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Five things we learned: Notre Dame vs. Purdue

Sep 4, 2010, 7:48 PM EDT

It wasn’t pretty, but a win is a win.

Brian Kelly’s debut at Notre Dame was a successful one, as the Fighting Irish beat a very able Purdue team 23-12 at Notre Dame Stadium on Saturday afternoon. The Irish were in control for much of the afternoon and looked to be cruising to an easy win when Michael Floyd fumbled heading into the end zone. Instead of pushing the score to 27-3 with an Irish touchdown, Purdue seized the momentum with a gigantic 15-play drive, a safety, and a Robert Marve touchdown run to pull within one score at the beginning of the final quarter.

With the game dangerously close to turning into another fourth quarter barn-burner, the defense stepped up, the running game ate up clock, and David Ruffer booted a clutch field goal to put the game out of reach. While the Irish would’ve gladly taken a run-away win, grinding out a fourth quarter win is a great way to start a season, and a great way to erase the bad memories of 2009 that might have snuck back into a few heads after Robert Marve somersaulted Purdue back into the football game.

For the first time since last October, the Irish won a football game. Here’s what we learned this afternoon.

1. The Notre Dame running attack paced the offense.

Spread offense? Try smash-mouth football, with the Irish running the ball 58 percent of the time. Armando Allen did most of the heavy lifting, with 93 yards on 18 attempts while Cierre Wood showed flashes of that explosiveness we saw in the spring, with 58 yards on only seven carries. The Irish had nine carries of 10 or more yards, eating up chunks of field quickly and effectively. Kelly told anyone that would listen that the Irish would run the ball, and even with three new starters along the offensive line, the Boilermakers had no answer for the Irish run game. Breaking in a new quarterback is always a challenge, but the most effective recipe for quarterbacking success is a vibrant running game, and almost exclusively out of the shotgun, the offensive line created great running lanes for Allen and Wood. Dogged for most of his career for not breaking long touchdown runs, Armando Allen’s 22-yard touchdown scamper was the longest of his career, a sign of big things to come as the offensive line gels.

2. Notre Dame’s defense won the game.

One of the season’s biggest questions was answered this afternoon when the Irish defense held an explosive Purdue offense to just 322 yards on 74 plays. A unit plagued by explosive plays last year only gave up one this afternoon, the 23 yard touchdown scamper by Robert Marve. Bob Diaco’s unit limited the Boilermaker offense to just 10 points, the most impressive defensive performance since last season’s shutout of Nevada on opening day. While many expected the Irish offense to power the engine, it was the defense that stepped up and won the football game.

“We talked on the sideline that, look, we put you in a bad situation here,” Kelly said after the game. “We are putting it on your shoulders.”

And those shoulders handled the weight well, coming up with big plays at all three levels: great interceptions by Darrin Walls and another aided by Gary Gray, active linebacking play by Kerry Neal, Carlo Calabrese, and Manti Te’o, and vastly improved line play, including sacks by Kapron Lewis-Moore, Ethan Johnson, and Ian Williams. The decision to switch to the 3-4 defense paid off immediately, with Irish cornerbacks playing stellar run support defense (Gary Gray led the team in tackles) and disguised pressure that had Robert Marve running for his life. It was far from a perfect game, but the Irish walk away knowing that the personnel they have on the defensive side of the ball is more than good enough.

3. Brian Kelly is very good at winning football games.

Veering dangerously close to Herm Edwards territory, Kelly showed today that he played to win the game. Too often, Notre Dame outsmarted itself the last few years, over-processing situations and getting away from the fundamental things that help you actually win football games. Kelly avoided the temptation of making a “statement,” and instead chose to do it on the scoreboard. When finally given the keys to his shiny new car, give Kelly credit for skipping the joy ride and instead keeping it between the lines and guided her home. New quarterback? Ease him in with easy throws over the middle of the field and a strong running game. Dangerous receivers and a mobile quarter? Concede the short throw to take away the long one. Up eight points playing into the wind in the 4th quarter? Trust your kicker to make a 37-yard field goal. While style points would’ve been nice, having a coach stay within his means brings confidence to a team that might have been having flashbacks to a few fourth quarters from last year.

