Defense rises up to slow Purdue in second half
Mike Monaco | Sunday, September 14, 2014
INDIANAPOLIS — A shoddy start gave way to solid stops for the Notre Dame defense Saturday night at Lucas Oil Stadium, as the Irish limited Purdue to 290 yards of total offense and two scores in a 30-14 win.
Fresh off last week’s shutout of Michigan, the Notre Dame defense promptly allowed two 60-plus-yard drives and seven points on the first two drives of Purdue.The Boilermakers climbed to a 14-10 lead in the second quarter, and it was the Purdue sideline bouncing up and down in excitement while the pro-Irish crowd stood subdued inside the home of the Indianapolis Colts.
“We were very sluggish in the first half,” Irish graduate student cornerback Cody Riggs said.
Boilermakers sophomore quarterback Danny Etling completed his first nine passes and the Irish defense missed a slew of tackles as Purdue marched down the field at the outset.
“There was no energy — the ‘D-boys spirit,’ a lot of enthusiasm, things like that, so it was about bringing that to the table,” Irish sophomore linebacker Jaylon Smith said. “Somebody had to make a play and once that happened, we got going.”
But in order to get going, Notre Dame needed its younger reserves to step up and make plays. Irish sophomore safety Max Redfield was ejected in the second quarter for targeting. With graduate student safety Austin Collinsworth (MCL) and senior safety Eilar Hardy (withheld) unavailable, the Irish turned to junior safety Nicky Baratti. Baratti logged one snap before injuring his shoulder and leaving the field. So Irish defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder bumped junior Elijah Shumate from strong safety to free safety — a position Kelly said Shumate had never played at Notre Dame — and inserted freshman Drue Tranquill at strong safety.“We came [back] out [to the field with] about two minutes and five seconds [remaining] on the clock at halftime because we’re trying to coach it up on the run,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said. “We’re depleted at that position.”
So the Irish spent halftime trying to ready the youngsters while also re-setting the overall defensive mindset.
“Going into halftime, we got together — the defense — and talk to each other, and we knew that we had to execute better because we came out flat,” Irish junior defensive end Romeo Okwara said. “In the second half, we definitely executed better.”
Okwara posted a career-high 11 tackles to pace the Irish. Okwara saw a marked increase in his snap total, as freshman defensive end Andrew Trumbetti (head/neck/chest) was sidelined. With the Irish up three early in the third quarter, Purdue ran up the middle on third-and-three. Okwara was there to stuff Boilermakers senior running back Raheem Mostert for no gain. Notre Dame also gridlocked Purdue on two fourth downs, from one and five yards, respectively.
“It’s all about leverage in those fourth-down situations and it’s also about executing, so making sure that everyone’s doing their job, not worrying about anything else,” Smith said.
After those opening three possessions in which Purdue piled up 136 yards, Notre Dame limited the Boilermakers to just 160 yards on their final 49 plays (3.27 yards per play).
“It was a lot of adversity as well, getting off to a bad start as far as how we feel defensively,” Smith said. “Giving up 14 points, that’s something that isn’t acceptable, and we just had to rally together.”