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Off to the races

Jared Jedick | Monday, September 29, 2008

Third quarter? No problem.

Prior to Saturday’s game Notre Dame had failed to put up a single point in the third quarter this season. This time around was a little bit different.

The Irish (3-1) busted out of the locker room after a 14-14 halftime deadlock and put 21 third quarter points on Purdue (2-2) to seal a 38-21 win the team needed to prove their mental toughness.

“It’s 14-14 at halftime, and basically I told these guys it’s the most important drive of the entire season,” head coach Charlie Weis said. “It put us with the momentum in our favor and it carried it through right into the fourth quarter.”

Sophomore quarterback Jimmy Clausen attributed the victory to being prepared to play this week.

“We came out, executed the game-plan, and got a victory, and that’s all we really want to do,” Clausen said.

The Irish have bounced back nicely from their 23-7 loss to Michigan State, showing a resilience that was lacking last season.

“The line of scrimmage was moving the wrong direction last week,” Weis said. “[The offensive line] took it personal, and they did something about it.”

The game started with both teams exchanging punts until Purdue fifth-year senior wide receiver Desmond Tardy gave Purdue good field position at their own 41 yard-line.

Purdue fifth-year senior quarterback Curtis Painter drove the Boilermakers down the field for the score, culminating in a 22-yard TD rush on the misdirection by fifth-year senior running back Kory Sheets.

The Boilermakers had a chance to score again in their next possession, but Purdue junior placekicker Chris Summers pulled the ball wide left on a 28-yard field goal attempt.

“Thankfully they ended up missing that field goal,” Weis said. “It could’ve made the score 10-0 early.”

Sophomore placekicker Brandon Walker also missed a field goal to start up the second quarter, but the Notre Dame stole the momentum when freshman cornerback Robert Blanton intercepted a Painter pass and returned it 47 yards for a touchdown through Boilermaker tacklers to tie the game.

“That was a huge play,” Weis said. “That play gets it to a tie ballgame. It really settled everybody down.”

Blanton’s interception changed the team’s perception of how the game was going.

“It was huge,” junior linebacker John Ryan said. “At the time we were down, and they almost made it a two score game. Blanton’s interception put us right back into the ballgame.”

Purdue answered right back, however, driving the ball from their own 22 all the way down to the goal-line where Painter connected with senior wide receiver Aaron Valentin for a 3-yard TD.

The question then became could the Irish answer right back and seize back the momentum going into halftime.

The answer was yes, as Clausen connected with freshman wide receiver Michael Floyd on a circus catch over a Purdue defender to set up a 6-yard touchdown pass to sophomore wide receiver Golden Tate, knotting things up at 14-14 going into the half.

In the second half Clausen and sophomore running back Armando Allen took over.

Clausen threw for two quick first downs to open things up before Allen rushed three times for 8, 21, and 16 yards. The final rush was good for the Irish’s first touchdown and points this year in the third quarter.

“It feels great,” Allen said. “We went out there and showed people that we really can run the ball. We always hear that we can’t run the ball, so to go out there and run the ball effectively is great.”

Allen rushed for a career high 136 yards on 17 carries and a TD to carry the Irish running game, taking pressure off Clausen and the wide receivers.

“That was awesome,” junior guard Eric Olsen said. “Any time you can get a big run like that, it makes everybody feel great. Sometimes there are games when you just have to throw the ball the whole time and the defense can just tee off on you, so any time you can run the ball it’s great.”

Weis was happy to see someone step up in the running game and fill that void in the offense.

“I think [Allen] had a big day,” Weis said. “We say, where you been? You could have been taking a little pressure off us in the running game a little earlier here to make a few of these runs.”

The resurgence of the running game finally gave Clausen a chance to excel.

Clausen threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to freshman tight end Kyle Rudolph and another 30-yarder to senior wide receiver David Grimes in the Irish’s next two possessions to complete a prolific third quarter and stretch the lead to a 35-21 Irish lead.

“I thought he improved a lot,” Grimes said. “He was coming up to the line of scrimmage and calling plays just like Brady [Quinn] used to do. I think he grew up a lot today. I’m proud of him.”

Painter spoiled a perfect Irish third quarter by connecting with Tardy for a 54 yard TD pass down the right sideline.

The fourth quarter saw just one scoring play for either team, but it was a significant one for the Irish, as Walker successfully converted his first field goal of the year.

“I said look, you are going to have to make a kick here in this game, and it’s just like kicking an extra point,” Weis said.

“For the game specifically it made it a three possession game, so that was the most important part,” Walker said. “It boosted my confidence, the coaches’ confidence, and the players’ confidence in me, so it was a relief.”

The Irish defense shut Purdue out for the entire fourth quarter, sealing the win. The Boilermakers struggled to move the ball after losing Sheets to a shoulder injury in the fourth quarter.

“He’s had his shoulder that slips on him every now and then. It did that,” Purdue head coach Joe Tiller said. “He’s in the locker room and he’s improving now. He’ll be sore this week, but hopefully he’ll be back.”

The win marks Notre Dame’s fourth straight win at home stretching back to a 28-7 win over Duke last season.

“We feel for the first time in a while we’re starting to feel comfortable here,” Weis said. “We’re kind of feeding off our crowd.”

The Irish will have the home field advantage once again next weekend when they face Stanford at 2:30 p.m.