depth was further challenged when senior defensive end Ethan Johnson sprained his ankle early in the contest. He missed the remainder of the game and will be evaluated mid-week before the team makes a decision on his status for Saturday’s home game against Air Force.

“We were shorthanded, so consequently we needed [sophomore defensive end] Kona [Schwenke] to come in and play with us and he did a nice job with very little rep work,” Kelly said.

“I told our defense that it’s not pity time when you go in there. It’s not acceptable to go in there and not play good defense. You’re getting coached, you’re getting reps, it’s one area when those guys get in there they played at a level that I believe all of our defensive players can play to.”

The Irish defense held Purdue to 84 rushing yards in another stifling performance.

“Defensively it’s been very similar week after week, making it difficult for teams to run the football,” Kelly said. “The keys were that we had to match their intensity. I said earlier in the week this was the game they obviously circled on their calendar. They had a couple weeks off to prepare for us. I liked the way we matched their intensity.”

With the blowout win secured, Irish senior quarterback Dayne Crist replaced Rees with 6:31 remaining in the fourth quarter. It was his first action since being pulled at halftime of the 23-20 loss to South Florida on Sept. 3. Kelly said he offered the opportunity to the senior before making the change.

“Dayne wanted to get in … [he] wanted to go out and play and get in there and I have a lot of respect for Dayne,” he said. “I’m not going to throw him out there in meaningless situations but he wanted to get in the game, so it’s always going to be his first shot.”

While the 28-point victory gives the Irish some momentum heading into three consecutive home games, with a bye week mixed in, Kelly said the Irish are not a complete product yet.

“We haven’t arrived,” he said. “I don’t like the fact we had 30-something first downs and didn’t match it in points. We missed some opportunities in close games, missing an easy field goal and not being able to score seven. Those concern me a little bit, but we played well today and I’m not going to sound like sour milk. We have to put more points on the board.”