The Irish defeated the Boilermakers last night in West Lafayette, 31-24. While the game didn’t have the white-knuckle excitement of last year’s 20-17 victory at home, it had plenty of drama, with Tommy Rees, DaVaris Daniels, and Cam McDaniel playing starring roles. Ultimately, though, Notre Dame brings a lot of questions back to campus to accompany its crucial second win.
Last night’s was a contest in which Notre Dame’s defense could not figure out how to defend a Purdue offense that had floundered against much-less hyped squads. Again, our opponent put multiple bodies and hands on Louis Nix and ran away from Stephon Tuitt. Again, the Irish failed to exploit their advantages. Only in the last quarter did the defense come alive, once again contributing an interception for a touchdown, this time courtesy of Bennett Jackson, who nabbed the pick and ran it back thirty-four yards, to make the score 31-17.
Credit Purdue for just about equaling their total offensive production from their previous two games. While Notre Dame basically shut down Purdue’s running game, surrendering just thirty-six rushing yards, Purdue’s quarterback, Rob Henry, torched the Irish for 256 yards through the air, in an attack that put the Irish through a torture of death by-a-thousand-cuts. For the third game in a row, Notre Dame’s coverage unit was questionable.
Notre Dame’s offense, again, got the job done. Accounting for twenty-four points, Tommy Rees found DaVaris Daniels for the longest play of either’s career, a thrilling tight-rope pass and run down the sideline for eighty-two yards. The sophomore receiver also scored on a nine yard pass from Rees. All told, Tommy threw for three hundred and nine yards on the night, with no interceptions and two touchdowns. In doing so, he became one of five Notre Dame quarterbacks to throw for forty touchdowns in a career.
On the ground, ND’s stable of backs produced ninety-one yards, the most epic of which came from Cam McDaniel’s determination. His stretching for extra yardage after being de-helmeted and his head cut open will surely feature in the season’s highlight reels. Still, the consistent flash we anticipated from Amir et al failed to materialize.
It may warrant a bit of comparison between last night’s game and last year’s. 2013′s Purdue team was supposed to be weaker than last year’s and was further hobbled by injury. 2013′s Notre Dame squad was one for the ages, this year’s is one struggling to find its identity. Still, last night, the Irish put up a better all around offensive performance than last year, running and passing for more yards. Last night, the Irish stifled Purdue’s running game, after giving up ninety yards last year.
So, with a win, we wonder. We wonder who, if any one, will step up to try to fill Manti’s absence in the middle of the defense? We wonder why our coaching staff appears to be outfoxed at the outset of each game or whether it is just a case of imperfect reading or route-running by the players? These are questions that need answering before Sparty comes calling on Saturday.