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Football: Kelly’s first

Mike Gotimer | Sunday, September 5, 2010

Let the Kelly era begin.

After jumping out to a 17-point lead in the third quarter, Notre Dame held on for a 23-12 win over Purdue Saturday, giving Irish coach Brian Kelly his first win at Notre Dame.

“[It was a] good way to start the season, obviously,” Kelly said. “There’s a lot of firsts here today: first walk from the Basilica, first pep rally. There’s a lot going on. At times I wasn’t certain if we were going to get lined up for stretching today the right way.”

There were also a lot of firsts for Notre Dame’s fans, who got a first look at more than just Kelly’s new spread offense. On the field, junior quarterback Dayne Crist made his first career start for the Irish, which was highlighted by a touchdown pass to freshman wide receiver TJ Jones in the third quarter. Crist finished his first full game 19-for-26 for 205 yards with one touchdown and zero interceptions.

Off the field, Kelly left his own mark on the team by having the Irish enter the field through the student section before pre-game warm-ups.

The first quarter started out relatively slowly for both sides, contrasting with Kelly’s quick-strike offense at his previous post at Cincinnati. However, the Irish made the first impact play of the game late in the opening quarter when senior cornerback Darrin Walls made a leaping interception at the Notre Dame 16-yard line. On the ensuing possession, Notre Dame marched down the field with long runs from sophomore running back Cierre Wood and senior running back Armando Allen, who capped off the drive with a 22-yard touchdown run with 2:01 remaining in the first quarter. Allen finished the day with 93 yards on the ground and added an electrifying 38-yard punt return in the third quarter.

“Without a doubt we push each other,” Allen said of himself and his back-up, Wood. “We both know we have the capability of going out there and making big plays.”

After a field goal from junior kicker David Ruffer early in the second quarter, Purdue got on the board with a 25-yard field goal from junior Carson Wiggs, capping off a 15-play, 7:19 scoring drive. Ruffer answered right back and gave the Irish a 10-point cushion at halftime, hitting a career-long 46-yard field goal with less than a minute to go in the second quarter.

The Irish defense came out firing in the second half, registering three sacks in the first five minutes of the third quarter. After Allen’s long punt return following Purdue’s three-and-out on the opening drive of the half, Crist connected with Jones for the score, ending a five-play drive that lasted just 2:12. Jones finished the day with three catches for 41 yards.

“It’s like nothing I’ve ever felt before,” Jones said of his first career touchdown. “It’s definitely a memory I’ll have for the rest of my life and one I’ll cherish.”

For a moment it looked as if the Irish had increased their lead to 23 points during Purdue’s next possession when junior defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore scooped up a fumble from Boilermakers quarterback Robert Marve and raced towards the end zone for an apparent touchdown. However, video replays showed that Marve’s knee was down when the ball came out, overturning the play.

Following a Purdue punt, Notre Dame drove deep into Boilermakers territory, before junior wide receiver Michael Floyd fumbled on the two-yard line and Purdue recovered.

On the Boilermakers’ next possession, Marve appeared to be driving Purdue in for their first touchdown of the year, but defensive tackle Ian Williams intercepted a tipped ball on the Notre Dame three-yard line on the first play of the fourth quarter to end the Boilermakers’ threat.

The turnover backfired for Notre Dame on the next play when Purdue’s Ryan Kerrigan and Charlton Williams stopped Allen in the end zone for a Boilermakers safety.

Following the safety, Marve capped off a 55-yard scoring drive with a 23-yard touchdown run that narrowed the Notre Dame lead to single digits. The Irish defense kept the lead safe the rest of the way, and Ruffer added his third field goal of the game to increase the Irish lead to its final tally of 23-12.

The win improved Notre Dame’s record in openers against Purdue to 7-1 and ended a five-game losing streak with a first-time starting quarterback under center.

Kelly became the third straight Notre Dame coach to win his debut; the last to lose his first game was Lou Holtz.

Notre Dame’s players offered high praise for their new boss after the game.

“We are so proud of [coach Kelly],” Crist said. “That’s our leader and that’s the guy that anybody would run through a wall for.”

Sophomore linebacker Carlo Calabrese, who led the team with nine tackles, echoed Crist.

“He is a great coach,” Calabrese said. “He expects a lot out of us and makes us go all out all of the time on every play, and I really respect him.”