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September 15, 2013

Report Card: Purdue-Notre Dame





The following is our Report Card for Purdue's game Saturday vs. Notre Dame.

Purdue-Notre Dame Post-Game Report Card
Passing Offense:
Rob Henry enjoyed his best game as a Boilermaker quarterback, hitting for career-highs in all categories when he threw for 256 yards on 25-of-40 passing with three touchdowns.

He made one bad throw all night, and it turned out to be devastating for the Boilermakers; Henry's toss toward Shane Mikesky as the receiver ran toward the right sideline was jumped by B. Jackson and returned 34 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter. It gave the visitors a two-possession lead.

But that was about it for the bad.

Henry was more comfortable in and out of the pocket vs. the Fighting Irish than he had been in the first two games of the season. He often hit receivers in stride, giving them opportunities to make plays after the catch. B.J. Knauf was the recipient a couple times, one being on his 18-yard touchdown in the third quarter.

Purdue - and offensive coordinator John Shoop - called the game with the skills of its quarterback in mind. They rolled him some, cutting the field in half and making his options easier to spot. They called a quick-passing game, especially on third down when they were anticipating a Notre Dame blitz.

On a third-and-7 on Purdue's first possession, Henry dropped three steps and hit Cameron Posey on a quick slant. It was a play Purdue had worked on repeated last week in practice, and it was executed well.

Earlier in the same drive, Henry quick-dropped and found Sterling Carter for a third-down conversion.

Purdue's pass protection was excellent. Henry was sacked only once, and ruffled few other times. It was by far the best performance by the offensive line this season.

Even when Henry was molested, he did his best to hang in, such as on his touchdown pass to Justin Sinz in the fourth quarter. With defenders coming at his legs, Henry took tall in the pocket and delivered a strike to the tight end for Purdue's last score.

The Boilermakers are hiding weakness (the same as most teams do). They struggled to regularly pass the ball down the field, which allows opponents to stack the box. Notre Dame didn't respect Purdue's ability to hit a deep pass, which probably makes what Henry and Co., did in the short passing game even more impressive.

Only once did the Boilers beat Notre Dame deep, when Henry launched a ball over the middle toward Mikesky, who had beaten two Irish defenders. But the pass was well short, perhaps an indication of Purdue's troubles going deep, and Mikesky made a perfect adjustment to pull it in.

The 48-yard play set up Sinz' reception for a late TD.

Purdue has limitations in the passing game, but it masked them well vs. the Irish and moved the ball efficiently.

The turnover hurt. After the game, Henry said he thought that Mikesky was being held - perhaps Henry felt if he threw it, he'd get a penalty and a first down - but Jackson darted in front and picked the ball off.

Grade: B

Rushing Offense:
The numbers tell the story: Purdue gained only 38 yards on 21 carries, with a long rush of only seven yards. The Boilers averaged only 1.8 yards per carry vs. a stout ND front.

Look, give Akeem Hunt some credit. He ran hard, although he gained only 22 yards on 12 carries. (He also led Purdue with nine receptions for 72 yards). He just didn't often have much running room.

There are a few reasons, it seems. ND's front is good; the Irish were stacking the box, challenging Purdue to pass downfield; and Purdue's offensive line isn't regularly creating holes.

If the Boilers can't rush, it's like they're playing with a hand tied behind their back.

Grade: D-

Offense Overall:
Purdue scored 24 points.

Who would have thought that possible before the game? And it could have been more, but Paul Griggs missed a chippy 27-yard field goal in the first half.

Purdue was OK on third down, converting 7-of-16 and it made its only fourth down attempt, when Henry connected with Sinz for the fourth-quarter touchdown.

But the Boilers were one-dimensional and they had less than 300 total yards for the third consecutive game; although Purdue had only a turnover, it led directly to Notre Dame points.

Purdue's pass protection was good - the rush blocking not so much - but showed how perilously thin the line is on the outside. When Justin Kitchens had to check out a play when his helmet came off, J.J. Prince came in. But he was immediately rush by, forcing a third-down Henry throwaway.

Grade: C+

Rushing Defense:
The Fighting Irish, who have struggled to find a rushing game this season, continued that plight vs. the Boilermakers.

Purdue held the visitors to 91 yards on 37 carries, an average of only 2.5 per carry. The Boilermakers controlled the line of scrimmage, a key to competing in the game and nearly picking up the upset.

