And somehow Purdue coach Danny Hope managed to get booed by his own fans - again - for a mystifying timeout. This one came with 27 seconds left, but it did lead to a 13-yard consolation touchdown on fourth down six ticks later.
Yes, there were the normal special teams shenanigans, an alarming assortment and quantity of penalties, and the need to have one scoring drive resuscitated by Purdue safety Albert Evans drawing a flag for high-fiving a Purdue band member.
But Saturday night, the Irish football team took a significant step forward in the bigger picture while stepping all over Purdue in the little one, 38-10.
It started - literally - with turnovers.
The nation’s leader in giveaways (15), coming into the weekend, got a takeaway on the game’s first play from scrimmage, embattled cornerback Gary Gray’s second of the season and sixth of his career. That set up the Irish (3-2) on Purdue’s 35-yard line. From there, sophomore quarterback Tommy Rees connected with Michael Floyd on a banner night for both.
The highlighted stat of the night, though, was that ND never returned the favor, going turnover-free for the first time this season. That makes ND head coach Brian Kelly now 110-12 in his career when his teams win the turnover battle, 45-34-1 when they lose it.
“We haven’t arrived,” Kelly said. “We missed some opportunities, but we played well today, and I’m not going to sound like sour milk.”
Add to that a career-high 191 rushing yards from Cierre Wood, the school-record 16th 100-plus-yards receiving game of Floyd’s career (12 for 137, 1 TD) and perhaps the most complete performance yet from Rees.
“Getting Michael Floyd the ball early on really gave us a lot of confidence offensively,” Kelly said a week after Pitt limited him to season lows in catches (4) and yards (27).
Rees finished 24-of-40 for 254 yards and three touchdowns, before giving way to understudy Dayne Crist, in leading an offense that finished just two first downs short of the school record, with 34. Still, it’s the most in 20 years.
The Irish defense turned in another dominating performance with 95 of Purdue’s 276 yards coming against the Irish reserves in the final mop-up drive - and that was without starting end Ethan Johnson (sprained ankle) for all but one series and completely without defensive line prodigy Stephon Tuitt, left home in South Bend for missing class on Friday.
The late TD for Purdue (2-2) came on a 13-yard pass from starting and finishing quarterback Caleb TerBush to Antavian Edison. In between, Miami transfer Robert Marve saw plenty of playing time, but neither quarterback handed off the ball for a TD.
“Defensively, it’s been very similar, making it difficult week after week for teams to run the football,” said Kelly, whose Irish outrushed the Boilermakers, 287-84.
Notre Dame has allowed just one rushing TD this season, which leads the FBS as does its two over its last 10 games, dating back to last season.
“I think for us it’s not so much about matching their emotions and their intensity but setting that bar,” said Irish linebacker Manti Te’o, who led the ND defensive charge with eight tackles, including three for loss and a sack. “We’re not going to try to match their intensity. We’re going to exceed their intensity. I think we did a good job doing that.”
Jonas Gray’s two-yard TD run with three seconds left in the first quarter and a 55-yard scoring run - the longest run of Wood’s career - gave the Irish a 21-0 command midway through the second quarter. The momentum never receded even with kicker David Ruffer missing two of three field goals and punt returner John Goodman amassing minus-3 yards.
Tight end Tyler Eifert, whose dad Greg played basketball for the Boilermakers, and TJ Jones each caught second-half TDs from Rees.
Crist saw his first action since being pulled at halftime of the season-opening loss to South Florida. He entered the game with 6:36 left, surrounded by reserves, including freshman running back Cam McDaniel.
“I asked Dayne what he wanted to do,” Kelly said. “He said he wanted to go in there. I have a lot of respect for Dayne.
“I’m not going to throw him in there in meaningless kinds of situations, but he wanted to get in the game, so it’s always going to be his first shot.”
Staff writer Eric Hansen: