For the second straight week Notre Dame turned to a host of reserves, this time against a Purdue team that roughed up Irish starters on both sides of the ball. The program’s “next man in” philosophy was put to the test and No. 22 Notre Dame passed with a 20-17 victory to improve to 2-0.
Head coach Brian Kelly said there was much to glean from another performance where inexperienced personnel, as well as veteran backups, performed under pressure.
“I think any time you get contributions from so many different players, you know, that's what you try to prepare for,” he said during Sunday’s teleconference. “And, you know, you build your program in terms of when you get that chance and you get that opportunity, you have high expectations. When Sheldon Day stepped in there to play a whole game; when Troy Niklas has to take on more of a role in the passing game; John Goodman steps in late for Daniels. Your guys are all committed to being the best they can be.”
The most obvious example was the 2012 debut of junior quarterback Tommy Rees, who was inserted on Notre Dame’s final drive late in the fourth quarter of a tie game in place of sophomore starter Everett Golson. Kelly explained that his decision to sit Golson, who injured his right thumb when he fumbled deep in Irish territory, a turnover that led to Purdue’s game-tying touchdown with 2:12 remaining, had more to do with Rees’ grasp of the two-minute offense.
“I had already begun the conversation with Coach [Chuck] Martin about installing Tommy into that situation,” Kelly said. “So the knowledge of running our two minute trumped any kind of injury that [Golson] may have had. Now, it contributed in the end to make it an easier decision for me.”
The decision wasn’t easy for Golson to swallow.
“Well, I think anybody that gets taken out of the game is going to react in a manner that he wants to play; and if they don't, I don't want him to be our quarterback,” Kelly added. “I know Everett wanted to be in the game and that's a good thing. But he's been supported by Tommy and Andrew, and now it was his chance to support Tommy in that situation. He's a young man that's understanding and growing every day, and we won't have any issues moving forward.”
Believing in Brindza
Sophomore kicker Kyle Brindza hooked his first field goal attempt Saturday — a 40-yarder in the first quarter than was curving so far left that it nearly landed in the student section — but delivered in crunch time with a 27-yarder with seven seconds remaining to give Notre Dame the win. He also converted on a 30-yard attempt in the third quarter.
“Well, we knew that he's a guy that had opportunities like this in his high school career to win games, and won a state championship by kicking a game winner,” Kelly said. “The pressure is something that he's done quite well with. He gets a little quick sometimes and one of the reasons why we wanted to center the ball and not take any time off the clock, we wanted to get that full opportunity to get him out and get settled under a pressure kick, and he executed it very well. So now obviously we've got a guy that is competing for that position now with Nick [Tausch].”
Battered bodies piled up by the end of the Purdue game, but Kelly was confident most of the injured players would be available against Michigan State. Safety Jamoris Slaughter, defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore, quarterback Everett Golson, receiver DaVaris Daniels, linebacker Manti Te’o, kicker Nick Tausch, linebacker Ishaq Williams, tight end Tyler Eifert and defensive end Sheldon Day were all dinged up against the Boilermakers to varying degrees.
“Slaughter (shoulder) and Eifert (mild concussion0 have been cleared,” Kelly said. “Everett Golson had a thumb; he'll be fine. [Calf] strain on [Lewis-Moore]; he'll be moving around tomorrow, should be cleared. Ankle sprain on Daniels. We'll progress him during the week. He should be able to answer the bell. I've got Manti Te'o with a bruised sternum. So everything looks to be okay for not ruling anybody out for this game.
“Ishaq had … we are just going to call it an elbow contusion. He'll be fine. Sheldon Day was just gassed; he got some cramps. He played virtually the whole game. He's not used to playing — because he played so hard for so long. He's fine. And Tausch, we'll find out. We'll start our special teams … kicking regimen for him begins on Tuesday. He was better today, and then it will be a competitive situation during the week.”