The 21st-ranked Fighting Irish did more good than bad (but there was plenty of that), particularly in the second half, as they got by a pesky Purdue squad 31-24 in front of 61,127 fans at Ross-Ade Stadium.
“We've been really trying to get our hands around this thing,” Kelly said of developing this squad. “We know that we have good players and we have good personnel, but we're trying to figure out the parts and the pieces and where they go.”
Similar to the 2013 season, one in which Kelly has gained more confidence through each less-than-stellar performance, Saturday's game played out in the same manner. As the game wore on, Notre Dame (2-1) got better on both sides of the ball. It just took the Irish awhile.
This game was expected to be a channel-surfer's dream, as ABC got stuck with a projected blowout for its national audience. However, that never materialized as the Irish struggled with sloppy play throughout the first half and trailed 10-3 at halftime. But the second half was a different story.
Offensively, Notre Dame senior quarterback Tommy Rees (20 of 33 for 309 yards and two scores) ran the Irish offense with aplomb in outscoring the Boilermakers (1-2) 28-14.
He hit Irish wideout DaVaris Daniels (8 receptions for 167 yards and two scores) for a pair of fourth quarter scores to help keep a Purdue squad that wouldn't go away – just far enough out of reach of a win.
“Some of the (positive) things that came out tonight,” Kelly explained, “(like) Tommy settling in in the second half and really showing veteran leadership.”
Defensively, Notre Dame has failed to live up to the expectations of the Irish Nation through its first two outings. However, over the final 20 minutes of Saturday's win, the unit wasn't perfect, but it was pretty good.
With Purdue valiantly trying to shock the college football world and pull off an epic upset, the Irish defense forced three Boiler punts and returned an interception for a touchdown (34 yards by Bennett Jackson) over the final five Purdue offensive series.
“We had the ability to keep (Purdue), which wants to run the ball, to 38 yards rushing,” Kelly said. “Some of the old standards, if you will, that go into winning football games, it's a little cloudy, but it's beginning to clear up a little bit.”
Another “old standard” that Notre Dame exhibited was the ability to keep Purdue down when it had the opportunity in the final minutes. With the Irish defense getting the ball back to the offense, Kelly turned to junior running back Cam McDaniel (who received four stitches at halftime above his ear) to find holes “against a very good front four,” according to the coach, and keep the clock ticking down.
It was a night that this program showed its weaknesses, but it also sent the raucous Boiler crowd home quiet by demonstrating its potential.
“We've got more work to do,” Kelly said. “We're not a finished product by any means. But we are starting to figure it out, as well.”