Nobody was prepared for Notre Dame's struggle

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

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INDIANAPOLIS – Preparation was supposed to have been the formula that has kept Notre Dame unbeaten so far this football season.

The reality that the first three Irish opponents figured to have been cupcakes – complete with frosting – was pure coincidence.

At least that’s the sales pitch that has come from Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly.

Saturday night’s less-than-convincing 30-14 Shamrock Series win over Purdue was a classic case of the Irish trying to beat the Boilermakers without having a firm grip on the concept of discipline.

Just shows what can happen when focus lapses at times in the execution.

Rice was ransacked; Michigan was mauled; and Purdue was supposed to have been pummeled.

Thus the rub. Somewhere along the way to Lucas Oil Stadium, the Irish misplaced the mechanics that made them special against the Owls and the Wolverines.

A Boilermaker offense that sputtered against Central Michigan last week gave Notre Dame fits.

“Whether it's Purdue or North Carolina, it's always been about preparation for this group and not about the opponent, per se,” Kelly said earlier this week. “So as long as we keep that as central to how we play each and every week, and not rise to a particular opponent, then I feel really good about going into this week and our opponent.

“It just seems like this group in particular has really set themselves apart in a sense that they really just love playing the game. As long as we prepare properly and do the right things leading up to it, we should play the same way week in and week out.”

Well…. sorta …. kinda….

It’s hard to peek behind the scenes to see who’s really buying into the pitch. Remember, this was a Purdue team that lost by three touchdowns to Central Michigan last week; the same Central Michigan team that lost by 37 to a less than impressive bunch from Syracuse Saturday – in Mount Pleasant; the same Syracuse team that will host the Irish in The Meadowlands Sept. 27.

In the eyes of the Notre Dame coaching staff, it doesn’t matter. Purdue or Florida State. Syracuse or Stanford. The preparation has to be the same.

Hard to put the blinders on a bunch of college-aged kids, though. Hard to look past the perceived ineptness of the opponent to find a reason to be excited. Michigan was supposed to have been a test, but instead was a mirage.

Unless Notre Dame players buy into the preparation propaganda, they will be heading into Stanford – and the meat grinder that is October – lacking the confidence that comes from a quality victory.

Remember, the only thing worse than no confidence is false confidence.

Notre Dame went into the locker room at halftime Saturday night with a 17-14 lead and more questions than they could shake a shillelagh at.

Safeties were an endangered species. Austin Collinsworth hasn’t played this season because of a bum knee; Max Redfield got booted because of a helmet-to-helmet hit on Purdue quarterback Danny Etling (didn’t he learn about hitting quarterbacks last week?); and Nicky Baratti lasted one play before a shoulder injured last spring gave out. That left Elijah Shumate and freshman Drue Tranquill, a former Purdue commit, to man the positions.

Notre Dame’s first turnover of the season, Ben Koyack’s fumble after a catch, set up a Purdue TD that put the Irish behind for the first time this year.

An Irish offense that seemed invincible on its first possession, bogged down for a good portion of the first half.

Everett Golson had been sacked twice in the first two games. The Boilers put the Notre Dame quarterback down four times Saturday.

Golson was the difference. He had a 15-yard run to get the lead back just before half, then tossed a 15-yard touchdown pass to Corey Robinson late in the third quarter to find some room to breathe with a 10-point lead.

Finally, in the fourth quarter, the Irish remembered their mission; settled down; and ran an offense that was effective and efficient – good enough to discourage the Boilers from any thoughts of an upset.

Irish corner Devin Butler, filling in for the injured Cole Luke, came up with a key pick midway through the fourth quarter. After a shaky first half, Notre Dame’s defense found its footing.

Exhale. Take a deep breath, and embrace the open date next week.

A battle that went down to the wire each of the last two years was finally supposed to be lopsided. Despite the warnings from Kelly, everybody saw the Central Michigan game, right? No problem. Bring it on.

Purdue found itself just in time and exploited plenty of Irish problem areas.

Nobody was truly prepared for that.

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Notre Dame's Ben Koyack fumbles the ball during the Notre Dame vs. Purdue football game Saturday, Sept. 13, 2014, at Lucas Oil Stadium. SBT Photo/SANTIAGO FLORES
Max Redfield leaves the field after being ejected during the Notre Dame vs. Purdue football game Saturday, Sept. 13, 2014, at Lucas Oil Stadium. SBT Photo/SANTIAGO FLORES