Breakdown: Five plays that defined Notre Dame's 27-13 victory over Purdue

Tyler James
ND Insider

SOUTH BEND — For the first time this season, the outcome of a Notre Dame football game wasn’t decided in the final two minutes or in overtime. 

The No. 12 Irish (3-0) were able to put away Purdue (2-1) on Saturday in Notre Dame Stadium with a complete effort that wasn’t pretty at times but came with moments of brilliance. 

These five plays defined Notre Dame’s 27-13 victory to keep The Shillelagh Trophy in South Bend. 

1. Kyle Hamilton shuts down fourth-down conversion 

The lane for Purdue’s Milton Wright appeared to be there. On a fourth-and-1 at the Notre Dame 34-yard line, the Boilermakers called a jet sweep to keep its drive alive. 

What Purdue didn’t anticipate was Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton coming out of nowhere to stop Wright in his tracks. Wright, a wide receiver, already outran defensive end Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa and linebacker Bo Bauer to the outside and had a pair of blockers clearing rover Isaiah Pryor out of his way. 

Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton (14) tackles Purdue's TJ Sheffield (8) during ND's 27-13 victory over Purdue, Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021, at Notre Dame Stadium.

► Scoring summary:Notre Dame 27, Purdue 13

►Game stats:Purdue-Notre Dame statistics

But Hamilton dashed behind those blockers to grab Wright’s legs before he could turn the corner. It seemed unlikely that Hamilton was actually able to prevent Wright from gaining a yard, yet he somehow did. 

“I was trying to catch (Wright), but he was too fast,” Tagovailoa-Amosa said. “Then I saw Kyle come out of nowhere. That was a great play.” 

The fourth-down stop came at a crucial time for the Irish. Purdue led 3-0 late in the first quarter and started its drive at Notre Dame’s 43-yard line. But the defense prevented the Boilermakers from building too much momentum as Notre Dame’s offense struggled. 

Hamilton finished the game with 10 tackles, which tied a career high, broke up two passes and intercepted another. He was even asked to match up with David Bell, Purdue’s star receiver, at times. 

“There is only one guy that can make the plays he did today,” ND head coach Brian Kelly said of Hamilton. “You guys watched it. That fourth-down play, how good was that? That was pretty good, wasn't it? 

“I thought it was too, and I was standing right there. I would pay to watch him play.” 

2. NaNa Osafo-Mensah prevents a big play 

Wright had another chance to make something happen for Purdue’s offense. Quarterback Jack Plummer threw Wright a backward pass, which allowed Wright a chance to throw it downfield to one of two targets.  

Wright looked first to Bell, who ran past cornerback TaRiq Bracy but had Hamilton heading his way. Wright appeared ready to throw it to Bell, but he probably realized he wasn’t open. But before Wright could complete the pump fake, defensive end NaNa Osafo-Mensah was in his face. 

Notre Dame’s Nana Osafo-Mensah (31) celebrates during the Notre Dame vs. Purdue NCAA football game Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021 at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend.

Osafo-Mensah wrapped Wright up for a seven-yard loss. If Osafo-Mensah didn’t chase him down, Wright likely would have had the time to find tight end Paul Piferi running wide open down the left hash. Cornerback Clarence Lewis was more than 10 yards behind Piferi, who was 22 yards downfield, when Osafo-Mensah sacked Wright. 

That could have been the kind of big play that plagued Notre Dame’s defense in the first two games of the season. The Irish offense just took a 10-3 lead on the previous drive, and it would have been a deflating blow if the trick play worked. 

Notre Dame did a much better job against big plays Saturday. The longest plays of the day went to Bell on a 32-yard pass and running back King Doerue on a 31-yard carry. That’s a lot better than the 60-yard mistakes against Florida State and Toledo. 

3. Jack Coan and Avery Davis connect for 62-yard TD 

This wasn’t the first time Avery Davis ran down the field wide open this season. But it was the first time the captain wide receiver and quarterback Jack Coan truly took advantage of a poor plan to stop Davis. 

Notre Dame’s Avery Davis (3) makes a catch during the Notre Dame vs. Purdue NCAA football game Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021 at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend.

The concept wasn’t complicated. Davis ran a deep post, got behind safety Chris Jefferson and Coan found him. The Irish offensive line gave Coan a clean enough pocket to deliver the deep strike to Davis, who finished the last 26 yards of a 62-yard touchdown with the ball in his hands. 

