Big Ten: Jonas Gray

Offense clicks for Irish in rout

October, 2, 2011
10/02/11
1:47
AM ET

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- In a makeshift media room a football's throw away from the same Ross-Ade Stadium field he just watched his team demolish Purdue on, Brian Kelly was finishing off his opening statement when screams, roars and general excitement began emanating from the nearby Notre Dame locker room.

"You can see they're pretty happy about the way they played," the Fighting Irish coach explained.

What's not to love for Notre Dame fans about a 38-10 thrashing that, for at least one night, validated the early preseason expectations of Year 2 of the Kelly era?

His spread offense looked every bit as high powered as many initially expected, totaling 551 yards. The quarterback he has stood behind through a rocky three-and-a-half games impressed, completing 24 of 40 passes for 254 yards and three touchdowns.

[+] EnlargeTommy Rees
Brian Spurlock/US PresswireTommy Rees threw three touchdown passes in the rout of Purdue.
The wide receiver he insisted would not be kept under wraps after a rough showing at Pitt amassed 137 yards on 12 catches, none more important than his 35-yard grab on a beautiful play-action fake by Tommy Rees on Notre Dame's second play from scrimmage, making it 7-0 24 seconds into action.

"On the road it's really important," Kelly said of Michael Floyd's early touchdown. "You wanna take the crowd out of it, you wanna be able to put the first one on the board and kind of dictate the tempo of the game, and we did that at Michigan as well, we just didn't finish. It was very similar in the way we really started well [and we] built on that.

"The difference between the two games is we finished this one in the third quarter, is really where we finished it. We deferred, got the ball in the third quarter, had a great opening drive. I think dominating the third quarter really put us in a great position."

Rees completed 9 of 11 passes in the third quarter, ending both of the Irish's drives with touchdown passes. Notre Dame punted on just one of Rees' nine drives at quarterback (excluding his knee to end the first half).

And, more importantly, Rees, and the Irish, did not turn the ball over a single time; this after entering the night with an FBS-worst 15 giveaways.

"I don't know that that is a sigh of relief as much as we have a way that we need to play the game if we're gonna be successful, and we've said that from Day 1," Kelly said. "We're making good decisions, we ran hard. I thought physically our backs, both Jonas Gray and Cierre Wood, really exerted their will on Purdue today, and playing that way physically gives them a confidence that there's no reason why the ball should be on the ground."

No kidding. Notre Dame averaged a ridiculous 7.2 yards per rush, bursting through holes on the left side all night that Kelly, three weeks shy of his 50th birthday, could have probably run through himself.

Wood finished with 191 yards and a touchdown. Gray rushed for 94 yards and a score.

Asked if the backs or linemen were more excited breaking out of each huddle, Gray said: "Offensive line, definitely. You got five against two, they wanted to run it every play."

Tough to blame the group. Hit hard, hit early, leave no doubt. The Irish, above .500 for the first time this season, finally put on the performance they expected all along.
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — A primetime audience saw everything Notre Dame does good and bad through the first quarter, one the Fighting Irish have escaped leading 14-0.

Gary Gray picked off Caleb TerBush's first pass of the game, and Tommy Rees hit Michael Floyd two plays later for a 35-yard touchdown pass. Jonas Gray punched it in from two yards out with three seconds left in the quarter for the Irish's other score.

David Ruffer had a 28-yard field goal attempt blocked earlier in the frame after the Irish failed to score on a series that started with a first-and-goal from the Purdue 5. A false start penalty on Chis Watt was the killer on that drive.

Also mind-boggling is, once again, the punt-return game, as John Goodman lost two yards on the one punt he did return and watched the ball roll for a 61-yard punt on the one kick he chose not to return.

Still, the mental gaffes have affected the Boilermakers more so far, as they committed consecutive penalties on the Irish's next red zone trip, resulting in two new sets of downs from inside the 5.

Encouraging for the Irish has been their ability to do whatever they want in the run game so far. Notre Dame has gained 75 yards on 11 carries, and its offensive line is manhandling the Purdue front seven so far.

It will be interesting to see if this can continue as the game progresses. Regardless, the Irish have put themselves in great position to start, so long as they can avoid shooting themselves in the foot once again.
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Here's a look at the first half, which closes with the Fighting Irish leading the Spartans 21-10 after a fake field goal try that this time didn't go MSU's way.

Stat of the half: 13. Notre Dame has held MSU to 13 yards on the ground on 14 carries, bottling up Edwin Baker and getting pressure on Kirk Cousins. The problem, of course, has been stopping the intermediate throws.

Best player in the half: Cierre Wood. The running back has set the tone on offense for the Irish, carrying the ball nine times for 64 yards and two scores. The Irish will rely more on him and Jonas Gray playing with a lead in the second half.

What Notre Dame needs to do: The Irish need to continue to pressure Cousins, who has taken some nasty hits in the first half. Aaron Lynch has gotten through MSU's offensive line several times and delivered a few blows himself.

What team Michigan State needs to do: The Spartans have done a solid job on Michael Floyd so far, limiting him to three catches and 45 yards, with one catch accounting for 33 of those yards. But MSU needs to keep getting the ball to its main threat, B.J. Cunningham. He has four catches for 64 yards so far and has been all over the field, causing problems for the Irish defense. He'll become a more important weapon with MSU playing from behind.
SOUTH BEND, Ind -- Cierre Wood's six-yard touchdown run, his second of the day, did more than just put Notre Dame up 21-10. It gave an offense that had not recorded a first down since its second drive of the game a much-needed boost.

And, consequently, it gave the Fighting Irish's defense a much needed break after a pair of turnovers and a kickoff return for a score kept the unit running onto the field without any real rest.

The Irish went 92 yards on 10 plays, taking up four minutes, 49 seconds. Tommy Rees' 33-yard pass to Michael Floyd was the big play, but Notre Dame's ground game has opened things up, with Wood and Jonas Gray each getting nine carries and running for 64 and 54 yards, respectively.

On defense, the Irish have bottled up Edwin Baker and the rest of Sparty's ground attack, limiting it to eight yards going into what is likely its final drive of the half. Kirk Cousins has had success on play-action and has completed 8 of 12 passes, but the Irish have been getting to him in the backfield, and the run threat can only last so long.

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