OSIPOFF: Boilers don’t back down
By Michael Osipoff firstname.lastname@example.org or 713-2485 September 14, 2013 11:12PM
Purdue wide receiver Bilal Marshall, left, is tackled by Notre Dame cornerback KeiVarae Russell after picking up 14 yards during the first half of an NCAA college football game in West Lafayette, Ind., Saturday, Sept. 14, 2013. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
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Updated: October 16, 2013 6:58AM
WEST LAFAYETTE — From the outset on Saturday night, Purdue showed it wasn’t going to back down against No. 21 Notre Dame.
The Boilermakers’ initial adrenaline eventually wore off — maybe — but they sustained an effort and performance worthy of a prime-time ABC game, losing 31-24 to the Irish at Ross-Ade Stadium.
Even when they fell behind 31-17 after Notre Dame scored 21 straight points in a span of 3:29 early in the fourth quarter, the Boilermakers continued to compete.
Realistically, there are no moral victories at this level of college football. Realistically, the Boilermakers couldn’t hold leads of 10-0 and 17-10, including an 82-yard hook-up for the go-ahead touchdown from Tommy Rees to DaVaris Daniels (who burned Ricardo Allen) and a 34-yard interception return for a touchdown by Bennett Jackson off Rob Henry.
But maybe — just maybe — they’re not quite doomed as they continue this unyielding schedule, with their Big Ten opener at Wisconsin next week.
Where was this game from Purdue in the dud at Cincinnati to begin the Darrell Hazell era, and in the lackluster home-opening win against Indiana State?
“Obviously, a tough loss for us,” Hazell said. “The guys played extremely hard, hung in there, kept fighting. Obviously a couple plays you’d like to get back, but I’m very proud of our football team tonight. We continue to get better, and that’s the whole to key for this football team — to make strides forward and the wins will come.
“I’m not sure it validates or doesn’t validate it. I know we are getting better, and that’s the whole key for this program right now. You’re right — I’m not into moral victories. It’s always hard when you don’t get what you’re supposed to get.”
The tone for the game seemingly was set before it even started.
The Boilermakers won the toss and elected to — gulp — receive.
Not defer. Not put their defense on the field first, perhaps. Nope.
Go with their offense. Their sputtering offense that entered the game ranked 115th overall, 103rd in rushing yards and 98th in passing.
And all Purdue did was march down the field for a touchdown, its most impressive — and surprising — drive of the young season. Twelve plays, 75 yards, three-of-three on third down, 5:52 off the clock — just as simple as that.
The Boilermakers mixed it up, connecting on passes and running with authority. Akeem Hunt took a screen pass and lowered his shoulder on Irish safety Matthias Farley to punctuate the 17-yard gain — yep, trying to make a bit of a statement — before he scored on a 15-yard catch-and-run.
In a career game, much-maligned Henry (25-of-40 passing for 256 yards and three touchdowns with the one costly interception) looked sharp on the series — completing 6-of-7 passes for 63 yards, to four different receivers — also using his mobility to his advantage. Heck, the Boilermakers even overcame a fumbled snap.
“I thought we were more consistent on offense,” said Hazell, whose offensive line deserves considerable credit for its work against Notre Dame’s vaunted front. “Rob played a great game, other than the one throw. He did a great job of creating plays, which we thought he could do all along.”
Purdue’s defense came out flying, too, including landing some pretty solid hits. The Boilermakers forced Notre Dame to punt on its first three possessions, then got a stop on fourth down on the Irish’s fourth.
On special teams, Paul Griggs rebounded from missing a 27-yard chip shot to nail a career-long 47-yard field goal. And punter Cody Webster, well, he just continued what has been a terrific season for him so far.
After Notre Dame had tied the score at 10-10 on the first possession of the second half, Purdue answered with a touchdown — its second of the game, matching its total on offense from the first two games combined. B.J. Knauf, whose kickoff return had given the Boilermakers plus field position, caught a pass from Henry, and spun away from two Irish defenders for an 18-yard score.
But after Notre Dame’s 21-point barrage, Purdue didn’t have enough answers.
Allen on the long touchdown: “I just got lazy in my technique. …. That was on me, that was my fault. I didn’t do my job.”
Henry on the pick-six: “To be honest, I thought we were getting held. I thought we were getting held, and I threw the ball. No. 2 is a good player, and he made a good play. Looking back on it, there’s a million things I wish I would’ve done — I wish I wouldn’t have thrown it, I wish I would’ve gotten to my second read, third read. But that was the difference in the game.”
Still, Henry found Justin Sinz for a 9-yard touchdown on fourth down to draw the Boilermakers to 31-24 with 8:16 left, and they recovered an Irish fumble on the next play from scrimmage to give themselves a chance.
“Our guys are maturing,” Hazell said. “They’re starting to understand that adversity is part of the football game. The only way to come out of adversity is to work through it. … We’re starting to see things the way we need to see them.”
Said Allen: “The atmosphere was great. Our crowd was into it the whole night, our student section was amazing, everybody around, everything was great. I wish we would’ve come out with the better side of it. But we loved the way Ross-Ade was rocking tonight.”