WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Brian Kelly forgave the delay.
Before Notre Dame’s head coach could start his autopsy of Saturday night’s dismantling of Purdue, Kelly had to wait for somebody to close the locker room door. The Irish were staging a party inside, blowing off steam after blowing out the Boilermakers, 38-10.
“You can see they’re pretty happy about the way that they played,” Kelly laughed.
Notre Dame (3-2) deserved it after dominating Purdue (2-2) on both sides of the ball, winning the total yardage battle 551-276, rolling to 34 first downs and jumping up a touchdown on its second play of the game. The Irish snuffed out any potential drama immediately after halftime with a clinical touchdown drive to go up almost four touchdowns.
If Notre Dame showed substance in last week’s win at Pittsburgh but not style, tonight the Irish flashed both. It wasn’t perfect, not with a botched field goal attempt and eight penalties, but it was mostly clean. Notre Dame didn’t turn the ball over for the first time all season.
“Just excitement, knowing what we can do as a team as long as we stick to the course and do what we’ve got to do,” said Michael Floyd. “I think the guys know that too, but I think we have a lot of work we need to accomplish still.”
Notre Dame’s ground game out classed Purdue, rolling to 156 yards by halftime. Cierre Wood needed just nine carries to hit triple figures and finished with a career-high 191. That included his three-play, 79-yard personal scoring drive in the second quarter. Wood posted back-to-back 12-yard runs before breaking a 55-yard touchdown to put the Irish up 21-0.
At that point Notre Dame had out-gained Purdue 312-40.
“Our running game, it set up everything that we did today,” Kelly said. “When you can run the football effectively you can be a great play caller.”
Tommy Rees didn’t punish Purdue as much as his complementary run game, but the Irish quarterback was solid. He hit Floyd for a 35-yard touchdown on Notre Dame’s second play following a Gary Gray interception, the potential All-American receiver granted single coverage.
“When you go on the road you’ve always got to make a point as soon as you get the ball and that’s what we did,” Floyd said. “It helps the team’s confidence.”
Rees finished 24-of-40 for 254 yards and three touchdowns. Floyd finished with 12 catches for 137 yards, his record 16th 100-yard game. TJ Jones posted five catches for 49 yards and a touchdown, although Theo Riddick was shut out.
Kelly made sure Floyd wouldn’t be.
During the week the Irish drilled plays designed for their best player, hoping Purdue would play the same defense it showed on tape. When the Boilermakers did it virtually guaranteed a career day.
“I think more of a concerted effort to make sure he got his touches in making it part of our game plan that he has to touch the football,” Kelly said. “Not if the offense comes to him it comes to him … we’re not going to play that way, Mike’s going to get the ball.”
Floyd was one of five players to score touchdowns with Jones, Wood, Jonas Gray and Tyler Eifert. Eifert’s score came on a six-yard pass to start the third quarter when Notre Dame demoralized the Boilermakers with a seven-play, 69-yard march that needed just three minutes.
Kelly walked the line between celebrating the win and critiquing it, aware Notre Dame could have hammered Purdue by a much bigger margin.
“We haven’t arrived,” Kelly said. “In close games missing an easy field goal and not being able to score seven (in the red zone) … those concern me. I’m not going to sound like sour milk, but we’ve got to put more points on the board when we have those opportunities.”
Twice in the first half Ruffer missed field goals, the first after a poor snap from Jordan Cowart led to a Purdue block. The second sailed just wide from 49 yards. Ruffer is 3-for-7 on field goals this season after missing just once all last year.
But Notre Dame’s run game and run defense reduced those miscues to nit picking. The Irish nearly rushed for 300 yards for the first time since 2003 and nearly had two running backs go over 100 yards for the first time since 2002. Gray finished with 15 carries for 94 yards, scoring his second career touchdown in as many weeks.
Defensively, the Irish held the Boilermakers nearly 200 yards under their season average and locked down Ralph Bolden to six carries for 17 yards. The only celebration earned by Purdue’s offense came against Notre Dame’s back-ups in the final minute, sending what was left of the student section into a frenzy.
Notre Dame’s defense has allowed 13 touchdowns in the last 10 games.
Maybe scoring against the Irish is that big of a deal.
“I guess so,” said Darius Fleming. “I was surprised how loud they were than they actually did score.”
But the real celebration was in the Notre Dame locker room.