Notre Dame got off to a fast start on Saturday but found itself in a close game against Purdue before slowly pulling away in the second half. We take a look at what happened.
Play-Call of the Game: Golson 15-Yard Touchdown Run
On a night where the offense sputtered it's only fitting that the play-call of the game was an improvised run from Golson. With 3 minutes left in the first half the Irish took over at their own 30-yard line following a touchdown by Purdue that gave the Boilers a 14-10 lead.
After a sack it was 2nd and 13 from the Purdue 15-yard line with the seconds ticking away. Showing some decisiveness that wasn't always there on Saturday, Golson saw some room open up and sprinted for the end zone to take the lead back before halftime. The Irish would never trail in the game again.
There was certainly some room to criticize Golson's performance from this game. Poor timing on some throws. A little inaccuracy here and there. Still, he didn't really do anything to hurt the offense and managed a career-high 25 completions while leading the team in rushing. It wasn't a heroic performance but Golson carried the offense for most of the night. By the way through a quarter of the season Golson is on pace for 3,380 passing yards and 30 passing touchdowns.
Turning Point: Golson 15-Yard Touchdown Pass to Robinson
Each side chewed up a lot of clock to begin the 3rd quarter with their first drives of the half but neither offense could threaten opponent territory. Notre Dame then forced a 3 & out on Purdue's second drive of the quarter. Golson proceeded to go 3 for 5 with 57 yards capped off by the leaping grab by Corey Robinson.
The score gave the Irish a two-score cushion and momentum that Purdue never grabbed back.
Surprising Stat: 56 Rushing Yards by Purdue
With the change in scheme this off-season the run defense was a big worry. Through three games the defense is exceeding expectations. Total rushing yards and rushing average have gone down in each of the first three games in 2014. Additionally, the Irish are now 24th nationally in rushing yardage surrendered and 25th in yards per carry surrendered. On Saturday night Raheem Mostert had a long run of 8 yards while Akeem Hunt had a long run of 11 yards, but their other 17 running attempts went for a combined 60 yards. What aided Notre Dame greatly were 3 sacks that went for a hefty -37 yards, as well.
Unheralded Star: Jaylon Smith
Smith, an unheralded star? He's so good as a true sophomore that I think we're getting numb to his production. Saturday may have been Jaylon's best game of his career with a team-leading 8 solo tackles (3 more than anyone else), 2 tackles for loss, and 1 sack.
Missed Opportunity: Brindza Missed 50-yard Field Goal
Notre Dame started hot and had an opportunity to begin the rout early after forcing a 3 & out on Purdue's first offensive series. Then, the Irish's second offensive series turned from something into nothing in the blink of an eye. McDaniel rumbled for 11 yards, Golson scampered for 7 yards, and then Notre Dame got a pass interference call. 2 Golson completions and 2 rushing attempts later and the Irish were in a 3rd and 2 situation at the Purdue 28-yard line. However, a screen was blown up for a 5-yard loss which was followed by Brindza's missed field goal. The game could have been 10-0 early but then Purdue went down to score to make it 7-7.
Flag of the Game: Redfield's 15-Yard Personal Foul Ejection
That's a tough play for Redfield but in this day and age he has to pull up and leave Etling alone. Seeing as though Baratti injured his shoulder (again) the loss of a starter really hurt the depth on defense. Luckily, Purdue fumbled inside the Notre Dame 10-yard line and didn't score off of this personal foul.
Red Zone TD Success: 75%
Another solid percentage and it must be pointed out that the Irish have put points on the board on 100% of their red zone attempts this season. They are one of 27 teams who have done that so far in 2014. However, this mark was a little deceiving as Notre Dame settled for a field goal at the Purdue 2-yard line on their 3rd offensive series, and later settled for two field goals in the 4th quarter that came just outside the red zone.
Schemes n Such
I'd be lying if I said I wasn't frustrated. Having Golson scramble and especially move the pocket while throwing really does make the offense so much more threatening all over the field. In this game specifically the offense really settled for a bunch of underneath throws (hence Golson reaching a career high in completions but not breaking the 300-yard mark) which is fine. They were productive with that and moved the ball reasonably well. The running game continues to be maddening, though. Golson struggles reading the defense on the option and everything is so predictable. Now, the offense actually showed motion on one play and even lined up with 2 backs next to Golson. Hooray! Yet, it came and went and we probably won't see stuff like that for another 3 games. We have been excited about the physical Tyler Luatua playing H-back and bringing great lead blocking and he was nowhere to be found. From a scheme standpoint we're not diverse enough, we're below average in short yardage running, and Golson hasn't been able to make the defense pay for crashing down on the backs. I also think in this scheme we're hurt by not having a true burner at running back.
I'd give high marks to the defensive line who did a good job against the Purdue running game and really started collapsing the pocket in the second half. There still isn't a great burst off the edges but the power rushing has been surprisingly effective when paired with some of VanGorder's blitzes.
