WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - In the end, Notre Dame got the ultimate result it was looking for, but the process that got the Irish to their 31-24 victory over Purdue was far from perfect. The Irish, a near three touchdown favorite heading into the game, had to dig out of an early 10-0 hole and then hung on to earn the hard fought win in the 85th all-time meeting between the intrastate rivals.
Purdue showed no fear of the Fighting Irish defense to start the game. The Boilermakers won the coin toss to start the game and opted to take the ball. Purdue used bootlegs and screen passes to move efficiently down field on a 75-yard touchdown drive that ended with a 15-yard screen pass from Rob Henry to Akeem Hunt for the game's first score. The drive took 12 plays and used nearly six minutes.
Henry was 6-of-7 on the opening drive, while Tommy Rees was 1-of-3 in an opening quarter that saw the Irish idle to just 25 yards, compared to 105 for the Boilermakers. Purdue's average starting field position on its three first quarter drives was just shy of its own 42 yard line, while the three Irish possessions in the quarter averaged to a 14 yard line start.
After driving 75 yards in 12 plays on the game's opening drive, Purdue was held to just 72 yards on its next 21 plays in the first half.
Purdue drove 44 yards in 10 plays to take a 10-0 lead when Paul Griggs hit a 47-yard field goal with 10:44 left in the first half. The key play of the drive was a 13-yard pass to Hunt on 3rd and 12.
The Irish were finally able to crack the scoreboard with a 20-yard field goal by Kyle Brindza with just 44 seconds left in the first half. The drive covered 80 yards in 11 plays, including a 40-yard pass to Chris Brown on 2nd and seven from the Irish 20.
The Fighting Irish showed fight on the first drive of the second half that was lacking for most of the first half. The Irish drove 70 yards in 10 plays to tie the score at 10-10 after a one-yard touchdown run by Cam McDaniel. Rees hit T.J. Jones for a 19-yard gain on 3rd and nine at the Purdue 47 and then moved to the one after a 27-yard strike to Jones on the next play.
The latter play was initially ruled incomplete on the field. Instant replay overturned the call though after showing that Jones had possession of the ball and one foot inbounds before falling out of bounds just short of the goal line.
Purdue answered with a touchdown on its next possession. B.J. Knauf's 39-yard kickoff return gave the Boilers the ball at their own 46 and then they needed just eight plays before Henry hit Knauf with an 18-yard TD strike to go back on top 17-10 with 6:28 to play in the third quarter. Purdue converted two third downs on the drive.
The Notre Dame defense allowed just one touchdown in the third quarter in the entire 2012 regular season, but they have surrendered twice that in successive weeks against Michigan and Purdue this season.
The Irish answered Purdue's touchdown with its own touchdown drive on its next possession. Rees hit DaVaris Daniels with a nine-yard strike on third and goal to complete the 66-yard march that used 11 plays and 4:03 on the clock to make the score 17-17 with 14:47 remaining.
Purdue was unable to muster any offense and was forced to punt after five plays on its next drive. A 38-yard punt by Cody Webster gave the Irish the ball at their own 18.
Then, lightning struck.
Rees hit Daniels on an 82-yard touchdown pass down the right sideline to give the Irish their first lead of the night. Daniels came close to stepping out of bounds, but was able to walk the tight rope after making the catch and running past Purdue's best cornerback, Ricardo Allen. The play used just 10 seconds and was a career-long for both Rees and Daniels to put ND up 24-17 with 12:40 to play.
Irish lightning struck again just moments later when the first turnover of the game for either team was costly for Purdue. The Boilermakers gained seven yards on their first two plays, but Bennett Jackson jumped a short Henry pass on 3rd and three and returned it 34 yards for Notre Dame's second touchdown in a minute and 22 seconds and its third TD in a stretch of 3:29 to make it 31-17.
Purdue was not done though. The Boilermakers charged 75 yards in seven plays for a touchdown pass from Henry to Justin Sinz to pull back to within a touchdown. The nine-yard TD connection came on 4th and seven. Purdue had moved into the red zone on the drive after a 48-yard pass to wide receiver Shane Mikesky.
Notre Dame committed its first turnover of the night when Carlisle fumbled on the first play of the ensuing drive. Purdue started with the ball at its own 44 and was pushed back 15 yards after an unsportsmanlike penalty was called at the end of the play.
The Irish dodged a huge bullet when the Boilers went three-and-out and were forced to punt with 7:28 to go in regulation. Cam McDaniel ran the ball eight times for 42 yards to help the Irish grind-out that remaining time to preserve the victory.
Rees was 20-of-33 for 309 yards and two touchdowns to Daniels, who had a career night as well with eight receptions for 167 yards. McDaniel led the Irish with 56 yards on 16 carries. The Irish were far from great on the ground, but they outgained the Boilermakers 91-38 in net rushing yards.
Henry had career-highs in all passing categories. The fifth-year senior was 25-for-40 for 256 yards and three touchdowns, but his lone interception proved to be the most costly mistake of the game for either team. The Irish had 400 total yards to Purdue's 294.