SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Much has changed during Brian Kelly’s Notre Dame tenure — from a video board and artificial turf in the Stadium to four straight years, and counting, of double-digit wins — but some things remain the same. Kelly’s record-tying 105th win leading the Irish came at the expense of the same team he beat for his first, a team that has not beaten Notre Dame since 2007.
Notre Dame’s defense led the way in a 27-13 win against Purdue on Saturday, giving Kelly six wins against the Boilermakers as he tied Knute Rockne for the most victories as Irish head coach with 105. Junior running back Kyren Williams (at top) sealed the win with a 51-yard touchdown run, cutting past multiple would-be tacklers halfway through the fourth quarter, his second trip of the day to the end zone.
“He’s insane,” fifth-year receiver Avery Davis said of Williams, who finished with 130 total yards from scrimmage. “His ability to just maneuver through tight spaces to make people miss, the strength to stay up, I was right next to him so I probably didn’t have the best view of it. It was just incredible, just watching him for a second, I forgot I had to block for him at the same time.”
Both Kelly and Rockne took 12 seasons to reach 105 wins, but Kelly knows and acknowledges his stretch to get there differs from Rockne’s, who had a .881 winning percentage and three national championships, compared to Kelly’s .729, one title game appearance and two Playoff berths.
“I see it a little bit differently, in a sense that I think it means longevity,” Kelly said this week in anticipation of tying the record. “It means stability. It means winning.
“It doesn’t mean anything else relative to comparisons or who’s better. Those things really don’t mean much to me. I came here to do a job, and that was to bring Notre Dame back to its winning traditions. We’ve gotten there by being consistent and having stability. That’s what [105 wins] means more than anything else to me.”
That consistency and stability have been the staples of the last four-plus years under Kelly, with the Irish going 46-8 since the start of the 2017 season (an .852 winning percentage), including 26 straight wins at home and 35 straight victories over unranked opponents thanks to the dispatching of the Boilermakers (2-1).
No. 12 Notre Dame’s offense showed flashes, certainly more so than it did a week ago, but it still struggled to find consistency. Long touchdown passes to Williams (39 yards) and Davis (62 yards), along with Williams’ weaving score, provided an undue chunk (152 yards) of the offensive total production of 343 yards. But that is also arguably the offense’s design.
“I think we all knew coming out of camp that we’re a really talented offense,” Davis said. “I think the biggest thing that we preach is, be ready when opportunities come. That was the thing going forward.
“Like my day today, my opportunity, my number was called, so I capitalized on it.”
Williams’ score gave the Irish their initial lead and showed the overall riskiness embraced by Coan, threading the needle between two Purdue defenders on a fourth-and-one. From there, though, Coan had trouble with his accuracy, missing on repeated downfield shots to senior receiver Kevin Austin (and later surviving one rueful drop by senior Braden Lenzy of a 39-yard touchdown) before eventually connecting with Davis. Coan finished the day 15-of-31 passing for 223 yards.
“I think my timing was off a little bit on some passes,” Coan said. “I need to be a lot more accurate. That’s a cool part about football. It doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be a complete game.”
Davis’ dash gave the Irish breathing room they would need, similar to TJ Jones‘ 5-yard touchdown catch back in 2010 that gave Notre Dame a 20-3 lead in Kelly’s debut, eventually a 23-12 victory.
Back then, the Irish had gone through three head coaches within nine years and consistency and stability seemed like far-fetched dreams. Now the biggest problem Notre Dame has is not winning by enough, although Williams’ punctuation mark Saturday may have eased that worry for the first time this season.
KELLY DIDN’T DO IT ALONE
Modern college football coaches are rarely afforded the runway to win 105 games at one program. Even if successful, that usually simply leads to the next job. If not successful or if change occurs elsewhere at the university, out they go.
That has been the case at USC, having gone through three coaches and four athletic directors during Kelly’s time in South Bend, a comparison Kelly made directly on Saturday, never citing the Trojans by name but referring to them as “our rival on the West Coast” that has gone through “a number of different head coaches.” Only one school fits those terms.
Kelly has known stability all around him at Notre Dame, bettering his chances of building it within the football program. Director of athletics Jack Swarbrick took his job two years before Kelly arrived, and University President Fr. John Jenkins‘s tenure predates Swarbrick’s by another three.
“I think it takes a lot of things to be in place for [105 wins] to happen,” Kelly said Saturday evening. “Fr. John has been with me on this journey, Jack’s been on this journey. Consistency, leadership, alignment, all those things have to come together to get to this point. …”
“We have it with our leadership, we have it with our athletic director, and we’ve had it in the coaching because we have alignment. Because of that, that’s helped a lot in being consistent in winning football games.”
A tight hamstring cut short Tyler Buchner's day, per Brian Kelly. https://t.co/yLxh97ndPg
— Douglas Farmer (@D_Farmer) September 18, 2021
NOT AN ASTERISK
Of course, the total of 105 wins includes the 21 wins the NCAA vacated from 2012 and 2013 due to a handful of players receiving impermissible academic assistance. Notre Dame has regularly counted those vacated wins in stats, a decision lauded nearly universally and one the NCAA does not seem too bothered by.
Technically, the Irish need to acknowledge those 21 vacated wins in any stat that includes them. But the fact of the matter is, Notre Dame played those games. Kelly was the coach. They won.
And if that warrants an asterisk, well, the graphics department can make an asterisk look a lot like a shamrock.
Congratulations, @CoachBrianKelly!#GoIrish pic.twitter.com/sOpJawUI8a
— Notre Dame Football (@NDFootball) September 18, 2021
9:58 — Purdue field goal. Mitchel Fineran 35 yards. Purdue 3, Notre Dame 0. (10 plays, 34 yards, 3:41)
13:51 — Notre Dame touchdown. Kyren Williams 39-yard pass from Jack Coan. Jonathan Doerer PAT good. Notre Dame 7, Purdue 3. (5 plays, 66 yards, 2:14)
8:45 — Notre Dame field goal. Doerer 28 yards. Notre Dame 10, Purdue 3. (10 plays, 48 yards, 3:13)
11:06 — Purdue field goal. Fineran 34 yards. Notre Dame 10, Purdue 6. (9 plays, 50 yards, 3:48)
9:59 — Notre Dame touchdown. Avery Davis 62-yard pass from Coan. Doerer PAT good. Notre Dame 17, Purdue 6. (3 plays, 75 yards, 1:07)
7:08 — Purdue touchdown. Milton Wright 2-yard pass from Jack Plummer. Fineran PAT good. Notre Dame 17, Purdue 13. (6 plays, 75 yards, 2:51)
10:50 — Notre Dame field goal. Doerer 30 yards. Notre Dame 20, Purdue 13. (11 plays, 53 yards, 5:20)
6:05 — Notre Dame touchdown. Williams 51-yard rush. Doerer PAT good. Notre Dame 27, Purdue 13. (1 play, 51 yards, 0:11)