Heading into a clash against Purdue, some of the Notre Dame captains had been struggling, particularly on the offensive side. Through faults not all his own, Kyren Williams had done very little out of the backfield in the first two games. He wasn’t a non-factor – breaking off a couple of chunk plays and contributing in the passing game. But for a player with a small aura of Heisman hype surrounding him, it hadn’t been what was expected.
The same could largely be said for wide receiver Avery Davis. Davis was actually a non-factor against Florida State with zero receptions or targets. Versus Toledo, Davis had three catches for 29 yards. As Davis struggled, tight end Michael Mayer and fellow receiver Kevin Austin stepped up for quarterback Jack Coan. But the fact remained that between Williams and Davis in particular, the Notre Dame captains needed to step up. With Purdue being the final tune-up before a five-game stretch that includes all teams that have been inside the top 15 at some point this season, an encouraging performance was crucial. The Irish delivered, beating Purdue 27-13. While not a blowout, Notre Dame felt comfortable throughout, due to some breakout efforts, and a much stiffer defensive performance.
Kyren Williams Shines
Williams racked up 132 yards from scrimmage against the Boilermakers. He included some highlight-reel plays, including a 39-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter. On a simple crossing route, Williams collected a pass and just outsprinted the Purdue defense to the end zone. On three previous drives, Notre Dame had chiseled out just six yards on 10 plays. The Williams’ catch put Notre Dame in front to stay with a 7-3 advantage. The defense forced a Purdue punt on the ensuing possession, and the Irish marched for a field goal and a 10-3 halftime lead.
Later in the fourth quarter, Williams put the Irish – and a few Boilermakers – on his back. Struggling to pull away and leading 20-13, Notre Dame forced another Purdue punt. Williams fielded a kick around the 26-yard line and sprinted 23 yards up the middle to give Notre Dame prime position. Ensuring they wouldn’t waste the chance, Williams finished the job himself in just one run.
The jaw-dropping run saw Williams get hit roughly six yards into the carry. He broke a couple of tough tackles to get into the open field but still had to face down several Purdue defenders. Williams had no issues; he outmuscled one tackle attempt, juked left and beat two Purdue safeties to the end zone. Featuring grit, speed, and strength, it was the Kyren Williams that Irish fans have seen before. And it’s the one they’ll need as they approach their midseason gauntlet.
Avery Davis steps up
On a day where Austin and Mayer struggled, the Irish needed other contributors to step up. Enter senior Notre Dame captain Avery Davis, who has impressed with quiet leadership throughout his career. Despite a tough start to this season, Davis was ready to roll on Saturday. He caught five passes for 120 yards and a touchdown, providing a key mid-game boost for a lethargic Irish offense.
After the first Williams’ touchdown and the ensuing field goal, Notre Dame missed a field goal, and they punted on their final possession of the first half. Then, Purdue narrowed the gap to 10-6 to start the third quarter, Notre Dame needed an answer. After three yards on their first two plays, the Irish were faced with a tough 3rd and 7. But in a familiar route to Irish fans, Davis beat his man near the line and sprinted downfield. With the Purdue safeties largely vacating the middle, Davis cut away from the corner in pursuit. Coan found him down the seam in stride, and Davis had enough separation to avoid a diving tackle attempt. He went 62 yards for the score.
The play was similar to last year’s big gainer in the regular season win versus Clemson, when Davis beat the Clemson secondary down the middle for a massive pass play in the game’s final minutes. The pass led to the game-tying touchdown and eventual victory.
But Davis wasn’t limited to just one big play. He jumpstarted the offense again on the drive that culminated in Kyren Williams’ first score. On that one, Davis snared a 20-yard pass to get Notre Dame rolling on the five-play drive. He also had a 17-yarder as the Irish operated in the two-minute drill towards the end of the half. Davis made his presence known, and as the team’s top returning wide receiver, the Notre Dame captain finally stepped up. Notre Dame faces back-to-back incredibly stiff defenses in Wisconsin and Cincinnati. The Badgers have given up 11.5 points per game, and the Bearcats have been victimized for just 14.3 PPG. Notre Dame finally showed they could have offensive success without a standout effort from Coan’s safety blanket in Mayer. That offensive versatility will be key with the schedule toughening up.
Notre Dame Captains Show Up On Defense
The defense has also been a major talking point. It felt like two major facets of their game had to show improvement versus Purdue. One was the rush defense, which has given up consecutive 100-yard rushers, plus two run plays of at least 60 yards. Secondly, was their struggles against the big play. Notre Dame had given up four 60+ yard plays that had directly led to 24 points by their opponents through two weeks. Without those plays, Notre Dame would have been giving up 22 points per game, rather than 33.5 through two weeks.
Against Purdue, the Irish showed up, with the defensive Notre Dame captains shining in the victory. Kurt Hinish didn’t have a day that wowed on the stat sheet, as he notched three tackles. But the graduate student was still a force to be reckoned with, drew occasional double teams, and being a vocal leader of the defensive line. Head coach Brian Kelly rewarded his efforts with the game ball after the victory.
Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa put together an impressive effort of his own. A week after forcing the game-clinching fumble, Tagovailoa-Amosa was a constant presence in the Purdue backfield. He notched 0.5 sacks and 1.5 tackles for loss.
And finally, there was Kyle Hamilton, who has been very consistent in Notre Dame’s generally inconsistent efforts. Purdue simply couldn’t keep Hamilton away from the ball. He notched 10 tackles, broke up two passes, and recorded his third interception of the year. That pick was a critical one, as Purdue was down 27-13 but at the Irish 11-yard line. A pass towards the back of the end zone popped up in the air, and Hamilton capitalized. The junior captain dove and secured the turnover, icing the game in the process. Hamilton also made a huge fourth-down open-field tackle in the first quarter in one of his best individual plays of the season.
Improved Offensive Line Effort Is Promising
When the Notre Dame captains were announced, a key name was Jarrett Patterson. Coming off injury, he was a needed veteran on a young line. Patterson may be the first center of the draft boards next spring, but he had struggled a little bit in the first two games. However, signs of improvement were there. Against Toledo, Patterson made the key block for Williams’ 43-yard touchdown run. But the rest of the offensive line struggled. While that’s not all on Patterson, the veteran leader of an inexperienced line inevitably shoulders some of that responsibility. Against Purdue, after an awful first quarter, the Irish were much improved in the trenches.
Notre Dame ran for 120 yards, including 83 in the second half. While not the most impressive of numbers, they were enough. The pass protection was still shaky at times, giving up four sacks. But with two of those in the first quarter, Notre Dame showed improvement in that area as well. With the Irish starting their third left tackle in as many games, the better effort was a source of relief for Irish fans. They’ll face one of the best defensive lines in the country next week. The tune-up against Purdue showed they might be ready for their most complete effort when they really need it.