Notre Dame subdues plucky Purdue

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

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INDIANAPOLIS —It was like watching a rerun for Brian Kelly, except without the nostalgic feel-good part.

Even with some second-half heroics from quarterback Everett Golson and the Irish passing game, 28-point underdog Purdue gave the Notre Dame head football coach both plenty of food for thought and indigestion.

Again.

Particularly when it came to pluck.

No. 11 Notre Dame was also largely outplayed in the composure department, too, for much of its eventual closer-than-it-sounds 30-14 survival of the Boilermakers at Lucas Oil Stadium.

The Irish (3-0) racked up 43 yards on seven penalties (both season highs), including a targeting call in the second quarter on free safety Max Redfield that included an automatic ejection and left the ND with true freshman Drue Tranquill as the last line of defense for an Irish defense already suffering from a breakout of growing pains.

A way less-than-sell-out crowd of 56,832 (capacity 63,000) looked on as Notre Dame won its sixth Shamrock Series game without a loss and recorded its seventh consecutive victory in its series with Purdue (1-2), which heads into mothballs for the next five years after playing for the past 69 seasons.

And they followed a familiar, agonizing plot when it comes to recent meetings with the Boilermakers to get there, at least for a while. The past two matchups were decided in the fourth quarter and by a combined 10 points.

“I want to also take my hat off to Purdue and the way they played,” Kelly said. “They played with great passion. They were physical. They always play us in that fashion. Two teams from the state of Indiana going at it. They should be commended for their play.”

A Purdue defensive game plan drawn up by former Notre Dame assistant coach Greg Hudson, a 1990 grad and also a former Irish linebacker for the football team and catcher for the baseball squad, flustered the Irish for at least the first half and stretches in the second.

It was as unlikely a headache as the consistent performance of Purdue quarterback Danny Etling, who didn’t even know if he still had the job as the starter for much of the week.

The sophomore, who ended up making his 10th consecutive start, didn’t record his first incomplete pass of the game until the 6:34 mark of the second quarter — after nine straight completions. He came into the game 107th nationally in passing efficiency.

As for Purdue, this is a program that coughed up 34 points to Western Michigan in its opener in a narrow victory and the only FBS win on second-year Boilermaker head coach Darrell Hazell’s résumé.

Last week, they got run by Central Michigan, which in turn lost at home on Saturday, 40-3 to Syracuse – which happens to be ND’s next opponent, Sept. 27 in East Rutherford, N.J.

The Sagarin computer rankings has Purdue rated dead last in the Big Ten and 167th overall among FBS and FCS teams, 105 spots lower than its next opponent, FCS member Southern Illinois.

Maybe the most alarming aspect of ND’s semi-regression from start to finish was a leaky offensive line, which was without starting right guard Christian Lombard, nursing a high ankle sprain. Golson was sacked four times, exactly half the total last year’s line yielded in a 13-game season and with a largely immobile quarterback operating behind it.

“We’re still not a finished product by any means,” Kelly said. “We’re still a young team. At 3-0, we're pleased to be where we are, but we’re nowhere near the football team we need to be.”

Still, Golson managed to amass 315 yards in total offense — 259 through the air on a career-high 25 completions. He attempted 40 passes with two TD tosses and the third straight interception-free game since returning from an academic-related suspension that wiped out his 2013 season.

He was also ND’s leading rusher with 56 yards on 14 carries and the go-ahead TD just before halftime on a 15-yard scramble.

“It's an entire offensive unit that's not where it needs to be,” Kelly said. “Quite frankly, it's an opportunity for us now to critically evaluate where we are and what we need to do to get better.”

ND’s defense got better in the second half even as some important pieces were on the sidelines. One of the fill-ins, sophomore cornerback Devin Butler, recorded a fourth-quarter interception, the first of his career.

Senior middle linebacker Joe Schmidt chipped in with another pick deep in Irish territory with 1:46 left. First-year coordinator Brian VanGorder’s defense, on its heels for much of the first half, managed to record its second straight performance holding its opponents under 300 total yards.

The game started pretty much the way the odds-makers saw it. Amir Carlisle, whose slow slide down the depth chart started in last year’s Purdue game, took the opening kickoff 47 yards, allowing the Irish to start their first drive in Boilermaker territory at the 45.

Six plays later Golson found Will Fuller for a six-yard TD strike, ND’s 11th straight converted red-zone opportunity to start the season, for a 7-0 lead. Fuller was ND’s leading receiver with six catches for 51 yards.

But then things started to get weird for Kelly and the Irish. Kyle Brindza missed a 50-yard field goal attempt wide left with 6:50.

Purdue then answered with an Impressive 67-yard, nine play drive, finished off when 6-4, 265-pound fullback Brandon Cottom bowled over ND cornerback Cody Riggs for the seven-yard scoring play with 1:50 left in the first quarter.

Purdue got tough near the goal line of ND’s next drive and the Irish settled for a 19-yard Brindza field goal, the 47th field goal of his career — four short of John Carney’s school record. Brindza would later add field goals of 48 and 39 in the fourth quarter to move closer to the mark.

Purdue roared into the lead three plays after recovering a Ben Koyack fumble on the Irish 26-yard line. Etling, who finished 27-of-40 for 234 yards with two picks, connected with DeAngelo Yancey on a 19-yard scoring pass for a 14-10 Purdue lead with 3:00 left in the first half.

But that was the end of the Boilermaker scoring, as VanGorder’s unit held Purdue to 113 yards in the second half.

Notre Dame, without three starters and two reserves for the third straight game because of the school’s ongoing academic fraud investigation, lost several key players during the game beyond Redfield.

Starting cornerback Cole Luke left the game with a neck injury as did Nicky Baratti (shoulder) after one play when he initially replaced Redfield. Freshman defensive lineman Andrew Trumbetti (neck, head) was also sidelined.

Offensively, Carlisle missed the second half with an MCL injury to his knee.

Since Redfield’s penalty occurred in the first half, it will not affect his availability for the Syracuse game.

“You know you're going to face (adversity),” Kelly said. “At some time it's going to present itself to you. It's a matter of how are your teammates going to respond and how are your players going to respond.

“I thought today they responded very well. You know you're going to deal with it, now it's behind us and you know what the standard is. There’s no waiver wire in college football. We have to get young guys ready.”

ehansen@ndinsider.com | 574-235-6112

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Purdue's Taylor Richards disrupts a pass thrown to Notre Dame's Chris Brown (2) during the Notre Dame vs. Purdue football game Saturday, Sept. 13, 2014, at Lucas Oil Stadium. SBT Photo/SANTIAGO FLORES
Notre Dame's Everett Golson runs past Purdue's Antoine Lewis during the Notre Dame vs. Purdue football game Saturday, Sept. 13, 2014, at Lucas Oil Stadium. SBT Photo/SANTIAGO FLORES
Notre Dame's Devin Butler celebrates after a turnover during the Notre Dame vs. Purdue football game Saturday, Sept. 13, 2014, at Lucas Oil Stadium. SBT Photo/SANTIAGO FLORES