WEST LAFAYETTE, IN.
It's better than 1-2.
Notre Dame's 31-24 escape of Purdue Saturday night at Ross-Ade Stadium won't win the 21st-ranked Irish any style points, by any means. But considering what the alternative was—an ugly loss at the hands of the underdog Boilermakers—Irish coach Brian Kelly was happy to jump on the team bus and head north with a win.
"I think a lesser team wilts the way they started," said Kelly, whose team trailed 10-0 late in the first half and 17-10 late in the third before willing a win.
With that ...
Kelly said that the coaches had to get on junior wide receiver DaVaris Daniels at the intermission, after he had two catches at the half.
Daniels finished with a game-high eight catches for a career-high 167 yards and two touchdowns.
His nine-yard reception early in the fourth quarter tied the game, and two minutes later, his 82-yard touchdown, on which he came perilously close to going out of bounds, gave the Irish the lead for good.
"He stepped up his game big-time in the second half," Kelly said. "He's one of those guys once in a while that you have to light a fire under."
Honorable mention goes to junior running back Cam McDaniel, who was called upon late to extinguish the Boilers.
McDaniel carried 16 times for 56 yards and his gritty running helped the Irish run out the clock on the victory.
"He was the guy that we had decided was going to run the football at the end of the game," Kelly said. "He was the hot hand at that time."
One final shout-out goes to Tommy Rees. Twenty of 33 with two touchdowns.
It's becoming a theme, but Notre Dame's defense just isn't up to snuff, particularly when juxtaposed to last year's unit.
Purdue scored seven points in a season-opening loss at Cincinnati. Purdue scored 20 points in an escape of Indiana State.
Notre Dame allowed the Boilermakers 24 points.
"There's a lot of room for improvement," inside linebacker Carlo Calabrese said. "We can work on a bunch of things. We always can work on a bunch of things."
The Irish host until-this-week-offensively-challenged Michigan State on Saturday, and then the real gristle of the schedule arrives.
Oklahoma. Arizona State. USC. BYU in late November.
"We played hard. We played physical. In the beginning of the game, the first drive, we had a few corrections to correct," Calabrese said. "We corrected them and then we got better and better throughout the game."
Ugly? Nothing really. But beautiful certainly isn't a word that was being tossed around after this one. A complete makeover isn't necessary, but the Irish can't particularly like what they see so far. It feels nothing like last year.
The bottom line
Notre Dame won't be playing a second consecutive season for a national championship. In fact, after Saturday night's game, there aren't a lot of games you can look at and feel like it will be a sure win. A 7-5 record isn't out of the question.
"We're not a finished product by any means," Kelly said.