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Rees and Daniels establish second-half connection

Mike Monaco | Sunday, September 15, 2013

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – At the halftime break, junior receiver DaVaris Daniels had two catches for 37 yards. Senior quarterback Tommy Rees was 8-for-17 for 94 yards and no scores. No. 21 Notre Dame trailed 10-3 and appeared lethargic on offense.

In the second half, however, Daniels recorded six grabs for 130 yards and two scores. Rees, in his own right, completed 12 of 16 passes for 215 yards and two touchdowns after the intermission as the Irish outscored Purdue 28-14 the rest of the way.

“I don’t know that it was frustration [in the first half] as much as there was a confidence that we were going to be okay,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said. “I was never worried in the sense that there was a panic. It was going to come out. I felt really confident that we were going to win the football game. We just needed to settle down a little bit.”

For the third straight game, Rees racked up over 300 yards through the air, giving him five career games over the 300-yard mark. 

“The game ball for us went to Tommy Rees in the second half,” Kelly said. “We thought he really settled down and ran our offense and managed it extremely well, made some good plays for us, made the throws when he needed to.”

Two of those throws found Daniels for touchdowns. On the game-tying scoring drive that spanned the end of the third quarter and the beginning of the fourth, Rees was 6-for-8 for 62 yards, the last nine coming on the scoring connection with Daniels. Rees threw toward the back right corner of the end zone and Daniels held on to make the grab with Purdue junior cornerback Antoine Lewis draped all over him.

“Tommy threw a good ball,” Daniels said. “I ran a decent route. We had run the play two plays before. Luckily Tommy flattened me out and I made a play on the ball.”

The second touchdown came on the very next offensive play for the Irish. After forcing a Purdue punt, Rees took the snap out of the shotgun and fired down the right sideline. He connected with Daniels, who then shook off Boilermakers senior cornerback Ricardo Allen, stayed in bounds and scored the go-ahead touchdown for Notre Dame.

“We knew they were playing Cover 2 mostly the whole game,” Daniels said. “[Irish offensive coordinator Chuck] Martin called up the play, told me the ball was coming to me. I was supposed to make a play. Tommy threw it up and everything worked out in our favor.”

The 82-yard strike was the ninth-longest completion in Notre Dame history and the longest since former Irish tight end Kyle Rudolph’s 95-yard snatch in 2010 against Michigan. Daniels, who was relatively quiet in the first half, finished with a career-high eight catches for a career-high 167 yards, the most for a Notre Dame player since former receiver Golden Tate tallied 201 yards in 2009.

“It was interesting because we got on him pretty good in the first half,” Kelly said of Daniels. “He went out of bounds one time. He stepped up his game big time in the second half. He played more physical. Obviously on the first touchdown it was a ball that he had to really take away form the defender and then the run after the catch [for the second touchdown] was just phenomenal.

“He’s just that kind of player. He’s one of those guys once in a while that you have to light a fire under. … But he’s just a talented young man. He’s maturing every day. And he showed how good a receiver he can be.”

Daniels said the first half was frustrating, both for him personally and for the Irish as a team. And while Daniels admitted he took some heat from Kelly and the coaching staff at halftime, the junior receiver said he already knew he had to rise up.

“It’s something I already knew. I had to step my game up. Everybody had to step their game up,” Daniels said. “Especially when you’re trying to be that guy, that’s something you’ve got to do and you have to take the team on your back, I guess, sometimes.”

Contact Mike Monaco at jmonaco@nd.edu