Our worst fears (replacing Martin and Watt) look like they have come to fruition right now on the offensive line. The standards in pass protection are high and in comparison to last year we're seeing some below average blocking. They've already given up 6 sacks on the year and Golson is being pressured far too often. The run blocking has been poor and worse given how much talent the players are supposed to have.
Kelly said he’ll meet with Harry Hiestand today on the offensive line, "we have to find a little bit more push inside"— Irish Illustrated (@NDatRivals) September 14, 2014
Kelly said that Steve Elmer could move back to guard, Christian Lombard could move out. Mike McGlinchey could come in.— Irish Illustrated (@NDatRivals) September 14, 2014
I don't know which is more concerning: The tackles getting beat on the edge or the interior guys getting pushed around on a consistent basis. Elmer doesn't look too comfortable at tackle and I've never been very positive about Lombard's ability to dominate coming off some pre-season injuries--and now he's battling a high ankle sprain again. Yes, the bye week is here to figure some things out but it's not very rosy for this unit right now.
Nyles Morgan, Daniel Cage, Justin Brent, Tyler Luatua, Nick Watkins, Drue Tranquill, Kolin Hill, Greer Martini, and Grant Blankenship were your freshmen in the game on Saturday with Andrew Trumbetti missing the game due to injury.
Through 3 games all of the offensive linemen freshmen appear to be locks to redshirt, save Quenton Nelson who may break into the rotation if the line can't improve. Corey Holmes wasn't listed as participating so you wonder if he'll get the NCAA boo boo and sit out the rest of the year. All of the other freshmen (DeShone Kizer, Montgomery VanGorder, Jay Hayes, Nic Weishar, Jonathan Bonner, Jhonny Williams, Pete Mokwuah, and Tyler Newsome) are still on track to redshirt although Kelly mentioned Williams was close to playing on Saturday with the injuries up front.
- Will Fuller is currently on pace for a 80+ catch and nearly 1,000 yard season at receiver. He might still be making some mistakes (hello, whiffed block on the missed opportunity screen pass above) and weighs only around 134 pounds but he showing enormous toughness and ability to make tough catches in traffic. He's been a revelation so far this year.
- The same cannot be said for Chris Brown who currently stands at 4 receptions for 36 yards through 3 games. The fall camp breakout star had an encouraging bowl game back in December but has been stuck in neutral in 2014 like he was for most of 2013.
- Quite the defensive clamp down in the second half by Notre Dame. The Irish limited Purdue to 116 yards in the second half while forcing three punts, making a stop on 4th down, and picking off two passes. It was the second straight week in which the Irish defense did not allow any points in the second half.
- Ben Koyack hasn't exactly been struggling (10 catches through 3 games) but I wonder if we'll see any great amount of explosive playmaking from him in the future. He's averaging only 9.7 yards per catch and isn't quite the threat for YAC like his immediate predecessors at tight end. Something to keep on an eye on, at least. His fumble in this game was the first and only turnover for the Irish this season.
- Amir Carlisle caught 2 passes early in this game and left with a knee injury. He'll have an MRI and it's hopeful that his MCL sprain isn't too bad. Let us hope so because Carlisle was playing great so far this year and is a much-needed weapon in the slot. Take note, Torii Hunter may return from his groin injury and make his debut after the bye week against Syracuse. Coach Kelly mentioned that Hunter would get a look in the slot without Carlisle in the lineup.
- At one point late in the game I wondered if Matthias Farley was even playing. With all the injuries in the secondary it was strange not to see more from him. He only totaled 2 tackles for the entire game.
- Speaking of not hearing someone's name, we saw very little of Justin Utupo after his fine performance against Michigan. Also, I'm guessing we won't be seeing much from Chase Hounshell who is seemingly buried at the bottom of the defensive linemen depth chart even though he's a senior. It'll be interesting to see if he even wants to come back for a 5th year if it is offered.
- It's still early and the line hasn't been doing them any favors but I have not been impressed with the running backs this year. Too much dancing around, too much hesitation, and not enough acceleration through the holes. Yes, the holes have been small but they need to grind out more yards.
- Romeo Okwara stepped up in a big way finishing with 11 tackles, and a half sack. He was also credited with a forced fumble which was more of a goof by Purdue, but still.
- My rule of thumb would be that with any 1st and goal situation I'd give Golson at least 1 quarterback draw.
- As mentioned above Nicky Baratti will have shoulder surgery (his third shoulder injury in just over a year) and is out for the season. Now, the defense really needs Austin Collinsworth to come back from his injury after the bye week. With all these injuries it's been pretty amazing to see freshman Drue Tranquill step up. He's sitting at 10th on the team in tackles with 9 so far this year.
- While it's not perfect the aggressiveness of the VanGorder defense is doing good things so far. The Irish have 8 sacks which is 27th nationally. The 16 tackles for loss is only 61st in the country but the 9 takeaways forced is tied for 5th nationally. With Golson protecting the ball and the defense making some things happen a lot of games will be there for the taking. Notre Dame now leads the country with a +8 turnover ratio.