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Sports

Irish show both consistency and improvement in home win over Purdue

| Sunday, September 19, 2021

The Irish were in for a battle against Purdue from the very beginning of the game on Saturday. The matchup went on to be one filled with statement plays rather than steady progression on either side. 

The Irish didn’t have a scoring drive for the entirety of the first quarter. Graduate student quarterback Jack Coan was sacked immediately on the first play of the game, and the loss of nine yards set the tone for the quarter that lay ahead. Though there were some good throws from Coan, a decent amount of his passes were incomplete. Running back Kyren Williams had a few carries, but the attempts ultimately proved futile until quarter two. 

Instead, it was the Irish defense that made an impact. Unlike during the game against Toledo — which was full of longer runs by the Rockets — there were always defenders on hand after a Purdue pass to shut down the play at the earliest opportunity. The combination of junior linebacker JD Bertrand, graduate student defensive end Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, and graduate student mike linebacker Drew White proved effective for the Irish, with all three posting tackles to halt the Boilermakers advance. Junior safety Kyle Hamilton was also a force to be reckoned with; in his first drive on the field, he nearly caught the opening interception of the day. Though the ball slipped through his fingers, he still broke up the play, and Purdue was forced to make a field goal attempt to put them ahead 3-0.

Graduate student wide receiver Avery Davis had a career day, proving himself to be a consistent option for Coan. With usual targets like senior Kevin Austin, Jr. tied down, Davis became instrumental in the offensive play. In the first half, he was the leading receiver in yardage, gaining 43 of the 107 passing yards. Coan however, was sacked later in the quarter as well. Tight end Michael Mayer recovered the ball, but it was not enough to put the Irish in a place to score. Jay Bramblett was utilized fairly regularly in the quarter.

Several players on the defense had big plays early on. Hamilton took down junior wide receiver Milton Wright when the Boilermakers faced fourth and one, ending a drive before Purdue could get close enough to the end zone. After the offense retook the field and Coan threw a 19 yard pass to Davis, freshman Tyler Buchner stepped in at quarterback. He immediately got his legs going, pushing past defenders to gain five yards on his first attempt.

Notre Dame quickly made up for not having scored in the first quarter. There was a collective gasp of excitement in the stadium on a 4th and 3 attempt when Williams realized he had a wide-open field in-front of him after catching a slant. Coan fired the ball into such a narrow window that it forced the Boilermaker defenders to collide and let Williams escape. He easily made his way into the end zone for the first Irish touchdown of the day.

Buchner continued to impress with his agility and speed. He maneuvered his way through defenders to gain 20 rushing yards, setting the Irish up for a potential scoring drive.

After another sack against the graduate student quarterback, Coan found Davis for a 16 yard gain. Despite Austin, Jr. being available, Coan’s passes continued to just overshoot him. Graduate student kicker Jonathan Doerer instead nailed a 28 yard field goal, putting the Irish ahead 10-3. By the end of the half, Notre Dame had gained 151 yards, compared to Purdue’s 97. 

Doerer started the second half kicking off at the 20 to account for an Irish penalty that was called at the end of the first. On Purdue’s first drive, the Irish got the stop, and the Boilermakers were again forced to settle for a field goal (10-6).

Another audible crowd moment happened when Mayer was slammed by a defender, causing him to take a moment in getting up. However, despite getting the wind knocked out of him, he quickly rebounded, and soon after Coan found Davis again for a third down, 62-yard passing touchdown to extend the Irish lead to 17-6. The Boilermakers responded in kind; despite getting stopped on an important third down, Purdue took it to the end zone to make it 17-13. When another attempt at a touchdown went awry for Notre Dame, Doerer’s field goal attempt was good to make the score 20-13. 

A tough moment for the Irish came when Coan found Lenzy for a what would have been a wide open touchdown pass, but the senior dropped it, pausing to put his head in his hands. To add salt to the wound, Coan was sacked on the next play. When the Irish punted however, there was a perfect pin by the Kyle Hamilton to set up Purdue at their own one yard line. The centerpiece of the night, however, was a one play, 11 second, 51 yard rushing touchdown from Williams (27-13). He shot out of the line, continuing to dodge Boilermakers until he galloped into the end zone.

Coming off of this high, the defense took the field with renewed enthusiasm. However, on a Hamilton hit, Purdue junior wide receiver David Bell was floored, taking nearly ten minutes to make it off the field. He walked to a cart that took him off, seeming in okay condition as the stadium fell silent.

Despite a challenge on a first down call, a final pick from Hamilton sealed Purdue’s fate, and the Irish took home the win. They did not give up a point for the final 22 minutes of the game, a drastic change from their play the past couple weeks. Irish head coach Brian Kelly commented on the play of his defense play in his postgame interview.

“I thought we executed better,” Kelly said.  “I thought we tackled better. Not great, but better. We still have to continue to leverage the ball a little bit better.”

The defense focused on finishing strong, and that clearly translated to the field against Purdue. Kelly also mentioned that the offense saw some improvement, especially with regards to the dual-quarterback method and not having major players like Mayer and Austin Jr. to lean on as much.

“I think the good thing is we have diversity on the offense relative to the way it’s set up.  If you’re trying to take Mike [Mayer] away, we can get the ball to other players.  I thought we did,” Kelly said.  “I thought Tommy [Rees] did a great job of finding ways that brought a lot of pressure. It was a chess match, and I thought Tommy did a great job of figuring it out and finding where we could get some matchups. So, yeah, there are enough guys to go around that we can still be a really good offense if you take Mike Mayer away.”

On the quarterback situation specifically, Kelly reaffirmed that Buchner is their strategy when the team gets locked up. The reason he did not see the field later in the game was due to the fact that he had a tight hamstring, and as a runner, they did not want to risk any injury with him.

With this win, Kelly ties Knute Rockne as the winningest head coach in Notre Dame history with 105 victories. Though this is a momentous achievement for him, Kelly acknowledged that he could not have gotten to this moment alone.

“Consistency, leadership, alignment, all these things have to come together to get to this point,” Kelly said. He also compared his career to those of the coaches of rival USC, and how it is this consistency that put him in this record-breaking position. 

“This is not to smear them at all,” Kelly said. “I’m just saying it requires consistency to get to these marks. We have it with our leadership, our athletic director, and we’ve had it in the coaching because we have alignment. And because of that, that’s helped a lot in being consistent and winning football games.”

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