Notre Dame football: Should have taken Kelly seriously


South Bend Tribune


Early this week, Brian Kelly tried to tell anyone who would listen that Saturday night's football game at Purdue was going to be a tough one.

Pssshaw. C'mon coach, why would your Notre Dame team concern itself with the Boilermakers? Same guys that got crunched by Cincinnati and barely beat Indiana State, right?

Name the score, coach. Try to keep it under 50.

Uhhh. Wellll. Hmmm.

What happened?

Style points are one thing. What are survival points worth?

Which team should feel worse: Notre Dame, for its 31-24 narrow escape from Purdue, or Michigan, with its 28-24 close call against Akron?

Neither was very pretty.

This one won't be easy for the Irish to flush away. Positives took some work to find.

While the run game was snuffed for most of the contest, the Irish passing game found a way to be effective. At least, effective enough.

It wasn't until the 12:40 mark of the fourth quarter that Notre Dame finally took charge. Tied at 17, DaVaris Daniels beat Purdue's best — corner Ricardo Allen — on an 82-yard pass from Tommy Rees and grabbed its first lead of what was supposed to be a laugher over Purdue.

Good thing it was Purdue's defense the Irish were facing.

Bet the ranch, nobody chuckled on the bus ride back to South Bend.

Amir Carlisle's fourth-quarter fumble with 8 minutes to play and the Irish up by 7 could have been disastrous. Notre Dame's defensive three-and-out saved serious distress.

It took 53 minutes for Cam McDaniel to finally emerge as a force in the running game. Needing to milk the clock with a seven-point lead, the hard-running back was a spark that made an impact.

The Irish defensive performance was hardly one that will put to rest any of the questions that surfaced last week in the loss to the Wolverines. Cornerback Bennett Jackson's pick-six less than two minutes after Daniels' go-ahead score, gave the Irish some breathing room.

"Money downs," third-and-long, were hardly cashed in.

Boilermaker quarterback Rob Henry is hardly a Davey O'Brien Award candidate, but — like Devin Gardner last week — he sure looked the part against a leaky Irish defense.

Yards came much too easily. Purdue had the push up front. Notre Dame's vaunted defensive front was violated regularly.

Nothing Notre Dame did Saturday night gave any indication the Irish are ready to get out of their funk. It took four successful screen passes for the Irish to finally figure out the Boilermaker plan.

Purdue took a page out of the Temple playbook — dink and dunk. Short passes neutralized the Irish front. Finally, on a critical third-down in the fourth quarter with the score tied, Sheldon Day and Ishaq Williams shot through, forced Henry to unload out of bounds, forcing a punt.

Three points in the first half? Huh?

Notre Dame's offensive line, solid by all accounts, was hardly effective in the first 30 minutes — 29 yards on 15 rushing attempts. Turning Rees one-dimensional was begging for trouble. Twice he barely averted a pick-six when Purdue defenders dropped his throws.

Notre Dame's defense struggled mightily on third down in the first half. The Boilermakers, who had eight (of 29) third-down conversions heading into the game, made good on five tries in the first half against the Irish.

Purdue converted on plays of 1, 7, 7, 11 and 12 yards. The Boilermakers' touchdown, a 15-yard pass to Akeem Hunt, came on a third-and-11 situation.

There were plenty of situations that seemed to defy logic.

lþAlways want a good start, right? On Notre Dame's first offensive play, Nick Martin snapped the ball over Rees' head. He was lined up in the pistol, with Carlisle behind. Carlisle yanked the ball down and took a three-yard loss.

So much for a good first impression.

lþOn a punt, TJ Jones signaled a fair catch — and caught it — on his own 4-yard line. Conventional wisdom lets that bounce into the end zone.

lþOn Purdue's third-and-12 conversion, Henry threw a short pass to Hunt who simply outran Notre Dame's lumbering inside linebackers for a 13-yard gain.

Four plays later, Paul Griggs hit a 47-yard field goal for a 10-0 lead.

Hard for either team to feel real good about this one. Notre Dame struggled in so many areas before finally gaining an edge. Purdue, meanwhile, let a big fish off the hook.

Kelly will be easier to believe next time.

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly watches the action during an NCAA college football game on Saturday, Sept. 14, 2013, in West Lafayette, Ind. SBT Photo/JAMES BROSHER