4. The Irish will win football games with excellent special teams.

There’s no overstating David Ruffer’s clutch performance this afternoon, kicking a career long 47-yard field goal as well as icing the game with a 37-yard boot in the fourth. Ruffer is an interesting story, having never even played in a football game until he went to William & Mary for college. A transfer student that came to Notre Dame as a sophomore after not getting accepted out of high school, he gave walking-on a shot, and the legend was born. Ruffer has made all eight field goals in his Notre Dame career, and none were bigger than the two he made this afternoon. There won’t be many non-scholarship athletes in college football that have a better story than Ruffer’s and today he was a great weapon for the Irish. Another weapon was freshman Bennett Jackson, who has already filled Mike Anello’s shoes as a special teams ace. Jackson was all over the field, finishing with four tackles on coverage teams, utilizing his blazing speed. With returners Theo Riddick, Cierre Wood, and Armando Allen, the Irish are going to be incredibly dangerous on special teams, and will win a football game this year because of it.

5. The Irish are still looking for that killer instinct.

While it didn’t bite them this afternoon, Notre Dame still is in search of a killer instinct. And Brian Kelly knows it.

“I still think it’s about developing a mentality,” Kelly said after the game. “Call it what you want. Just the instinct of a champion senses that he’s got his opponent on the ropes. We have not acquired that yet but we will. Today, obviously, was a pretty clear case that when we had our opponent in a position to put him away, we didn’t execute when we needed to.”

A champion’s mentality is something that Kelly’s been drilling since day one at Notre Dame, and part of me thinks that the coaching staff is almost happy that they have a built-in teaching point as they prepare to take on a dangerous Michigan team. At various points last season, the Irish looked as if they could run away from an opponent, only to find themselves letting the other team back into the game. Kelly’s frenetic tempo and coaching philosophy takes away any of the hesitation in players, and now it’s a matter of the Irish going out and playing with the mentality of a champion.

Regardless, champions aren’t made in week one of the college football season. That’ll take time. But after one Saturday in Notre Dame Stadium, step one of the season’s goal was accomplished. Win every Saturday. Next weekend against Michigan, they’ll tackle step two.


  1. Glory (Grey) Hound - Sep 4, 2010 at 9:32 PM

    Great summary. All game long, I kept thinking, where is Robert Hughes…?

  2. Dayton - Sep 4, 2010 at 10:21 PM

    One thing that stuck out to me was the fact that the Irish did make some crucial mistakes, but they still won by a double-digit margin. Perhaps I’m giving him too much credit, but I think that is a direct result of Coach Kelly’s approach and influence on his players. Many times last year, the Irish played well. To be honest, they looked fantastic against Stanford, but they still lost the game by a considerable margin. In previous years, they had to play excellent football just to squeak out a narrow victory. Now, and I may be jumping the gun a bit but I digress, it seems like the Irish can win ugly. Meaning, they can make a few mistakes and still have the end result look comfortable. Now, to those who didn’t watch the game, an eleven-point win looks rather comfortable. However, being the die-hard Notre Dame fan that I am, I know that it wasn’t really comfortable until the Irish got that last stop and went into victory formation. But you have to admit, this was a better Purdue team than last year’s team who forced the Irish to win it on a last-minute fourth-down miracle pass to Rudolph. The point is, if we can still make a few “crucial” mistakes and still win the game without needing a miracle, I will be very, very satisfied. And I think that it is all because of the new mentality that Coach Kelly has instilled in his players.

  3. willmose - Sep 4, 2010 at 10:35 PM

    Right on Keith especially with number 5; however, the kill instinct with come with confidence. One thing you didn’t mention was conditioning. This team had more left in the tank in the fourth quarter than any ND team in the last few years. As Vince Lombardi said, “Fatigue makes cowards of us all.”

