by John Vannie
Kyle Brindza’s 27-yard field goal with seven seconds remaining capped a clutch scoring drive led by Tommy Rees to give Notre Dame a 20-17 win over Purdue on Saturday. Rees came on after starting quarterback Everett Golson hurt his hand as he was hit and fumbled the ball deep in his own territory. The turnover enabled the Boilermakers to tie the game at 17-17 with 2:12 left. After George Atkinson’s kickoff return put the Irish in good field position, Rees hit John Goodman and Robby Toma on key third down throws to set up Brindza’s winning boot. Notre Dame moves to 2-0 on the season and will travel to play Michigan State next week.
The game started out slowly for both teams from an offensive standpoint, as there was no scoring until late in the second quarter. A missed field goal by Brindza kept the Irish at bay in their first three possessions, while starting quarterback Caleb TerBush was ineffective for Purdue.
Golson scrambled and unleashed a 30-yard toss to Troy Niklas to spark a scoring drive with just under four minutes left in the half. A three yard dive to the pylon by Golson capped this 87-yard march in ten plays to establish a short-lived 7-0 margin. The Boilermakers responded behind Robert Marve, who hit Antavian Edison from 13 yards out for the tying touchdown with nine seconds to spare.
Notre Dame’s defense shut down Purdue in the first series of the third quarter, and the offense proceeded to march downfield on the strength of two long passes to Tyler Eifert and a short scoring throw to T.J. Jones. The Irish stretched their lead shortly thereafter as Bennett Jackson intercepted an errant pass by TerBush deep in Boilermaker territory and Brindza converted a 30-yard field goal for a 17-7 lead.
Marve returned to the lineup and guided Purdue down the field with the help of poor tackling by the Irish secondary. After moving inside the ten yard line, a penalty and a sack on consecutive plays forced a 33-yard field goal by Sam McCartney on the first snap of the fourth quarter. Neither team could threaten to score on the next few possessions as the defenses took over. Unfortunately for Notre Dame, Golson was hit by Josh Johnson on a keeper and coughed up the football at the Irish 15. Johnson recovered to set up the tying touchdown pass from TerBush to Edison with 2:12 remaining.
Atkinson’s stellar kickoff return gave Rees a comfortable starting point at the Notre Dame 35. The junior missed badly on a few passes but found the mark on consecutive third down throws to John Goodman and Robby Toma, the latter going for 21 yards and moving the Irish into field goal range. Operating with no timeouts left, Rees spiked the ball a few plays later at the Boilermaker ten with 11 seconds left. Brindza split the uprights for the final margin, but Purdue managed a bit of drama after a kick return near midfield and one tick left on the clock. A Hail Mary pass fell into the hands of Notre Dame’s Jackson and the Irish had their second win in as many starts.
After the game, Coach Brian Kelly spoke of Golson’s injured hand but tried to dismiss any controversy by confirming that he remains the starting quarterback. Still, the use of Rees in meaningful game situations seems likely going forward.
Let’s review the pregame questions to see how the teams fared in specific areas.
Can the Irish bring enough pressure to disrupt the rhythm of Purdue’s short passing game? Notre Dame had four sacks, several pressures and two interceptions. The secondary covered well and both cornerbacks deserve praise.
Will Riddick and Atkinson continue to keep Notre Dame out of long yardage situations on third down? The Irish relied on the passing game and ran the ball poorly, netting only 52 yards and a 1.4 average per attempt.
Can the Irish offensive line give Golson time in the pocket to find an open receiver? Golson’s best passing plays were those in which he threw on the run. Purdue consistently beat the interior of the Irish line to apply pressure.
Will Purdue’s special teams exploit an apparent advantage over their Irish counterparts? Notre Dame’s performance on special teams was dismal, but fortunately it did not cost them the game. Atkinson’s final return provided a boost. The Irish missed a field goal, caught a punt at their own three yard line, gave up a long kickoff return to Raheem Mostert, and suffered a penalty for having two players on the field with the same number – all in the first half.
Can the home crowd generate enough enthusiasm to inspire Notre Dame? The University took no chances and piped in loud music to excite the masses. The coaching staff did its part to interject excitement with a lackluster offensive game plan that kept the score close against an opponent they had beaten by 28 points last year on their own field.
Will Notre Dame’s secondary be able to contain Purdue’s speedy receivers? Yes, the cornerbacks and safeties were very good, but the Irish linebackers managed to get lost in coverage at inopportune times.
Can Purdue’s linebackers and safeties match up with the talented Irish tight ends? No. Eifert and Troy Niklas managed several big plays to set up scores, and DaVaris Daniels also broke free for a 41-yarder. The bottom line is that Purdue’s pass defense failed in the final drive engineered by Rees.
The road for Notre Dame gets even more difficult next week with a trip to East Lansing to play the 2-0 Spartans. Several key players suffered injuries in this game and did not return to the lineup, which is an obvious concern. Kapron Lewis-Moore (leg), Jamoris Slaughter (shoulder), Eifert (concussion), Daniels (ankle) and Golson (hand) went down while starting place kicker Nick Tausch (leg) was not available at all. Early reports are that all are minor, which is good news because the Irish will need all hands on deck if they are going to maintain success as they move into the meat of their schedule.