Instant observations: Flawed Irish find their defensive footing in win over Purdue

Eric Hansen
ND Insider

Bottom Line

No. 12 Notre Dame slogged its way Saturday through the last of three games before it hits the gristle in its schedule, looking again very much like a flawed team trying to grow into its national ranking.

► Scoring summary:Notre Dame 27, Purdue 13: Scoring summary from Saturday's game

This time, at least, first-year coordinator Marcus Freeman’s defense stepped up to the task in a 27-13 victory over Purdue at Notre Dame Stadium.

The Irish offense labored, especially on third down, until ND running back Kyren Williams willed himself 51 yards for a game-clinching TD with 6:05 left in the game, breaking several tackles along the way.

Brian Kelly picked up victory number 105 as the Irish head coach, tying coaching icon Knute Rockne atop the school’s victory list, Rockne’s 105th win was a 27-0 rout of USC in Los Angeles. 

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly during the Notre Dame vs. Purdue NCAA football game Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021 at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend. Kelly's 105th victory on Saturday tied him with Knute Rockne as the most wins by a football coach.

Big Picture

The Irish reached the five-game stretch that will likely define their season with big dreams still alive, given their 3-0 record. But they also did so with the reality that the snapshot of the team the Irish fan base saw Saturday will have to look much differently moving forward, especially facing two elite defenses (Wisconsin and Cincinnati) each of the next two weeks.

Notre Dame extended its home win streak to 26 games and its streak over unranked opponents to 35.

Questions Answered

Freeman’s defense showed it could be aggressive and attacking without leaking big plays. Purdue’s big-play receiver David Bell was held under 100 receiving yards for the first time in four games, dating back to last season and just the ninth time in his 21-game collegiate career. … Notre Dame’s offensive line still came nowhere near owning the line of scrimmage, but the Irish did get creative in finding ways to make it more effective. Freshman tackle Joe Alt was used intermittently as an extra blocker, while Andrew Kristofic rotated in at left guard, spelling Zeke Correll.

Questions Lingering

What’s the future of the Jack Coan/Tyler Buchner quarterback tag team? The Irish used it again Saturday but less often than in the previous week against Toledo. … What kind of progress can the O-line make before facing an elite defensive front on Saturday?

My Game Balls Go To

Offense: Kyren Williams. The junior running back ran for 91 yards on 12 carries, including a 51-yard TD in the fourth quarter. He caught two passes for 47 yards and a TD.

Defense: Safety Kyle Hamilton. The junior All-American had 10 tackles, broke up two passes and picked off a Purdue pass in the end zone with 2:32 left in the game.

Notre Dame’s Kyren Williams (23) scores during the Notre Dame vs. Purdue NCAA football game Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021 at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend.

The Road Ahead

Notre Dame heads to Chicago’s Soldier Field to play No, 18 Wisconsin (1-1) at noon EDT. It’ll be the first meeting between the two programs since 1964. The Badgers will be coming off a bye week.