Sophomore LB Jaylon Smith.

IRISH EXTRA: Defense Dominates Second Half

Sept. 14, 2014

INDIANAPOLIS – When the Purdue Boilermakers scored a touchdown in the second quarter to take a 14-10 lead on Saturday night, it marked the first time the University of Notre Dame football team found itself trailing in three games this season.

Notre Dame’s defense made sure that the Boilermakers wouldn’t be adding any more points to their total.

Despite playing without five key defensive contributors, 11th-rated Notre Dame shut down Purdue for a 30-14 victory in a Shamrock Series battle at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Ind. The Irish (3-0) have next Saturday off and return to action on Sept. 27 against Syracuse in East Rutherford, N.J.

Notre Dame kept Purdue out of the end zone in the second half and limited the Boilermakers to 121 yards in the final two quarters after Purdue gained 169 yards in the first half. Purdue gained 49 of its second-half yards on a drive that started with 2:49 left in the game, with the Irish well in command. Nine of the Boiler drives overall managed 26 or fewer yards.

By knocking off its in-state rival Notre Dame improved to 6-0 in the Shamrock Series and improved its record against Purdue to 58-26-2. The Irish have won 24 of the previous 29 meetings against Purdue. The Boilermakers have not beaten Notre Dame since 2007.

“We’re playing a lot of young guys,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. “We had some injuries today. Guys stepped up and responded to that first sign of adversity that a team has to handle and respond to.”

Notre Dame’s secondary was particularly hard hit by attrition. Sophomore Max Redfield was ejected on a targeting call. Nicky Baratti suffered a shoulder injury, and sophomore Luke Cole suffered a neck injury. Freshman Andrew Trumbetti is sidelined with an upper-body injury suffered in the Michigan game, and captain Austin Collinsworth has been out since suffering a knee injury in a pre-season practice.

When adversity hit, the Irish hit harder. Freshman Drue Tranquill came in and played a key role in shoring up the secondary. Sophomore Devin Butler picked off a pass – his first career interception – to help the Irish defense rack up three turnovers. Nick Watkins also played a key role in the secondary.

“You get what you demand,” Kelly said of Irish players stepping up to replace injured starters. “First of all, they know that they’ve been called upon, and they have to step up for their teammates. That accelerates the process, too. They know they have to pick it up. They know they’re being counted on to go in there and they have to get the job done for us.”

Kelly also credited the defensive staff for helping the Irish step up. He said the Irish didn’t come onto the field prior to the second-half kickoff until inside the three-minute mark because the staff was coaching up the next man in.

“(Defensive coordinator) Brian (VanGorder) does a great job of teaching … (defensive assistants) Kerry Cooks, Bobby Elliott, that whole defensive staff, (and) Kyle McCarthy is doing a great job with the safeties,” Kelly said. “We just have a great staff working with those kids getting them ready.”

Notre Dame sophomore linebacker Jaylon Smith, who helped Fort Wayne Bishop Luers High School win four Indiana state prep titles on the Lucas Oil Stadium turf, said the Irish defense rallied.

“It was all about playing on our terms,” Smith said. “That’s what we got back to in the second half. It’s all about the next man in.”

Smith spearheaded the Irish effort with eight solo tackles and one assist. His bone-jarring stop of Purdue running back Raheem Mostert on a fourth and one from the Irish 28 in the second quarter stole the momentum from the Boilermakers. Notre Dame is now four of six on fourth-down attempts by opponents.

“It’s all about leverage in those fourth-down situations, and it’s also about execution,” Smith said. “We all make sure everyone is doing their job and not worrying about anything else. If we get the penetration, we get the job done.”

Defensive lineman Romeo Okwara, who led the Irish with 11 tackles, said Smith’s stop lit a fuse for the Irish defense.

“That was an important moment for us,” Okwara said. “It definitely had a big impact on Purdue. Everyone feeds off of plays like that, the entire team.”

For Kelly, the Shamrock Series victory was a special moment for a young team.

“Well, I like a lot of things about the team,” Kelly said. “One is they love to play. They’ve got a great demeanor about the way they play this game. They’re a group that pays attention to the things that I need them to pay attention to relative to preparation, but we’re really young. We’ll benefit from every day on the practice field. We will get better. So we’re still not a finished product by any means. We’re such a young team.

“At 3-0, we’re extremely pleased where we are, but we know we’re nowhere near where we need to be to be the kind of football team we want to be.”

by Curt Rallo, special correspondent

— ND —