That's all today's loss really means. Still, Thank goodness that's over.
All we have heard about for months is how Notre Dame would be opening with a new coach against us. Sure we had no chance, so why bother showing up? We were sacrificial lambs anyway.
Fortunately, the fans in South Bend at least respected us. I had long dreaded seeing a game at Notre Dame because of my dislike of the program. The sheer adventure of getting to the stadium today didn't help matters. Once there, I was impressed at how friendly the fans were. Sure, some were obnoxious (Especially those violating their "No cheering in the press box" rule). But for the most part, they were very accommodating.
The game certainly didn't go our way, either. As with most games, there was good and bad. Robert Marve was a roller coaster. We got a solid day from Dan Dierking, but Al-Terek McBurse was a disappointment. Antavian Edison, Kyle Adams, Keith Smith, and Justin Siller each had nice plays, but the second group of receivers did nothing aside from Edison. The defense looked good at the start, then poor tackling and missed assignments led to us getting gashed on the ground yet again.
I am pleased that we didn't let them walk up and down the field on us. We made them earn this win, but ultimately we only played good for about 10 total minutes.
Positives from the Notre Dame game:
Not quitting - At two points in the second half it looked like we were done. The overturned fumble six would have ended the game had the call stood. Notre Dame's drive that resulted in Michael Floyd's fumble would have started a rout had he not fumbled. Instead, we somehow withstood the storm and still had a chance to win. Coach Hope cited this numerous times in the post-game presser.
The first half was awful, but we were still down only 10 with the ball to start the second half. The third quarter was a near disaster, but after the safety and touchdown the defense was playing inspired football again and got us the ball and a chance to tie. Cortez Smith and Siller each just missed catching deep passes that would have turned the game around. I would absolutely throw those passes again.
Keith Smith - 12 catches for 80 yards, including three straight where we ran the exact same play and he continued to abuse his corner. Smith is going to be a force in the Big Ten this year. He outperformed every receiver on both teams today short of probably Kyle Rudolph.
Ryan Kerrigan - We needed Kerrigan to be a rampaging beast and that's what he was. Despite being double teamed (and repeatedly held) he was a force. He caused two fumbles in the first eight plays, but the ball just didn't bounce our way.
Dan Dierking - I was sitting next to the GBI guys in the booth and commented it is never good when Dan Dierking is your leading rusher. I like Dan. He does everything right and plays very hard, but he's still just not a Big Ten leading running back type. He's a fantastic complimentary player, but we need someone else for him to compliment. I don't think we could have gotten more from him.
Defensive secondary - Overall, they were pretty good. Ricardo Allen had a bad penalty (and should have had a second call go against him), but everyone else did well. Logan Link was solid and recovered a fumble. Albert Evans and Charlton Williams were good. Max Charlot laid a big hit on someone. These guys only gave up 220 yards, which is more than fine against a pass-happy offense. It certainly was not their fault today.
Rob Henry - Coach Hope said he wanted to work him in more today and even get him a few throws. I did like what I saw, as he was the key to the field goal drive in the first half. We'll see more of him for sure.
Negatives from the Notre Dame game:
Defensive front seven - I was very encouraged on the first two drives. We were stopping the run and even getting pressure. It couldn't have been better. After the interception by Darrin Walls, however, we became Purdue again. Cierre Wood ran for 41 yards on four carries and that was before Armando Allen's 22 yard touchdown.
I honestly don't know what to do anymore when it comes to the run anymore. We should be stout. We return six of seven starters. We played six linebackers today, including one (Will Lucas) that was good enough to earn time as a true freshman. The same problems were there. Rudolph was constantly open in the middle and when the backs would get to the second level it was like our linebackers had disappeared. What do we have to do? Notre Dame proved that linebackers can be active with the run and the pass. We play teams all the time, like today, where their linebackers make it look like 15 guys are on the field. Ours make it look like we have eight.
I really don't get it. It is ridiculously frustrating too.
Offensive line - As bad as this group was, I am surprised we generated anything. Ken Plue had a few false starts. He and Nick Mondek were a revolving door on the right side and Marve was running for his life all day. I know we want to roll Marve out to have more of a run pass option, but he barely had any time to think for most of the day. As a side note, at least when Marve did have time in the pocket he showed a good deep ball.
Al-Terek McBurse - The lack of practice was very obvious. He needs to get healthy. Fast.
Special Teams - I thought that the increased depth was supposed to allow more starters on special teams. Big returns were critical again and another huge weakness. It's just frustrating that this hasn't changed, either. Things were fine before J.B. Gibboney.
This was an interesting game. Coach Hope stated that as many as 20 guys played their first collegiate game in some way today. That's a lot. Some, like Bruce Gaston and Brandon Taylor did well. Others did not. I think if we played Notre Dame in the fourth game, after our next stretch of Western Illinois-Ball State-Toledo, things would be much better. A five game winning streak heading to Columbus is still a real possibility.
This team needs these next three games to sharpen things up. Western Illinois is going to be a glorified practice. Ball State and Toledo shouldn't be challenges, either. Some people called for Marve to be benched today, but it is way too early for that. If the starters hold, we will lose only two for next year on offense in the two Smiths. That leaves us 23 games with almost this same lineup to get better. If we continue to struggle running the ball in the next three games it will be a problem. Instead, we need to fine tune the offense.
On the other hand, I must say I was impressed with Notre Dame's defense today. I know they are almost always going to have more talent than us. Today was the first time in years that I really noticed it on the field. Their defense was incredibly active and their offensive line opened holes and protected Crist. Their defense played a hell of a game today. Their offense wasn't as smooth as it likely will be, but if this is an example of how well Kelly can coach with his defensive improvements we should all be concerned.
That said, there will always be detractors. As I was going down for the postgame they announced that Purdue won the time of possession. Some Notre Dame made a loud "That's not good" statement. They haven't won any National Championships yet, and the heat will rise under Kelly until he does, if he does.
For now, we have to get better. We're not going to be tested until the Big Ten opener at Northwestern. We'll see what happens in that time. Next year we must win this game when it is played at Ross-Ade. The gap we had closed with Notre Dame is widening. We'll be a deeper, more experienced team next year. It will be our most talented and experienced team in some time. I will ignore Notre Dame from now until next year, when we have to end this three game losing streak.