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Not Quite There

Dan Murphy | Monday, October 1, 2007

Notre Dame scored three second-half touchdowns, but the Irish fell to a program-worst 0-5 and Purdue held on for a 33-19 victory Saturday at Ross-Ade Stadium in West Lafayette, Ind.

Purdue senior quarterback Curtis Painter completed 22-of-37 passes for 252 yards with two touchdowns and a pair of interceptions. Purdue established its passing game after senior Kory Sheets ran all over the Irish in the first quarter. Sheets finished the game with 141 yards on 27 carries, but he was most effective in the first and fourth quarters.

Purdue became the seventh straight team to score at least 30 points against Notre Dame, but the Irish threatened late for the first time this season.

Junior quarterback Evan Sharpley threw his first two touchdown passes in a rally that saw Notre Dame pull within a touchdown with seven minutes remaining after falling behind 23-0 in the first half.

“We started feeding off each other a little bit the line was blocking well and receivers were making plays,” Sharpley said. “It was exciting to be on the field.”

Sharpley took over at quarterback in the middle of the third quarter when freshman Jimmy Clausen left the game for good with a hip injury. Clausen picked up his first collegiate passing touchdown on his last complete drive of the game.

The freshman rolled out of the pocket on fourth-and-goal and found fifth-year tight end John Carlson, who made a diving catch to put the Irish on the board.

“Jimmy threw me a ball that I could catch and I went and caught it,” Carlson said. “It really isn’t anything more than that.”

Notre Dame’s offensive line began to solidify for the first time this season. It allowed 27 sacks in the team’s first four games but only two Saturday.

“We came in at halftime and coach really challenged us to step up,” sophomore left tackle Sam Young said. “Now it’s just maintaining it, getting that consistency factor, we have to put the first and the second half together.”

In the first half, the Boilermakers had five possessions that reached the red zone but scored only two touchdowns. The Boilermakers kicked three field goals, and had their final drive end on an interception.

Purdue’s field-position edge came in large part because of Notre Dame’s mistakes.

Senior Terrell Vinsonn intercepted an ill-advised pass from Clausen and returned it to the Notre Dame 25-yard line. Six plays later, Chris Summers put Purdue up 13-0 with his second field goal of the game.

Nine minutes and one Boilermaker touchdown later, Irish freshman Armando Allen fumbled a screen pass which was picked up by Purdue on the Notre Dame 14. Summers added another field goal at the end of the drive, this one from 26 yards out, to put the Boilermakers ahead by 23.

But the Irish showed some fight.

“The bottom line is you can’t come out and wait until half time to start playing the game,” Irish coach Charlie Weis said. “Fortunately you fought back to get in the game, but really you lost the game in the first half.”

Notre Dame abandoned the running game that had looked promising in last week’s 31-14 loss to Michigan State and instead turned to its young receiving corps to move the ball down the field, picking up big chunks of yardage at a time.

Sophomore Robby Parris had seven catches for 93 yards, and freshman Golden Tate made three crucial catches – including a 25-yard touchdown score that closed the Irish deficit to seven at 26-19 with eight minutes remaining in the game.

“To be honest with you a couple of those were ‘draw-them-up-in-the-dirt plays,'” Weis said. “I said, ‘Run a go, we’re throwing it to you.’ Real good coaching on my part.”

Freshman Duval Kamara also picked up a touchdown on one of his six catches in the game.

“It’s encouraging to see these young guys step up and make big catches,” Carlson said.

The Irish looked poised for a comeback until Purdue’s Dorien Bryant took the following kickoff, a short squib-style effort, to the 41-yard line. Painter led the Boilermakers to the 14-yard line and then found an open Dustin Keller along the Purdue sideline for an acrobatic touchdown catch.

Painter’s second passing touchdown of the game all but iced Purdue’s fifth win of the year and first over Weis.