With almost 24 hours to sit back and reflect on the stunning Irish victory, a few things are more evident than they were last night. The Irish were truly handicapped offensively by injuries last night. Give Charlie Weis credit for a very good scheme. Weis found a way to make Jimmy Clausen effective — using him solely in the shotgun. He created a package where he used Golden Tate as a Wildcat quarterback and a tailback. He ran the zone read with backup quarterback Dayne Crist, using the powerful sophomore as a reliable change-of-pace quarterback who was a run first, pass second signal-caller. He also gave defenses their first dose of a power running attack, where the bruising Robert Hughes played smash-mouth football being a bulldozing offensive line.
The Irish were far from perfect last night, but the end result was what mattered, a W against a very game Purdue squad.
Here’s a look at the good, the bad, and the ugly.
The Irish won in a completely unconventional way. The game-winning drive makes it two consecutive outings where the final minute went Notre Dame’s way. The second quarter power rushing display put on by Dayne Crist, Robert Hughes, Jonas Gray, and Theo Riddick was a thing of beauty, and showed the kind of depth that Weis has built in his five seasons of recruiting. The Irish had TD drives of 73 and 62 yards without ever completing a pass, a testament to the offensive line’s resurgence. While the defensive effort still leaves a lot to be desired, the Irish did hold Ralph Bolden to just 67 yards on 17 carries, under four yards a clip, even including the 26-yard scamper in the first quarter. That’s continuous improvement in stopping the run by Corwin Brown and Jon Tenuta’s boys.
Notre Dame failed to put away another opponent, and the usual suspects were a big reason why. Penalties dogged the Irish, with procedure, formation, and personal fouls all part of the miscues. Golden Tate cost himself a touchdown lining up out of position, Sam Young heard his name a few too many times on the PA, and Harrison Smith had a thick-headed personal foul penalty. Worse still, Notre Dame’s tackling took a huge step backward. As our friends at Hammer & Rails predicted, Keith Smith evoked memories of Kory Sheets and Desmond Tardy, gashing the Irish defense for 11 catches and 136 yards. Weis talked about the decision to play more Cover 2 defense in his post-game remarks, but the team failed to make the proper adjustments in the scheme. Too many short patterns went uncontested by corners, and the middle of the field was exploited multiple times by Purdue, as Irish linebackers gave up a ton of yards over the middle. (If Notre Dame wants to play Cover 2, expect to see linebackers Manti Te’o and Steve Filer on the field more often.) Finally, the blown coverage by the Irish on Purdue’s last touchdown was another broken play by the defense, a trend that can”t keep happening.
For Purdue fans, Danny Hope’s timeout with 36 seconds left doesn’t add up. After Robert Hughes was stuffed short on 2nd and Goal from the 4, Notre Dame was scrambling to get up to the line and spike the ball to stop the clock. Instead of wasting third down, Hope spared the Irish by stopping the clock himself, giving Notre Dame time to misfire on third down before Clausen blistered a throw into Kyle Rudolph’s chest on 4th down for the win. Between the timeout and 13 penalties, Purdue fans have to be seething.