But it wasn't a perfect night. On Notre Dame's opening drive of the third quarter, the Irish had a first-and-goal from the 1. Cam McDaniel, ND's No. 3 back but the most successful Saturday, took a handoff through the A gap on the left side, scoring while barely being touched.

A Boilermaker linebacker - and they got a yelling at by Greg Hudson and Marcus Freeman afterward - missed his hole, giving McDaniel a free pass into the end zone. On what appeared to be an otherwise gap-sound night, that was a mistake.

The defense, which played with so much energy all evening, tired down the stretch. On Notre Dame's clocking-killing drive to end the game, McDaniel rushed 10 times for 42 yards, helping to wind more than seven minutes off the clock.

But look, don't let the end spoil the rest. Purdue needed a turnover in the fourth and got it when Taylor Richards stripped Amir Carlisle to cause a fumble, which was recovered by Joe Gilliam. While the offense didn't convert, the defensive play - by two Boilermakers who are coming into their own in their second seasons as starters - showed Purdue's fight.

Grade: B+

Passing Defense:
Four plays made all the difference. And all of them involved Ricardo Allen.

In the first half, Allen jumped a route and nearly had a pick six. The pass from Tommy Rees was a little high; had it been on target, Allen might have had his fifth career interception for touchdown, and Purdue would have been up 17-0. But it didn't go that way.

On ND's final drive of the half, Allen nearly had another pick, but his heal was out of bounds as he landed in the end zone. A play later, the Irish kicked a field goal, giving them three points before intermission.

On the first drive of the second half, Rees hit T.J. Jones for a 27-yard pass to Purdue's 1. Allen had good coverage, but couldn't wrestle the ball away from Jones, with the Irish receiver hanging on as the duo fell out of bounds near the pylon. The Fighting Irish scored a game-tying touchdown a play later.

Early in the fourth, Purdue lined up with man coverage on the perimeter on Notre Dame's first play of a drive that started at the 18. An observer might have suspected that something was up.

Rees knew something was, throwing over the top down the right sideline to DaVaris Daniels, who had gained a couple steps on Allen. The senior cornerback later said his technique was bad, leaving him chasing from the start.

Then, he compounded the mistake by not being able to bring Daniels down. The long TD led to Notre Dame's first lead.

Rees finished with 309 yards passing on 20-33, many of them short passes. He had two touchdown passes, including the big 80-plus yarder.

Purdue sacked Rees just once, but had a few other pressures. Too often, however, when the Boilers needed a third-down stop on a passing down, they weren't able to bring enough heat and Rees had far too long to scan the field for an open receiver.

Grade: C-

Defense Overall:
Notre Dame had 400 yards of offense, which isn't too alarming, but the Fighting Irish converted 11-of-16 third downs. That's bad.

Purdue was beaten on a few big plays, too many to pull off the upset. And although it generated a turnover, it probably needed at least one more and missed out on a couple opportunities.

The Boilermakers played with unbelievable energy and gave great effort. A few players are really standing out, including Gilliam, Richards and Will Lucas, along with standbys like Bruce Gaston.

Purdue's defense held ND to 24 points.

Grade: B-

Special Teams:
Griggs atoned, at least somewhat, by hitting a 47-yard field goal after missing his short 27-yarder. That said, the 27-yarder needs to be a gimme; it was missed sharp left from the right hash, a difficulty from that distance.

On the four opportunities Purdue got to return kickoffs, the Boilermakers looked good, using the threat of the reverse to its advantage. They averaged nearly 30 yards per return.

Cody Webster seemed like he had a below-average day, but it really wasn't. He averaged nearly 42 yards on his five punts, with three being fair caught and three landing inside the 20.

A couple were ugly ducklings, perhaps leading to the perception that he was off. Twice, his coverage team didn't help him out, touching up balls that probably had a bit more life in them. Notre Dame had zero punt return yardage.

Thomas Meadows needs to more regularly put the ball into the end zone on his kickoffs.

Grade: B

Overall:
The whole was greater than the individual parts Saturday evening.

Why?

The Boilermakers played with effort, intensity, heart, passion, and every ounce of it they seemingly could muster. It wasn't quiet enough.

Purdue was a heavy underdog but disregarded that entirely. It competed and had a chance to win.

The Boilers twice answered in the fourth quarter when they could have packed it in, knowing that they have already given enough. Two weeks ago, they might have folded when the pressure got turned up.

Growth counts.

Grade: B




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