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Notre Dame vs. Purdue Recap: Irish Train Rolls on with Blowout at Ross-Ade

Notre Dame got off to a quick start Saturday night against Purdue, and never looked back.

After a rocky up and down first month to the season the Fighting Irish finally put together a turnover-free game and that resulted in a blowout victory.

It's games like this that are tough to write a recap for because there isn't a whole lot to talk about, or even debate and argue.

Sometimes it's not as fun to dish out high grades across the board, but here we go....

Offensive Line: A

I wouldn't have a problem giving the line the highest grade possible, but I'll withhold that honor for now because there were a couple short-yardage situations where they could have blocked better, a couple bad penalties, and frankly, Purdue just isn't that good.

Nevertheless, you can't argue with 287 yards rushing and no sacks.

Rees took one big shot after throwing a ball, and had a couple attempts where he had to use his limited escapability to buy some time, but other than that the protection was fantastic all night long.

Best of all, the offensive line was putting on clinic on how to open up running lanes---in some cases mammoth holes that were sometimes laughingly large.

I love the way this line mixes brute power with finesse and an ability to move and pull.

Tight End: B

It was a pretty quiet day for starter Tyler Eifert, a week after catching a career-high 8 balls in the win over Pitt. 4 more receptions for 38 yards and a touchdown is pretty solid though. With the running game as electric as it was, I am going to assume that Eifert had a pretty good day blocking too.

I didn't see any of the backups get a lot of work on Saturday night. I saw Welch on the sidelines at one point so it was nice to see him back in uniform, but I think this was a game where Eifert shouldered most of the load.

Wide Receiver: A-

My goodness Michael Floyd. It's going to be a sad say when No. 3 is no longer on the field for the Fighting Irish.

What was Purdue thinking? Pitt showed the world how to take away Floyd and force Rees to move the ball elsewhere, and it looked like the Boilermakers were content to keep him in one-on-one coverage against Ricardo Allen.

Not a smart move, as Allen was abused all night long by Floyd---who made it look easy at times.

I love the way Floyd has been playing this year, as if he has something to prove on every snap. His blocking has been angry and vengeful, he seems a step quicker as a senior, while he runs like a Mac truck intent on running people over and fighting for extra yards and first downs.

Does TJ Jones look bigger to you? I noticed he wears pretty large shoulder pads, and with those long white socks he sure seems a lot bigger than he's listed.

Anyway, it's nice to see Jones getting more involved in the offense. He's very quietly scoring a lot of touchdowns in his short career.

The puzzling case of Theo Riddick continues with a game in which he caught a grand total of zero passes. Was Riddick even targeted with one throw on the night?

At this point last year through five games Riddick was just starting to hit his stride with 30 receptions for 320 yards. Right now his numbers through five games in 2011 have been cut in half with 16 receptions and 153 yards.

I'm at a loss of words as to this lack of production. I've heard many first-hand accounts of people at the games saying he is getting open, and you would think with Floyd on the outside Riddick would be constantly able to make plays in the slot.

There's something to talk about.

Running Back: A+

From the day he signed with Notre Dame to his first appearance in an Irish uniform at last year's spring game, I have been a big believer in Cierre Wood as someone who would be a truly special player.

He is not disappointing.

Wood rushed for a career high 191 yards (including a career long 55-yard touchdown) and was the player of the game in my opinion. The offensive line deserves a lot of credit for opening up huge holes, but Wood was electric with the ball in his hands.

There's so many things to like about Wood: He's very shifty, but doesn't waste motion or speed when he makes a guy miss. In this sense, he is the anti-Armando Allen---when Wood makes a guy miss he is still near full speed ready to jet further down field. His vision is great, and while he might not have the elite speed of a Chris Johnson, he's plenty fast and he's mixing that with good power too.

In the past with Allen/Hughes, I was happy with 5 yard gains. Now with Wood, I'm disappointed if he only gains 5 yards. That's how good I think he is---I expect huge gains with every touch.

As fantastic as Wood has been this year, Jonas Gray has been just as good at times as well.

Gray is finally putting it together as a senior, and he's completely put his fumble against USF behind him. His speed for his size is stunning and I really think he could have a bright future at the next level. It stinks that we haven't had 4 years of this type of play, but better late than never.

Quarterback: B

Rees played very well, but I don't think he deserves a higher grade.

Not giving up a turnover is a huge step in the right direction, and Rees seemed very under control of the offense. All three of his touchdown passes were great throws as well.