“I knew it was coming to me based off the look,” Davis said. “We were repping it in practice. To finally connect on one of them, it felt amazing. It was such a great feeling. Jack really played well, and he put the ball in the perfect spot.” 

Davis was the only wide receiver who managed to establish a rhythm with Coan on Saturday. He led the Irish with five receptions for 120 yards, both career highs. Davis only caught three passes for 29 yards in the first two games of the season. 

“In the first two games, there were definitely opportunities to feed him the ball more than what I did,” Coan said. “It was good to get him the ball today.” 

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Davis certainly isn’t as flashy as fellow starting wide receiver Kevin Austin Jr. and Braden Lenzy, but he provided big moments and reliability for the Irish on a day when Austin and Lenzy struggled to get on the same page with Coan.  

Davis’ touchdown reception gave the Irish a 17-6 with 9:59 left in the third quarter. 

“He’s a big-time player, and he stepped up in a big moment,” Coan said of Davis. “He’s a guy I always trust to be in the right spot and doing the right thing. I’m definitely thankful to have him on the team.” 

4. Jack Coan airmails end-zone throw to Braden Lenzy 

Purdue did a good job at attempting to make Coan uncomfortable. When defensive end DaMarcus Mitchell sacked Coan early in the fourth quarter, it was the sack of the day for the Boilermakers. Right tackle Josh Lugg didn’t provide much resistance, and Mitchell dropped Coan to set up a third-and-11 and the Purdue 12-yard line. 

Following a Notre Dame timeout, Purdue managed to collapse the pocket on Coan again. With Mitchell and defensive end George Karlaftis wrapping around the edges, Coan stepped up in the pocket. Coan wanted to get rid of the ball quickly, so he threw the ball while on the move. 

The execution wasn’t anywhere close to the intention for Coan. The ball sailed well out of the end zone where Lenzy had created some space for a potential touchdown catch. The play was the perfect example of an uneven day for Coan, who finished 15-of-31 passing (48.4%) for 223 yards and two touchdowns. 

Notre Dames Jack Coan (17) throws downfield during the Notre Dame vs. Purdue NCAA football game Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021 at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend.

“My timing was off a little bit on some passes,” Coan said. “I definitely can be a lot more accurate. That’s the cool part about football. It doesn’t always have to be perfect. It just has to be a complete game and you have to fight to the end.” 

Coan struggled to find consistency with Austin (no catches on eight targets) and Lenzy (three catches for 21 yards on seven targets). Coan was inaccurate at times. Other times, like when Lenzy dropped what should have been a 39-yard touchdown pass in the end zone, his receivers let him down. 

The inability to catch a couple balls here and there is something that is wholly correctable, right?” Kelly said. “... We just have to be executing at a little bit better level, and we got great teaching opportunities now this week.” 

5. Kyren Williams breaks free for 51-yard TD 

Kyren Williams set Notre Dame up with good field position by returning a Purdue punt 23 yards to near midfield. Then the junior running back needed just one play to reach the end zone and put the game out of reach. 

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

The Irish lined up with an extra offensive tackle, freshman Joe Alt, and a pair of tight ends, Michael Mayer and George Takacs, to start their drive at their own 49. Williams took the handoff behind the left side of the line and found a crease inside Alt. 

He broke free of the scrum, shed the tackle and strip attempt by linebacker Jalen Graham and raced to the end zone to give Notre Dame a 27-13 lead with 6:05 remaining. 

“He’s insane,” Davis said of Williams. “His ability to maneuver through tight spaces to make people miss, his strength to stay up like when you saw No. 6 (Graham) on his back.  

“I was right there running next to him, so I had probably the best view of it. It was incredible. I kind of was just watching him for a second and forgot I had to block for him at the same time. He’s so entertaining.” 

Notre Dame’s running game was far from dominant (34 carries for 120 yards and one touchdown), but the offensive line and Williams came through when the Irish needed a clinching drive. Williams was back to his dual-threat ways against Purdue with 12 carries for 91 yards and two catches for 47 yards with one touchdown each rushing and receiving. 

“It was an inside zone play and I was really just trying to get yards because we were going to milk the clock and run the ball until we couldn’t any more,” Williams said. “But plays like that just happen. When it’s called for you, you have to make the play and that’s what I did today.  

“That was my big emphasis this week — running through tackles. I don’t feel like I did that well enough last week. So, being able to keep my feet going on contact was really big for me coming into this week and I have to keep on getting better with it.”