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Week 3: Purdue

Jack Hefferon | Sunday, September 15, 2013

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – It’s never been easy for No. 22 Notre Dame this year, and a feisty Purdue squad made it particularly difficult for the Irish. But with three touchdowns in the first four minutes of the fourth quarter, Notre Dame recovered quickly enough to claim a 31-24 victory over the Boilermakers on Saturday night at Ross-Ade Stadium.

Junior receiver DaVaris Daniels did much of the work in digging the Irish (2-1) out of a 17-10 deficit, scoring touchdowns on consecutive plays in the fourth quarter and finishing with eight catches and 167 yards. The Irish defense followed up on the next drive with the game’s decisive score, as senior cornerback Bennett Jackson ran back a perfectly jumped interception.

 “We made some plays tonight that we didn’t make last week,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said. “We still have some things we need to work on. We know we’re not a finished product yet. But to go on the road, after a tough game last week, against a Big Ten opponent, this is a really good win for our football team.”

Notre Dame began to flip the script on the Boilermakers (1-2) 13 seconds into the fourth quarter. After two incomplete passes from senior quarterback Tommy Rees left the Irish with third-and-goal from the 9-yard line, Daniels found open space in the corner of the end zone and reeled in his third touchdown of the season.

Notre Dame fed Daniels again on its next play, and Daniels provided the same result. The 6-foot-1 junior caught a ball down the right sideline, then tiptoed the boundary chalk while dragging senior cornerback Ricardo Allen for nearly all of his 82-yard score.

“I knew I was close to the sideline,” Daniels said. “I had a step on him … I just tried to make sure I kept my feet moving, and created a little distance with the stiff arm. Luckily it all worked out.”

On the next series, Boilermakers redshirt senior quarterback Rob Henry – who threw for a career-high 256 yards – made his only mistake of the night. Henry locked in a shallow out route, allowing Jackson to break early on his throw and run back the interception 34 yards, untouched, for the score.

“I just saw him do the shallow route, so I tried to squeeze my man,” Jackson said. “Then I looked back at the quarterback and he just happened to be looking at him the whole way. So that gave me a nice chance to undercut it.”

Jackson’s interception gave the Irish their third touchdown in a 3:29 stretch, but Purdue would not go away quietly. Down 31-17, Henry brought the Boilermakers back into it with two back-footed heaves – the first a 48-yard prayer over the middle that caught both Jackson and junior safety Matthias Farley with their heads turned, the second a nine-yard touchdown toss to junior tight end Justin Sinz.

That brought the Boilers within one score, and they quickly earned a chance to equalize after recovering a fumble by Irish junior running back Amir Carlisle. But the Notre Dame defense answered, forcing a quick three-and-out. Purdue then faced a decision, and with seven-and-a-half minutes left to play and all three of his timeouts, Boilermakers coach Darrell Hazell opted to punt the ball back to the Irish.

Thanks to Cam McDaniel, the Irish never gave it back. Every one of the 61,127 in Ross-Ade Stadium knew the Irish planned to run the ball up the middle, but the junior running back – who earlier was hit with his helmet off and received four stitches at halftime – ran there anyway. McDaniel rushed the ball on 10 of Notre Dame’s final 11 plays, amassed 48 yards on that drive alone and exhausted the last of the game clock to secure the Irish victory.

“When our defense got a key stop at the end there, we knew we were going to have a chance to close it out, and we did it,” Irish graduate student tackle Zack Martin said. “Hats off to Cam McDaniel, because he won that game for us.”

Notre Dame may have won, but Purdue dominated early on. The Boilermakers won the coin toss and chose to receive, then promptly marched on the Irish defense. On the 12th play of the opening drive, Henry found junior running back Akeem Hunt in the flat. The speedy Hunt rounded the edge, burst through the closing Irish defense and scampered 15 yards for the game’s opening score.

Notre Dame’s first half was marked by miscues from its first snap, which went straight through Rees’ hands. Rees was just 8-for-17 in the half and the running game amassed just 29 yards on 15 carries.

An early second-quarter field goal by sophomore Paul Griggs gave the Boilermakers a 10-0 lead, and they could have been up 13 if Griggs hadn’t missed from 27 yards a few minutes earlier.

“They came out hot,” Irish junior inside linebacker Jarrett Grace said. “I always think that we’re prepared, and I don’t think we underestimated them, but this is a big game and they were ready to go right away.”

Notre Dame was able to put together an 80-yard drive late in the half, the bulk of which came when Rees hit sophomore receiver Chris Brown down the sideline for a 40-yard gain. The drive stalled in the red zone, however, as Daniels slipped on his third-down fade route and junior kicker Kyle Brindza came on to make a 20-yard field goal, sending the Irish to the locker room down 10-3.

The Irish offense got a wake-up call at halftime, and showed its first real signs of life in the second half. Notre Dame got the ball first in the third quarter, and Rees began to lead the team back into it. Late in the drive, Rees lobbed the ball near the right pylon, and senior receiver TJ Jones climbed the ladder, then threw his foot back towards the field to come down in bounds at the 1-yard-line.

Jones catch was confirmed after video review, and McDaniel ran it in on the next play to tie the game at 10.

Rees bounced back from his early struggles to throw for 215 yards on 12-for-16 passing in the second half. Kelly gave Rees the game ball for his second half efforts, and was impressed with his veteran composure and resilience.

“He’s been here for four years. He knew he just needed to settle down a little bit, it was all in front of him, and he settled down nicely,” Kelly said. “I’m really proud of him.”

Purdue rebounded quickly in the third quarter, as Boilermakers redshirt freshman receiver B.J. Knauf found a seam on the ensuing kickoff and brought it out to nearly midfield before Brindza impeded his progress. Eight plays later it was Knauf again, catching a quick pass out of the slot and shaking past Farley and through sophomore cornerback KeiVarae Russell for a 15-yard touchdown.

That made the score 17-10, and set the table for Notre Dame’s late flurry to steal the win. With the victory, the Irish will head back home to take on Michigan State, their third consecutive Big Ten opponent.

“This was really big for us,” he said. “To win on the road … you’ve got to play really, really hard, and they’re very excited about the win. And now they get to come back home and get ready for Michigan State. It doesn’t get any easier.”

Contact Jack Hefferon at wheffero@nd.edu