After resting for most of the second half, Jimmy Clausen led the Irish to victory.
Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis must have either emptied out his playbook Saturday night at Ross-Ade Stadium or added a few very un-New England Patriots-like pages to it.
In a game in which his backup quarterback threw a key block on a touchdown run by the team's leading receiver, Weis strayed from his NFL roots further than he had ever done in his 53 previous college games, only to set the stage for quarterback Jimmy Clausen to be Jimmy Clausen.
Cast as a bystander much of the night with a painful turf toe injury, the Irish junior quarterback put up his most unspectacular numbers of the season (15-of-26 for 171 yards and an interception) on a night when his guts and guile rose to legendary proportions.
Clausen came off the bench to drive the Irish 72 yards in 12 plays, connecting with tight end Kyle Rudolph for a 3-yard knockout punch on fourth down with 24.8 seconds left in the game.
"The intent was for him not to play in the second half," Weis said of Clausen, who played with a special plate in his right shoe to ease the pain of his injury. "We played him in the first half, wanted to get a lead and then try not to use him. Our packages were kind of limited on what we could do with him. We tried to keep him in the shotgun, so he didn't have to worry much about footwork.
"But when it got to be topsy-turvy late, we started talking about putting him back in, and he was already politicking for that."
Floyd, out until at least late November with a broken collarbone, could only hope and cheer from the sideline during the final drive. The same was the case for leading rusher Armando Allen, who missed the game with an ankle injury.
The Irish found a way to survive in the short term without their most dangerous deep threat. Now, over the long view of the season, can they find a way to grow into a team that's BCS-worthy, beginning with Saturday's home matchup with upstart Washington?
First, a look back at the Purdue game.
Player of the Game: Junior wide receiver Golden Tate. The converted running back converted himself back to his old position when asked to do so Saturday night. He ran the Wildcat formation when Clausen was on the sidelines and took handoffs from backup quarterback Dayne Crist as well.
Tate finished with 55 yards on nine carries and one spectacular TD run. But he also caught a team-high five passes for 57 yards, including a 17-yarder on the winning drive to give the Irish a first-and-goal from the Purdue 4-yard line.
Play of the Game: Clausen's 3-yard TD pass to Rudolph on fourth-and-goal with 24.8 seconds left in the game. It marked just the 16th time in Notre Dame history the Irish scored the winning touchdown in the final 25 seconds of the game, and just the fifth time in a true road game.
What we learned about the Irish: Buried in the momentum volleys in the final frantic minutes of the game was the fact the Irish stepped forward Saturday in two areas that were their undoing last year -- running the ball and stopping the run. Third-string halfback and fill-in fullback Robert Hughes (Chicago Hubbard) bulled his way for a game-high 68 yards on 15 carries and a touchdown, outrushing the nation's No. 2 runner, Purdue sophomore Ralph Bolden. The Irish defense, gashed in the passing game late in the fourth quarter, did hold the Boilermakers running attack to 2.8 yards per carry.
What Weis said: About Clausen: "This is a guy who really sucked it up and made the big plays when he had to make them. He never got flustered."
What he didn't say: How long this turf toe situation with Clausen might persist.
Players' perspective: "The team is very different from last year. This year, everyone is so close and just wants to help each other out. We really play like a team." -- Clausen
Spinning forward: With injuries affecting such key components of the Irish offense, Saturday really was about survival. Moving forward, it's all about improvement. This is a team that doesn't have the look or feel of a Top 25 team except in its fortitude and its team chemistry. Freshman wide receiver Shaquelle Evans must ascend to become a reliable deep threat. The Irish running game can't regress. The ND defense must continue to evolve. Washington has already shown it can rise to the occasion on a big stage. The Irish must find a way to rise again too.
Award-winning journalist Eric Hansen, 48, has been covering college athletics since 1983 and is currently assistant sports editor and the Notre Dame football beat writer for the South Bend Tribune.