  4. Art Vandelay - Sep 4, 2010 at 11:57 PM

    Five (or six) things I learned:
    1) Yes, Mr. Tenuta, we can get pressure on the opposing QB without blitzing constantly. We can even come up with multiple sacks. Give some credit also to the secondary also for their coverage.
    2) I have seen the future of ND’s ground game and his name is Cierre Wood.
    3) While Walls’ pick was nice, I thought the second interception of Marve (was it by Williams?) sealed Purdue’s fate, especially since it denied them any points after an extended drive down the field which ate up like 10 minutes of clock.
    4) Our O line did a phenomenal job of pass protection for Crist who had the time to make some accurate throws. Why he overthrew Rudolph in the end zone I don’t know, take a Mulligan.
    5) Manti Teo, even when he doesn’t make the play, can change the course of the game.
    6)Ruffer, the WALK-ON, was the difference in this game, making short, medium and long-range FG’s. What a weapon he will be as we might have more than 1 game on the schedule which will come down to his leg.
    Overall, a very satisfying win. GO IRISH, Beat the skunkbears.

  5. Art Vandelay - Sep 5, 2010 at 12:15 AM

    Oops, I forgot something really important…..
    7) After watching some of the Florida game earlier, you realize that every play starts with the snap. Hats off to Braxston Cave, he did an amazing job today with Crist in the shotgun for most of the day. Nice job.

  6. gregizzo - Sep 5, 2010 at 12:54 AM

    Things the Irish showed me:
    1) better conditioning, the defense seemed like they had a lot in the tank even when they were on the field for long drives. Last season it seemed like after 4 players everyone had there hands on the hips.
    2) Better tackling in space the Irish may not have the best defense this year but you have to admit the tackling last season was…well…awful.
    3) Wood and T.J Jones will full the void that Golden Tate left.

  7. ugetwutuask4 - Sep 5, 2010 at 1:59 AM

    5 things learned…
    1. Thank God for DVR now that the commercial breaks are so short I missed a few plays there and had to hit the rewind button…can’t take too long of a smoke break during the T.V. timeouts I guess, which I think is an excellent advantage that works in the crowd and teams favor.
    2. What a difference it makes for running backs when your star wideout can make a block and stay with his block all the way through the whistle for four quarters.
    3. What a huge difference sound tackling, fundamentally wrapping the ball carrier up, and bringing the wood makes while doing it for four quarters ie Harrison Smith. Good game brother you’ve come a long way since last year buddy.
    4. Amazing what a little bit of special teams field goals, solid tackling in the kickoff and punt teams and yardage in the return game for field postion can win you huh Mr. Schematic Advantages?…He would’ve found a way to blow this game gauranteed!
    5. Mr. Mayock did a great job of breaking down every play and being impartial…I hope NBC is paying this man every dollar that he is worth.
    P.S. don’t get too high on your high horse defense Mr. Unlaced Shoes looks to be a little bit better of passer than we thought he’d be and whomever has to keep an eye on him next weekend better be ready to do a lot of running and chasing down. It’s a good start but the road gets tougher week by week. Go Irish since ’79.

  8. ttctharvey - Sep 5, 2010 at 5:35 AM

    Five things we have learned in the UK and Europe about the great new Deal NBC and ND have cooked up for their alums and fans overseas.
    1. The simulcast is blocked in Europe:
    2. Eurovision will give us the replay on “Friday”. Yup! next Friday
    3. That will be a pay per view so we can watch a stale replay for a stiff fee.
    4. Best camera view from the UK is the simulated replay via “gamecast” with little animated characters throwing passes and fumbling.
    5. We are excited about Kelly and the Irish, not so excited about the celebrated “access” in Europe to ND Football. Go Irish ND 92

  9. Mike C'64 - Sep 5, 2010 at 5:57 AM

    Let’s give some credit to our student body. That sea of green was in the game the whole game, and the band played at key moments.
    Keep it up Irish!

  10. JOwensIII - Sep 5, 2010 at 6:10 AM

    A truly beautiful day @ Notre Dame Stadium.
    Five Things I learned about Notre Dame Football:
    1. Jimmy Who?
    2. Golden Whom?
    3. Don Criqui is the bomb.
    4. David Ruffner is a legend.
    5. Swarbrick ought to receive the Game Ball.
    P.S. My mom knows alot more than I do.

  11. narcoleprechaun - Sep 5, 2010 at 6:12 AM

    The one thing I really think I learned is that Brian Kelly is a better game manager than Charlie Weis. Take the score that the Irish had towards the end of the first half. Somehow I think Weis would have found a way to throw a deep ball to Floyd and scored with about 4 minutes left in the half instead of 2 minutes like today. Granted, we stopped Purdue anyways, but old Charlie use to love to challenge his defense and see how much time he could give the other offense at the end of either half. There’s two things that got Charlie fired, the defense during his tenure and game management. Now, I know a lot of people thought Charlie was gone half way through the season last, I was one of them. But I think what really did him in is that he lost at least two games for his team. Coaches can’t afford to do that. You must win the end of every half to be successful. So far, it looks like this aspect of the game is one of Kelly’s strengths. I just hope I don’t regret saying that someday.

  12. TLNDMA - Sep 5, 2010 at 7:34 AM

    “You don’t have to win the Heisman today”, Kelly on what he would say to Dane Crist. Crist definitely can and will improve, but he took care of the football today. Yes he overthrew Rudolph but, he did not throw a pick either and those three points they got looked huge later on.
    He needs to get better in the red zone and learn to use his receivers talents to his advantage, such as balls into the corner of the endzone to Michael Floyd. I think we will see improvement each week and in a few weeks this offense will be humming.
    Michigan is going to see a much better passing game next week than UConn’s. Their Db’s are young and inexperienced, I expect ND to take advantage of that and score often.

  13. indy - Sep 5, 2010 at 7:54 AM

    Band good but get yer normal sized drums out of Michael’s way.
    When Kamara, who clearly has potential, juggled that first screen, I started looking around for Mr. Mxyzptlk. So much potential. So much 5th dimension.
    Brian Kelly is going to put Ian Williams, Ethan Johnson and Cierre Wood in the NFL.
    Someone needs to interview Dayne Crist’s mom and dad and get some of that knowledge out in public. Good work people.

  14. JNJ - Sep 5, 2010 at 7:59 AM

    Best LB on field including Teo was Calabrese.

  15. fjb - Sep 5, 2010 at 9:06 AM

    An interesting start, he has a fantastic line up of receivers, and a quarterback who is taller with a stronger arm. The real test will be against an experienced secondary. Quite frankly,the Purdue secondary is new and should have be exploited a little more. Another noticeable feature this year is this team has speed!
    Dissappointment was the safety everyone in the Northern Hemisphere new that run was coming. Offense will not be the problem this year; focus, as usual, will have to be the defense.

  16. mo - Sep 5, 2010 at 9:49 AM

    At least the ND defense did mostly knee-tackle–instead of that awful shoulder-tackling–we all had to endure for the past 3 years. This is an important milestone on the road to recovery!

  17. Colonel Dick Horvath, USA Ret - Sep 5, 2010 at 11:54 AM

    A list of five things the Irish learned is four too many.
    What I learned that the men from South Bned now play with a passion that has not been seen since the days, Holtz, Devine and Ara.
    Ride’em hard this week Coach Kelly and make the guy from Ann Arbor sweat just a little more next week.

  18. TVGraves - Sep 5, 2010 at 12:22 PM

    Tackling was vastly improved over last year. The first man to make contact either stopped the man with the ball entirely, or slowed him up enough that three more blue shirts could show up and take him down in a punishing manner. Last year more often than not first contact would be brushed off.
    BK was deliberately giving up 5-10 yards underneath as a testament to Marve’s abilities. This strategy was only successful because our DBs could wrap up and tackle in space and limit the gain to that amount.
    Fundamentals were so much better and will provide a great base as the coaching staff installs more of the offensive and defensive playbooks.