Still, even with the success of the offense I felt like Rees could have played better against an admittedly weak opponent. Looking through the lens of his development as a young quarterback he probably deserves a higher grade, but he missed on some throws and had a couple close calls with turnovers as well.

Looking at it from another perspective, 254 yards on 40 attempts is good but it's not great. So he played good, but I thought this was the kind of game where he had great protection, the run game was on fire, and he should have put some more points on the board and really buried Purdue early.

Defensive Line: A-

Just another dominant day in the office for the Irish defensive line, who were without senior DE Ethan Johnson for much of the game as well as backup Stephon Tuitt, who was suspended for the game by Brian Kelly.

Opposing running backs continue to generate very little offense, as Purdue only gained 50 yards on 15 carries from their backs, and just 84 yards on a total of 27 attempts for the entire game.

I talked about how I'm disappointed when Cierre Wood only gains five yards when he carries the ball. At the same time, I am shocked when an opponent gains 5 yards on a carry. That's how good this defense has become up front.

Linebackers: B+

I thought this was a really good game from the linebackers. Although the Purdue offense isn't very good, I saw each of the starters make some plays on their own which hasn't happened all season.

Statistically this wasn't Manti Te'o's best game, but he was as disruptive as he's been all year. And 8 tackles, 3 for loss, and a sack is pretty good anyway. Te'o was showing off his speed and aggressiveness, flowing to the ball and attacking the quarterback with fervor.

Dan Fox had his best game of the year I thought, while Calabrese made some nice plays. Fleming played okay but was neutralized a little bit with the Purdue quarterbacks moving out of the pocket so often. Prince Shembo is still struggling a little bit, but I think he's slowly getting more comfortable at the Dog position.

Secondary: B+

It wasn't a dominant performance because Purdue just refused to throw the ball down field, but the coverage was solid all night long. The interception by Gary Gray to start the game really set the tone for the entire game.

The tackling was solid as well, and there's not much to complain about with giving Purdue only 137 passing yards before the backups came in on the Boilermakers last touchdown drive.

Special Teams: D

Kyle Brindza had one nice kickoff, but sent many after that far short of the end zone. Punter Ben Turk got some lucky bounces on his attempts to salvage a decent 44.0 average.

With a blocked field goal, a missed field goal, mediocre kick returning, and beyond awful punt returning, the special teams is a complete mess right now.

We make fun of John Goodman's punt return ability, but the blocking in front of him has been the single worst aspect of this team this year.

Is it because so many youngsters are out there? Is there not enough attention being made to it in practice? I can't even believe the latter could be true with how bad they've been all season---and even last year too.

Final Thoughts

Overall, this was a dominant win with a lot to be happy about.

We talk a lot about how this group of kids has to learn how to stop losing and start winning, and because of that they still aren't ready to truly bury an opponent long before the second half begins.

I thought this was one of those games where the Irish could have completely demoralized Purdue before the second quarter even began. Maybe my expectations are too high, but Notre Dame had the opportunity to do so.

Defensively this team is playing spectacular. Check out this tweet:

John Heisler

Notre Dame has allowed 13 points or less in 3 straight games and hasn't done that since being ranked #1 in 1989 (vs. Pitt, Navy and SMU)

There have been a lot of defensive stats popping up like this harking back to the last time Notre Dame was truly dominant on defense---so that's something to be excited about.

This was a much needed comfortable win for the team, but now it's time to get ready for Air Force.

Other Observations:

  • Ethan Johnson sprained his ankle early in the game and is day-to-day. He might play against Air Force but we'll have to wait and see how the injury feels later in the week.
  • Long-snapper Jordan Cowart broke his hand after getting into the fight for which he was penalized. He will try and play this weekend but might be doubtful.
  • Freshman defensive end Stephon Tuitt was suspended for the game due to missing class. Brian Kelly has said he will be ready to play next weekend against AFA.
  • Notre Dame's 34 first down's were two shy of the school record.
  • Saturday's 551 total yards were the most during Brian Kelly's tenure at Notre Dame. After gaining 500+ yards only once last year, the Irish have done so in three of the first five games this year.
  • This 28-point victory was the biggest against Purdue since a 35-0 shutout of the Boilermakers in 1996. It was also the biggest win on the road against Purdue since a 41-7 victory over the Boilermakers in 1991. Saturday's loss was the fifth worst loss to Notre Dame at home in Purdue history.