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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. Royboy - Sep 5, 2010 at 6:17 PM

    Your kidding, right? I would give 10 Daynes for 1 each of Jimmy and Golden! Yes. A win is a win, but I was not impressed with Dayne. No arm. Slow-footed. Wre were lucky to win.

  2. TLNDMA - Sep 5, 2010 at 6:35 PM

    No Arm? He has a cannon! How did Clausen do in his first start? Slow footed, not like Jimmy speed demon? Don’t get me wrong, I thought JC was real good. I think Crist has a chance to be better. No arm? you’ve got to be kidding?

  3. dan e - Sep 5, 2010 at 9:33 PM

    kelly got the boys ready for their first test by going over the “a,b,c,”s, if you will, over and over throughout the game. except for the floyd fumble and the botched blocking scheme, the basics were enough to beat a lesser opponent. i have a feeling that kelly will add the rest of the alphabet throughout the season and theirs a reason for that. 1, dayne needs time to develope and 2, the less film teams have to study. theres so much more to this offense than what we saw yesterday. thats a huge upside. if the team responds quickly to the new wrinkles each week while still grinding out the “a,b,c,”s the offense will hold up their end of the deal.
    the defense is my concern. they played better, as many of you have mentioned in earlier posts. gray,tao,calabrese and the defensive line played well. but walls almost allowed a big pass play on 3RD and 18. brian smith needs to make big plays on the blitz. this qb for michigan can run and yesterday the irish defense had trouble with containment.
    overall, nice to get a win, nothing to get excited about. this week is something to get excited about. michigan is a team with a big chip on their shoulder and of course our hated rival. were in our house and i expect kelly to open up a bit more and hope the players respond in kind…cant wait for sat.

  4. CJW - Sep 5, 2010 at 10:36 PM

    I have to disagree with your D line assesment. They had 3.5 sacks and did a good job containing Marv other than the TD scamper.
    Also the DL did a solid job against the interior run stuffing Purdue on a few 3rd and shorts.
    Also……why is everyone expecting a finished product in game 1. While most powers open their season’s with pushovers, ND opened against a likely mid-level Purdue team.
    I think the offense can get way better but nice is a game where we did not have a false start or holding call on the OL killing our momentum….that was refreshing.
    My feeling is frighteningly similiar to Chucks first game. We looked improved and compitent.
    I am not even really going to judge Kelly based on this year unless he does something unreal like win the NC. Because really we have had plenty of one and two year wonders and the problem with ND since Lou left is they can not win the really big games and can not sustain or carry forward any sort of excellence from year to year. That is the real test.
    8 or more wins would be great and is not an unrealistic number. Lets remember the old adage which is a team makes its biggest step from week one to week two. If they step up and beat a much more talented team next week then we will be off the races.

  5. Brewski - Sep 6, 2010 at 1:25 AM

    After having watched last season, in game 1 at least, the Irish defense was making 1-1 tackles. They hit guys and the the tackle was made and usually the ballcarrier was going backwards. Even last year when the Irish only lost games by 7pts or less and the offense did have a last attempt every time they were behind, the defense was not able to make key stops when they needed to. This game at least I saw a defense that had a toughness and hell, swagger that I have not seen in a long time, even in past games that were blowouts, never did it look quite like that.
    THe offense looked very focused and capable in this new scheme.
    Now I will admit that that was only 1 game and who knows how good Purdue really is. All I know is last year Purdue came down to the final 10 seconds and if Purdue has improved as I’ll believe they have given their personel, then the Irish did at least for one week, look very goood for the first year in in Coach Kelly’s system.
    USC in November will I believe be THE game to define what kind of team 2010 truly is.

  6. Burner74 - Sep 6, 2010 at 3:25 AM

    1. Mayock – This guys seems to be a big fan of the telestrator. As time went by I found myself liking the guy more and more. He did make the comment that noone knew who Bennett Jackson was. Sorry Mr. Mayock, this is ND not BC. Most ND fans know which highschool kids are visiting that weekend and most of them even know what those kids look like. We’re a more tuned in than the BC crowd. No worries, you’re new and it was your first week.
    2. Playcalling – I’d be surprised if Kelly used more than 1/3 of his total offensive playbook on Saturday.
    3. NBC – Yeah, no more time outs that last 18 minutes.
    4. After this post the following 11 letter word should never be uttered again “MEATCHICKEN.” It’s was dumb when some pinhead came up with it, its dumb today, and it’ll be dumb going into the future. Enough already.
    5. Ty Willingham is still unemployed. Hmmmm. Someone call John Saunders and see if he can give Ty a letter of recomendation.

