WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (AP) — Purdue changed its whole look against No. 21 Notre Dame.
It helped keep the Boilermakers close. It didn’t lead to a win.
After dictating the tempo for three quarters and holding a lead into the fourth, DaVaris Daniels caught two TD passes and Bennett Jackson returned an interception 34 yards for a score — all in an 11-play sequence — rallying the Fighting Irish for a 31-24 victory.
“I thought we played more consistent on offense,” coach Darrell Hazell said after his initiation into this long-standing rivalry. “I thought Rob (Henry) played a great game, other than the one throw. I though Rob played a great game in terms of creating plays, which we thought he could do all along.”
Two weeks ago, Purdue (1-2) got routed 42-7 at Cincinnati. Last week, in Hazell’s home debut, the Boilermakers struggled mightily before holding off Football Championship Subdivision foe Indiana State 20-14. Most expected Saturday to be another rough day for the young team, especially with angry Notre Dame trying to avoid its first back-to-back regular-season defeats in more than two years.
Purdue’s players and coaches paid no attention to the fact they were the underdogs, ranked No. 112 in scoring offense or that they had lost five straight in this 85-game rivalry that had been played every year since 1946.
Instead, the Boilermakers were out to prove the doubters wrong — and they nearly did.
“I just got lazy on my technique,” said cornerback Ricardo Allen, who was beaten on Daniels’ 82-yard scoring play. “It was a perfectly called play. I didn’t push out fast enough when the quarterback was switching up the cadence. That was on me. That was my fault, I didn’t do my job.”
Notre Dame (2-1), a three-touchdown favorite, was expected to roll.
But the Boilermakers who showed up Saturday at Ross-Ade Stadium hardly resembled the team Notre Dame watched on tape all week.
Quarterback Tommy Rees spent most of the first half trying to dodge the blitz-happy Boilermakers. Notre Dame’s ground game was in shambles, and a frustrated coach Brian Kelly kept flailing his arms in the air. Even after a halftime pep talk in which the fiery Kelly explained to Rees and his offense they needed to calm down, Notre Dame still found itself trading jabs with Purdue early in the second half.
Daniels changed everything with an acrobatic 9-yard TD catch. On the next Irish offensive play, he fought a defender down the sideline for an 82-yard catch-and-run that changed the game. Jackson finished it off with the interception return to help the Irish avoid back-to-back regular season losses for the first time in more than two years.
With Notre Dame averaging just 2.5 yards on 37 carries, Rees and Daniels had to carry the offense. Rees was 20 of 33 for 309 yards with two scores, no interceptions and received a game ball. Daniels had eight catches for 167 yards and two scores.
“I was never worried in the sense there was a panic,” Kelly said. “I felt really confident that we were going to win the football game. We just needed to settle down a little bit.”
Until then, the surprising Boilermakers played the Irish to a virtual draw.
Henry, who had struggled the first two weeks, finished 25 of 40 for 256 yards with three touchdown passes — his first three of the year. Akeem Hunt played like the feature back the Boilermakers needed, rushing 12 times for 22 yards and catching nine passes for 72 yards and a score.
The defense played well enough to give Purdue the upper hand for three quarters.
Daniels finally broke through late. The 6-foot-1 junior used his three-inch height advantage to outjump Antoine Lewis for the first TD catch, which tied the score at 17 with 14:47 left.
When Purdue’s ensuing drive stalled, Rees went to Daniels on the first play. Daniels, who had beaten Allen, caught the ball on the run, then stiff-armed Allen to the ground as he barely stayed in bounds. It was the longest pass play of both players’ careers and after standing up to a replay review, it went down as the ninth-longest in Notre Dame history.
“The hairs on the back of my neck kind of stood up when I got close and I saw the hash marks,” Daniels said. “I was just trying to make a play and trying to get as far away from the sideline as possible at the time.”
Three plays after that, Jackson picked off Henry and scored on the return.
Purdue closed to 31-24 and had a chance to tie the score after recovering Amir Carlisle’s fumble at the Notre Dame 41. But the Irish defense forced a punt and the Boilers never got the ball again.
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