by John Vannie
Darius Walker rushed for 146 yards and added 73 more on pass receptions to lead a balanced Notre Dame offense to a 35-21 win against the Boilermakers. Brady Quinn was his old self as he passed for 316 yards and two touchdowns, although Purdue’s Curtis Painter racked up nearly 400 yards against the patchwork Irish secondary.
While the passing game worked well for both teams, Walker’s 30 productive carries was the difference as the Boilers had to play from behind all afternoon. Purdue rushed only 18 times while Painter threw 46 passes. The Irish enjoyed a balanced 43 rush/38 pass split, which was one of Coach Charlie Weis’ goals this week.
Both teams had problems in the secondary, but the Irish made enough plays on defense to maintain the lead after sprinting to a 28-7 second quarter advantage. Painter kept the issue in doubt by hitting an 88-yard touchdown pass just before halftime to Selwyn Lyman, who was clearly the star of the game for Purdue. The sophomre caught eight passes for 238 yards as the Notre Dame defense limited senior speedster Dorien Bryant to three harmless catches.
Rhema McKnight was the beneficiary as the youthful Boilermaker secondary focused on Jeff Samardzija. McKnight caught ten passes for a more modest 120 yards, but he matched Lyman’s two touchdowns on the day. John Carlson had another excellent performance for Notre Dame with five clutch receptions for 62 yards.
Both teams appeared to be armed for a shootout as they scored with relative ease in the first quarter. The Irish took the opening kickoff and rumbled 70 yards in seven plays, capped by a well-conceived end-around to freshman George West for an 11 yard score. Purdue answered later in the period with an 85-yard drive to tie it at 7-7.
The Irish retook the lead less than three minutes later when Walker burst through the line for a 14-yard score, and got the ball back again when the Boilers missed a field goal attempt. Quinn hit McKnight from six yards after the fifth year senior had dropped a sure touchdown a few plays earlier in the drive, and Notre Dame led 21-7.
Purdue quickly moved into Irish territory, but a solid hit by Terrail Lambert on Dustin Keller jarred the ball loose at the Notre Dame 37. Lambert recovered, and Quinn took advantage by moving the Irish into scoring position. The drive appeared to stall on the Boiler five yard line, but the Irish executed a fake field goal and Samardzija strolled untouched into the end zone with only 1:22 remaining in the half.
What could have been a romp suddenly turned into nervous time (apologies to the late Chick Hearn) for Notre Dame fans. Pinned back at his own 12, Painter unleashed a bomb to Lyman, who beat Darrin Walls near midfield. Safety Tom Zbikowski arrived on the scene but whiffed on the tackle, and Lyman waltzed into the end zone. Suddenly, Notre Dame’s lead was cut to 28-14 and Purdue would receive the second half kickoff.
Momentum swung back to the Irish when the Boilers went three and out to open the second half after a dropped third down pass. Quinn took over and found McKnight and Carlson for sizeable gains, then found McKnight again for an easy 12-yard scoring toss. Notre Dame led 35-14, but nearly 25 minutes remained in the game.
Purdue moved the ball well after a long kickoff return, but the Boilers could not convert a fourth and goal pass as Lambert made another solid defensive play in the end zone. Notre Dame tried to ice the game with another long drive, but Anthony Spencer led the defensive charge for Purdue and kept the Irish off the board.
As the game moved into the fourth quarter, Weis stayed with the run in an effort to burn time off the clock. Purdue managed a score halfway through the period, to close the gap to 35-21, but Notre Dame generated enough first downs to seal the victory.
Once again, Irish fans were left to sort out a sometimes painful performance by the defense. The absence of cornerback Ambrose Wooden and linebacker Travis Thomas due to injury was exposed by Purdue on several occasions, but the Boilers had to abandon the run after falling behind by 21 points in the third quarter. Notre Dame hurt itself on several occasions with poor tackling, and the effects of playing five consecutive games against quality opponents was definitely in evidence.
Fortunately, the Irish offense was efficient and mistake-free during the first three quarters. Their scoring spree behind a rejuvenated running game took the pressure off Rick Minter’s tired and battered troops. A bye week will finally arrive after next week’s home game against Stanford, but the level of play by the defense has fallen off sharply after the first two games. Despite these concerns, Notre Dame moved to 4-1 and survived to fight another day as they prepare for upcoming games against three service academies and three PAC-10 opponents.
JV’s Top Ten
1. Ohio State
6. West Virginia
9. Notre Dame
10. Georgia Tech
3. San Diego State
7. Mississippi St.
10. Miami (Fla)