  19. Bob Lawrence - Sep 5, 2010 at 12:42 PM

    Sorry, but disappointed–expected more. Special teams great,but ND better stop those QB rollouts or the Michigan QB will kill them next week.

  20. mp3 - Sep 5, 2010 at 1:15 PM

    now i understand why Evans left the team. T.J. Jones….wow true freshman!

  21. JM - Sep 5, 2010 at 1:31 PM

    Things I learned on Saturday:
    1. The fade pattern, which Quinn and Clausen threw so well, is more dificult to throw than I thought. I have become spoiled watching Quinn throw it so well to Samardzija, Stovall and McKnight, and then Clausen to Tate, Floyd and Rudolph. They were able to keep the ball in play and allow the receiver to make the play – Crist can’t yet. That cost at least 1 touchdown yesterday, maybe 2.
    2. The passing philosopy has changed, or else Clausen was just more confident than Crist is. Clausen looked downfield first, and second, before looking to his check down receiver. Crist seems more inclined to check down. Hopefully that confidence in his arm and his (very talented) receivers will come and we can look forward to more downfield strikes. I fear if he doesn’t the passing attack will become too much like Willingham’s was – predictable and too easly defended by the better teams.
    3. The defense is talented. The “experts” all lamented that ND jst didn’t have the talent on the defensive side of the ball to keep up. I think they are wrong. These kids were well regarded coming out of high school for a reason. The corner play was terrific and line play was a revelation. Much more improvement tha I thought possible this early in the season. It seems that moving to a 3-4 put them in a position to put their playmakers in a position showoff. I am looking forward to watching them grow.
    4. Cierre Wood is a star in the making. So is TJ Jones.
    5. ND may finally have a kicker for the first time since the first Bush administration (Hentrich). That 47 yard kick was great … and it was nice that Kelly had the faith to send him in to try.
    I am looking forward to a strong season – I am looking forward to a 9-3 season.

  22. ND Fan in MI - Sep 5, 2010 at 1:39 PM

    Everyone makes great points here –
    I thought Brian Kelly did a great job of planning and executing a strategy around his new QB. This move gave the team, the coach, and the Dayne Crist the confidence needed heading into week 2 against Michigan. I am glad that we didn’t see “more” – let’s get the offense walking before they run the marathon. Overall a pretty solid performance with great execution. I don’t know about anyone else but I didn’t have the pit in my stomach on third downs during this game. What a relief!

  23. Tim - Sep 5, 2010 at 2:11 PM

    My 2 cents
    Gone are the days when the defense falls down. My optimism was validated. Ruffer has a big leg but only 1 of 7 for touchbacks. I hope he can drive few a game, Nothing like the opponent starting from the 20.
    This team will improve each week.
    Bennett Jackson, the Oline and Kelly looks good on the sideline.
    Hold on to the ball!

  24. gjs72 - Sep 5, 2010 at 3:35 PM

    The defense may be talented in certain respects but they still don’t have the big guys up front who can impact a game. Pressure from the front 3 was non-existent for the most part. The pressure that did come came from blitz packages. Manti Teo is very gifted but doesn’t seem to make the big play. We could not stop the short pass in the flat that Purdue utilized the whole game. Don’t forget all- the Purdue qb was very inexperienced. What would a mature qb have done against Irish? The tackling was definitely better but I am afraid defense will be the Irish undoing again this year along with an inexperienced Irish passing game that did not push the ball down the field. A lot of dink and dunk passes. My xmas wish is to get some really talented D-line players in the near future. When you look at the best teams in the country the defense at times can and does dominate the other teams offense. We look somewhat oridinary on the defensive side of the ball and overall very inexperienced on the offense. I am a 1972 grad and have watched the Irish for over 40 years. I am being realistic with the talent on the field. 8-4 would be a great year. GO IRISH!!

  25. Dan - Sep 5, 2010 at 5:10 PM

    Use Hotspot Shield to change your IP address. Then you can watch it from Europe! It slows down your computer while. Just shut if off hen not in use. it is on and also forces you to use their search engine.
    Also try Stream Torrent.

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