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September 15, 2013

Late mistakes doom upset bid

Purdue had a season high with 294 yards

It scored a season-high 24 points.

It limited Notre Dame to 91 yards rushing on only 2.5 yards per carry.

Rob Henry passed for a career-best 256 yards and three touchdowns.

In the end, though, none of it was enough.

A pair of fourth-quarter mistakes in a 90-second span allowed No. 21 Notre Dame to escape West Lafayette with a 31-24 victory on Saturday at a near-full Ross-Ade Stadium.

"I'm not into moral victories," Coach Darrell Hazell said. "It's always hard when you don't get what you're supposed to get."

"Obviously a tough loss for us. I thought our guys played extremely hard. They hung in there, kept fighting. Obviously a couple plays you'd like to get back. I was very proud of our football team. We continue to get better, and that's the whole key for this football team is to make strides forward. Wins will come."

The strides - though significant, especially on offense - were mixed with some of the same problems that plagued the team in the first two weeks.

And that's what kept Purdue (1-2) from pulling the upset.

An inability to get off the field on third down on defense and a lack of protection on offense doomed the Boilermakers on the final two pivotal drives of the game.

After Purdue pulled within 31-24 with 8:16 to play on Henry's fourth-down touchdown pass to Justin Sinz, the defense delivered exactly what was needed: A turnover.

On Notre Dame's first play, Taylor Richards forced an Amir Carlisle fumbled, and Joe Gilliam dove on it to give the ball back to the offense near midfield.

But, after holding up relatively well in pass protection much of the game, the offensive line couldn't give Henry time when he needed it most.

On the first play, Henry was in shotgun but a high snap forced him to run, and he was sacked, setting up a second-and-long. On second down, Henry got pressure and had to throw the ball away. On third-and-12, Purdue went with an empty set, and Notre Dame only brought a three-man rush. But left tackle Kevin Pamphile got beat to the outside, forcing Henry to throw the ball away again, and Purdue had to punt.

That left it up to Purdue's defense to give the offense one more chance.

But it didn't.

Notre Dame converted a third-and-six, a third-and-three, and twice on third-and-two to allow it to line up in victory formation and eat the final seconds.

The third-and-three play was the most frustrating. Purdue had called a timeout with 4:28 remaining just before the play but still didn't get the right personnel on the field, having too many men and was flagged for an illegal substitution, giving Notre Dame the first down.

"Obviously, a huge mistake," Hazell said of the play.

Two other mistakes, though, probably cost Purdue the game.

In a 17-all game with 13 minutes to go, Notre Dame had the ball on its 18-yard line. Purdue lined up in its base 4-3 defense but brought Richards to the line on the right side, ready to blitz. He did, but that left Ricardo Allen and Frankie Williams with man coverage on the outside.

Allen simply got beat over the top, DaVaris Daniels catching it down the right sideline and fighting off Allen for an 82-yard score.

Three plays later on a third down for Purdue, Henry tried to thread a throw into Shane Mikesky that was jumped by Bennett Jackson and returned for a 34-yard touchdown.

Just like that, Notre Dame was up two scores, 31-17.

Henry called his mistake "the difference in the game."

But Allen wasn't any happier about his miscue, either, saying simply, "I didn't do my job."

At least there were several instances on Saturday when Purdue did.

And, though unhappy with a loss, that left players and Hazell with some hope.

After scoring only two offensive touchdowns in the first two games, the Boilermakers were much improved on offense. Henry threw three touchdown passes, his first of the season, and completed 63 percent of his passes.

"I think we're all continuing to learn and get comfortable with each other and get comfortable with this offense," Henry said. "I think that everyone will continue to see us improve. We have the talent. We have the guys on the team that are good enough for this to be a really good offense."

The defense was swarming, especially against the run, and linebackers came up and filled holes quickly to make plays. Purdue had six tackles for loss - and only one of those was a sack.

Perhaps just as important as scheme improvements, though, was the demeanor on the sidelines.

Unlike in the season opener against Cincinnati when Purdue fell behind by a touchdown, the Boilermakers never seemed to waver in their effort or their focus.

"Our guys are maturing," Hazell said. "They're starting to understand adversity is part of the football game, and the only way you come out of adversity is to work through it. I thought we did a good job with that. Obviously have to keep getting better. But we're starting to see things the way we need to see them.

"On the sideline there was not a lack of confidence, and that's a huge step in this program. We talked about it all week, about being level and not being too high, not being too low throughout the course of the game because it was going to be a battle from start to finish. I thought our guys did a great job of handling that situation."

Copyright, Boilers, Inc. 2013. All Rights Reserved. Reproducing or using editorial or graphical content, in whole or in part, without permission, is strictly prohibited. E-mail GoldandBlack.com/Boilers, Inc.

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