Saturday was the 85th meeting between the Purdue Boilermakers and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. With the Shillelagh Trophy up for grabs, as well as bragging rights, the Boilermakers played their best game of the season, but came up short, 31-24.
Just like last season, these two teams played a close game that came down to the fourth quarter to decide the victor. Purdue led 10-3 at half and quickly fell down 24-17 to start the fourth quarter. Notre Dame’s Bennett Jackson intercepted Rob Henry and took it all the way back to give the Irish a 31-17 lead, deflating the Purdue crowd in the process. The Boilermakers were able to score again, but the Irish secured the first downs needed to run out the clock.
For Purdue fans, the talking point was easily the play of quarterback Rob Henry. The interception he threw in the fourth quarter was his only one — despite being the most devastating play of the game — and he connected for not only his first touchdown pass of the season, but also his second and third. This was a Henry that looked comfortable running the West Coast offense for the first time this season and he went on to rack up 256 yards.
However, his counterpart Tommy Rees outplayed him. Rees threw for 309 yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions. Although he came close to having several of his passes picked off.
Notre Dame simply made the plays when they needed to and Purdue was unable to defend them. At the start of the fourth quarter, Irish wide receiver DaVaris Daniels got separation in the end zone and Rees hit him perfectly for the touchdown. Two minutes later, Daniels once again separated himself from the defense and went streaking down the sideline for an 82-yard touchdown. The Notre Dame defense — the same one that couldn’t figure out how to stop the Purdue attack in the first half — was able to clinch the game with their lone takeaway.
Heartbreaking game for the Boilermakers to lose, for sure, but it was also the type of game they needed. They needed to gain the confidence that they could play with the big boys and they did just that. This was not the same Purdue team that got beat 42-7 against the Cincinnati Bearcats in Week 1 and if they can continue improving, they could surprise everyone by finishing the season with a trip to a bowl game.