Throughout training camp, Purdue football coach Danny Hope stressed to his team about the importance of starting fast and fighting through adversity. Like a great boxer, he wanted his players to be the aggressors and set the tempo in games before their opponents did.
Four games into the season, it’s apparent the message is easier said than done.
Even with an extra week to prepare, the Boilermakers took the first, second, and third punches from in-state rival Notre Dame, Saturday, and the Irish never let them off the ropes ending with a 38-10 win.
“We didn’t get it done. Sometimes we were inches away and they were a much better football team tonight, but if we make some of those plays and cash in on some of those opportunities, at least we’re in position to compete,” said Hope.
“When you don’t cash in on some of those plays that you’ve worked on that’s supposed to make a difference in the game, against a really good football team, and you’re not playing well, then your opportunity to compete diminishes.”
Notre Dame grabbed momentum on the first play from scrimmage. Gary Gray stepped in front of and picked off a Caleb TerBush pass.
Two plays later, All-American candidate Michael Floyd hauled in a 35-yard touchdown pass from Tommy Rees to give the Irish a 7-0 lead.
That was all Brian Kelly’s team need, really, but the Irish added a two yard score from Jonas Gray and a 55-yard run from Cierre Wood to take a 21-3 lead into halftime. The break didn’t slow Notre Dame down. They scored on their first possession of the second half when Reese found Tyler Eifert from six yards out.
Purdue simply had no answers on how to slow down the Irish offense that had been the definition of inconsistent in its first four games.
“They are a very, very talented football team. They really are,” said Hope. “They were a much better football team tonight.”
Notre Dame racked up 551-yards of total offense compared to 276 for Purdue.
As efficient as Notre Dame was offensively, Purdue didn’t do itself any favors. The Boilermakers were penalized 13 times for 118-yards.
One that was particularly costly was called on one of the last players Purdue would expect, senior captain Albert Evans.
With the Boilers trailing 7-0, Evans successfully defended a third and goal pass that would have forced the Irish to try a field goal. But, after the play, the safety gave a high five to a Notre Dame fan and was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct. That gave Notre Dame a fresh set of downs and they turned the new possession into the two-yard score by Gray.
“I was in the moment, so I couldn’t tell you who I high-fived,” said Evans. “It’s kind of gut-wrenching and a little upsetting, but I guess they saw what I did was real unsportsmanlike so you just got to roll with it and go back out there.”
On top of the penalties were missed opportunities like dropping what would have been a pick six and missed tackles that gave Notre Dame the extra yards needed for first downs.
“Obviously we played really sloppy or we wouldn’t have had all those penalties,” said Hope. “They are a very good team and sometimes when you are just hanging on, trying to make a play, you get penalties.”
When you are getting beat, the last thing you can afford is self-inflicted wounds. The Boilermakers made mistakes they knew they couldn’t afford if they hoped to beat Notre Dame for the first time since 2007.
“It’s a disappointment to lose any game but coming into the game we really felt like we could win,” said defensive end Gerald Gooden. “I’m just disappointed we couldn’t come away with the victory.”
Purdue thought this would be a momentum building game heading into the Big Ten season next week and the stage was perfect. It was nationally televised, under the lights, and against one of its biggest rivals. But, Purdue fell flat.
“The loss in general is pretty tough,” said Evans. “ESPN and the national stage just kind of adds to it, but to go out there and lose to anyone, on any stage…is pretty frustrating”
Notre Dame beat up on Purdue and while the Boilermakers are down, they aren’t all the way out.
“Believe it or not, I think we can still be a good football team,” said Hope. “It’s going to get better. I can assure you that. It’s going to get a lot better. I believe that we have good people and good talent, but we obviously haven’t put it together yet.”
The Boilers have a good chance to lift their season off the canvas when they host a 1-4 Minnesota team that was blown out by Michigan, 58-0. The Gophers may be just the remedy needed for Purdue to heal its wounds. If not, the Boilermakers’ dreams of making a bowl game for the first time in the Danny Hope era may soon be knocked out.