  7. CJW - Sep 6, 2010 at 10:55 AM

    Concerning the Ty still being unemployed……that is because he banked a bunch of ND money and then went and bilked Washington out of more. He really dosn’t have the personality for TV work and my guess is he is out playing a lot of golf and if he wanted to coach someone would give him a chance. I see Ty as the Obama of coaches he clawed his way to the top and then proceeded to fail miserably, all the while totally unaware that he was doing anything wrong because of his own self delusion.
    Oh and IMO the MEATCHICKEN thing is brilliant. I am sorry but I live in South Bend and maybe it is a local thing but we tend to hate Meeeeechigan with a passion around here that I doubt the larger ND nation understands. Maybe it is because they call this area Meeechiana or because we spend our hot summer days at Lake Meeechigan. If we aren’t Chicago’s b*tch then we are Meeechigans.
    Did you see Baby Tate wants to transfer because he can’t start….priceless.
    Bring on the MEATCHICKEN and lets take them to slaughter!!!

  8. ugetwutuask4 - Sep 6, 2010 at 11:54 AM

    Nice way to find a way to blend sports and politics big guy. The only thing Willingham and Obama have in common is the color of their skin which you obviously overlooked and must be color blind, right?

  9. DocHR - Sep 6, 2010 at 12:39 PM

    OK, I’m not adding anything her that hasn’t already been said. But reading this game blog was pure pleasure. All football, all respectful of each other–what a change from last year. Nice going, Keith!!

  10. Sgt. Moon - Sep 6, 2010 at 4:39 PM

    While I agree with the above observations, I do have one question or comment. Cierre Wood carried the ball 7 times for 58 yards. I would have liked to see him carry the ball at least 15 times. Purdue had trouble stopping him. Why not give him the ball until Purdue shows that they can stop him?
    I was also impressed with the defense. While the season is young, they looked much more improved and didn’t seem to fade out in the 4th quarter. Not like the past few years.

  11. Sgt. Moon - Sep 6, 2010 at 4:45 PM

    While I agree with the above observations, I do have one question or comment. Cierre Wood carried the ball 7 times for 58 yards. I would have liked to see him carry the ball at least 15 times. Purdue had trouble stopping him. Why not give him the ball until Purdue shows that they can stop him?
    I was also impressed with the defense. While the season is young, they looked much more improved and didn’t seem to fade out in the 4th quarter. Not like the past few years.

  12. Jennifer - Sep 6, 2010 at 10:38 PM

    Thank you for your reply to CJW. VERY well said. (You must have heard my primal scream!!!

  13. ourlady$ - Sep 7, 2010 at 12:05 PM

    The foundation is being set, buckle up, because it’s going to be one hell of a ride.

  14. Sec19forlife - Sep 7, 2010 at 3:15 PM

    loved what I saw form the defense. Great opening field tackling and always atleast 5 guys at the ball every play. Offense was pretty vanilla, but I expect that to change week two against the skunkbears. Kelly will open up the playbook more I think. All the mistakes are correctable, and I think we’ll see less of those this week against meeechigan. Lets Go Irish

  15. John - Sep 7, 2010 at 3:49 PM

    Amazing what a competent coach can accomplish in 8 months that an arrogant overweight blithering baffon could not accomplish in his lifetime!! Good riddance Weis family!! Sure took long enough!

  16. BW - Sep 7, 2010 at 4:44 PM

    No need to bash Weis, and especially his family. The guy worked harder than you probably ever will and obviously really loved ND. He just wasn’t cut out for college coaching obviously. I was glad to see him go as well – but the personal bashing is unnecessary.

  17. irishfanintexas - Sep 7, 2010 at 7:01 PM

    Agree with BW, let up on Weis and his family. The man gave his all to ND.
    As for the Purdue game–It was good to see some defense played on the ND side of the ball. Even though there were a lot of areas for the Irish to improve upon, the overall performance was good. This team appears to be confident and “team” focused. Kelly has this team in a good position to start and appears to be very capable of waking up some echos.

  18. Sgt. Moon - Sep 7, 2010 at 9:58 PM

    I also agree with your post. Bashing Weis regarding his coaching is one thing. But you don’t have to get personal with it. Especially when it comes to his family. His wife and kids had nothing to do with any decisions regarding ND football. His family is off limits!!
    Now, let’s take care of Michigan this week. It would be great for ND to beat them, even better if they beat them by about 21 points.

  19. Sgt. Moon - Sep 7, 2010 at 10:00 PM

    I also agree with your post. Bashing Weis regarding his coaching is one thing. But you don’t have to get personal with it. Especially when it comes to his family. His wife and kids had nothing to do with any decisions regarding ND football. His family is off limits!!
    Now, let’s take care of Michigan this week. It would be great for ND to beat them, even better if they beat them by about 21 points.

  20. Tony - Sep 8, 2010 at 11:14 AM

    I live in the UK and you can access all their televised games from this site

  21. grandpashyena - Sep 8, 2010 at 11:21 AM

    Great game and a good start to the season. Please no past bashing and thanks to no robertg.

  22. Joe - Sep 8, 2010 at 12:35 PM

    Okay, so the Brian Kelly era has begun, and while I am extremely excited about the win, I’m still not impressed. A lot of third down conversions on defense. On purdue’s long drive in the 4th quarter, they converted a couple which eventually led to a score. Against Michigan, Robinson gives them the capability to hurt a defense in many ways, especially on 3rd down situations. I also feel that while the Irish tackling was 100% better, they still missed quite a few tackles. They are going to have to wrap up ad hold onto Robinson this weekend. While I’m critical, I truly do feel the Irish defense played overall an amazing game Saturday and am excited to see what they will be like in a few weeks when they get a few games under their belts. As for the offense, Kelly did a great job helping Crist get his feet wet. He had him go deeper a few times, but mostly played conservative so Crist could get comfortable. However, Crist stilled seemed very unconfident in his arm and ability to throw the ball. He needs to get more comfortable in the pocket. The running attack goes without question that they are a new unit from last year. Rudolph and Floyd (Despite his fumble) showed that they will be the same playmakers they have always been and will help Jones and the rest of the receiving core make Golden Tate unmissed throughout the season. All in all, a great start for the Irish and I am looking forward to Saturday and the rest of the Irish football season.

  23. Chucket - Sep 8, 2010 at 9:22 PM

    COLOR jerseys? Please, let’s keep the Green Jerseys out! Notre Dame colors are Gold and Blue! The green jerseys worked once, but they have subsequently marked painful losses!
    Let’s keep that green for an occasion that will mark a victory, and when the players have already won the soubriquet of Kelly’s Heroes…many games into the future!
    And, let’s keep the book writing off until AFTER year five! OK? Please!

  24. O'Neill Man '03 - Sep 8, 2010 at 9:59 PM

    Not classy. Don’t think we should be bashing Mr. Weis or his family. I believe everything happens for a reason. The Program that Willingham and Davie left was in shambles. I remember way too much partying and such going on when I was on campus with the Football team. A lot of them acted like the entitled bunch they were described as.
    What Charlie brought to ND was a level of professionalism that had its moments. When the Irish were in a bad spot following Willingham there weren’t many coaches out there that were the right fit and who wanted to come to ND. Mr. Weis is an alumnus who badly wanted to win for Notre Dame. Charlie Weis recruited extremely well and we are watching Charlie’s Nasties on Defense as well as his four and five star recruits on Offense. Those Superbowl rings were good for something! Charlie was one of the main architects in designing the future of ND Football. Although I am glad his coaching tenure is over we would not be where we are now with out Charlie. BK has the luxury of great Irish recruiting classes at his disposal that Charlie put together. I will take BK and this talented roster of players any day! One game at a time. First real test of the season with Michigan, can’t wait! Undefeated season is very possible, this is the best “TEAM” we have fielded since 1993. GO IRISH Beat Skunkbears!!!!

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