It wasn't pretty, in fact, it was a down right disappointing performance by Notre Dame last Saturday but thanks to a completely unexpected hero, a real "gamer" the Irish managed to get a 20-17 win over a Purdue team that gave the Irish all they could handle.
That unexpected hero, of course, was quarterback Tommy Rees. He came off the bench to lead ND down the field and set up for the winning 27-yard field goal. Rees got into the game due to a hand injury to starter Everett Golson that occurred when he fumbled the ball to give Purdue the chance to tie the game.
In entering the game Rees had only three practice reps the week prior and didn't figure to get in at all. But coach Brian Kelly decided on Rees because of his prior experience under fire. In that final drive that led to the winning field goal, Rees was three of eight for 35 yards.
It was a tough game as Purdue dared the Irish to throw the ball as it stacked the front line with all its fine talent. Purdue's defensive front was as big as the Irish's offensive front.
A win is a win as they say, but the Irish face a real test tonight when they visit No. 10 rated Michigan State, one of the better teams in the country.
The Spartans like to run the football and has a great running back in LeVeon Bell. Also the Spartans have the beef up front to control the line of scrammage so the Irish will have their hands full. MSU has a new QB this year, Andrew Maxwell. But in two games this year the Spartans run first and pass only when forced to. That's just the offensive side of it. On defense MSU is one of the best in the country and is led by All American candidate LB William Gholston, considered by many the best in the country. MSU is 2-0 with wins of Boise State, 17-13, and Central Michigan, 41-7.
The game will be televised nationally by ABC-TV with a 8:10 p.m. start. ND leads the series, 46-28-1. The Irish won last year, 31-13.
IRISH NOTES:Last week's win had ND moving up in some statistical categories that are important. The Irish are 57th, out of 120, in red-zone offense, up from 88th in 2011. Also, they are eighth in turnover margin, up from 118th in 2011; and they're fourth in third-down efficiency, up from 19th in 2011....Kelly said immediately after the game that Golson is still the starter despite the heroics of Rees. He added that Theo Riddick is the starting tailback despite the return of last year's leading rusher, Cierre Wood. Wood returns this week after serving out a two game suspension....Another area where ND moved up was in pass-efficiency defense. They are ranked 32nd up from 91 after playing run-happy Navy....Last week's defensive play was adequate but far from acceptable. Too many times ND let Purdue convert on third down plays....MSU ranks first in the nation in sacks allowed, zero, while ND is ranked 13th. Despite its national ranking of 12th in defense in four major categories, the Spartans have yet to get a sack this year....Tonight and next week are two critical games for the Irish. If they can win both, or at least one of the two, they have a chance of finishing with eight or more wins. But losses in both of these games dooms them to 7-5 or worst record....The short passing game of Purdue, which the Boilermakers used very effectively in their third down situations, has to be addressed by the ND coaching staff....Some game stats. Golson finished 21 of 31 passing for 289 yards, one touchdown. Riddick rushed 15 times for 53 yards. Tyler Eifert caught four for 98 yards and DaVaris Daniels also had four for 70 yards. Defensively the Irish were led by Manti Te'o and Zeke Motta, both with nine tackles....ND had nine players injured during the game but all are expected to be available tonight. In fact, kicker Kyle Brindza replaced starter Nick Tausch after the latter sustained a groin injury before the game. After missing his first attempt miserably, he certainly made up for it with his winning kick. Tausch is still not ready so Brindza will do the kicking tonight....The notables who were injured, along with Golson, were DE Kapron Lewis-Moore, MLB Manti Te'o, S Jamoris Slaughter, OLB Ishaq Williams, TE Eifert, DE Sheldon Day, and Daniels....ND had only 52 net total yards rushing last week. Tonight they face one of the best run defensive teams in the country....There's a local flavor in tonight's game. Dave Warner, former Lehighton High standout quarterback, is the QB coach for the Spartans. He is in his sixth year at the school....As you read on Thursday ND has joined the ACC in all sports except football and hockey, leaving the Big East. This is a win-win move for the Irish athletic department, the school's academic side, and especially the football program. ND can keep its football program independent, will have more bowl game opportunities, and keep its association with NBC Sports....All American LB Manti Te'o will be playing tonight with a heavy heart. This week his long-time girlfriend lost her long battle with leukemia. She died Wednesday. On Tuesday, Te'o grandmother passed away. His family and friends urged him to play tonight....Three of ND's former tight ends are in the NFL. Kyle Rudolph and John Carlson are with the Minnesota Vikings, and Anthony Fasano it with the Miami Dolphins. And, current TE Tyler Eifert is considered a top prospect for the NFL....Tonight's game will be extremely tough for the Irish. First its at MSU; and secondly, the Irish poor rushing attack last week now faces one of the top rush defensive teams in the nation; and third, MSU runs the ball, very, very well, which puts tremendous pressure on the ND defense. My preseason pick was MSU, who is favored by six. The pick is still MSU.