Rees comes off bench to rally Irish past Boilermakers

Al Lesar, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Notre Dame's win over Purdue on Saturday left more questions than answers.
Quarterback Tommy Rees relieved Everett Golson on Notre Dame's final offensive drive, and he rallied the team for the winning score. Rees led a 55-yard, 12-play march, setting up on a 27-yard Kyle Brindza field goal that allowed the Irish (2-0) to pull out a 20-17 victory over the Boilermakers (1-1).
Rees completed a couple critical passes -- a 10-yarder to John Goodman on third-and-6 from midfield and a 21-yarder to Robby Toma to put the Irish in range for the winner.
All from a guy who was suspended for the first game of the season and didn't take a lot of meaningful snaps in preseason camp.
"That's what I knew about him and his makeup, his moxie, his mental toughness," Irish coach Brian Kelly said of Rees, last year's starter. "Does he have all of the elite skills? No. But he's a gamer. He'll do anything. Those guys in that locker room will go to the wall for him. They'll do anything because he's a great teammate.
"He's working the whole game, talking to Everett about different looks, different coverages. He's the consummate teammate. That's why those guys in the locker room are pretty happy."
Those guys in the locker room had to make do against a tough Purdue defense. The Boilermakers loaded up the line of scrimmage against the run, daring Golson to beat them through the air.
The Irish ran for just 52 net yards, a far cry from last week's 293 against Navy. Notre Dame rolled up 324 passing yards.
Golson came out after suffering a hand injury. When Rees entered the game, with a little over two minutes to play, he was greeted by boos from the crowd.
"That doesn't really get under Tommy's skin," Irish left tackle Zack Martin said. "He's been through some hard times. People have certain opinions of him. The great thing about him is he doesn't let it bother him. He went out there and did his thing."
No way to know for sure if it didn't bother him. Neither Rees nor Golson was made available to the media after the game, though Kelly said Golson would remain the starter next week at Michigan State.
"Well, I thought that was a really good decision by their head coach," Purdue coach Danny Hope said of the switch to Rees. "That was a pressure situation and certainly would have been a tough assignment for a rookie quarterback (Golson).
"I was kind of excited about the idea of maybe having a rookie quarterback in there on the last drive. I thought that may have given us an opportunity to get after him some and get ourselves in position to win. I thought it was a good coaching decision.
"Tommy Rees is a good player, heck of a quarterback, too. We didn't play as well as we needed to there on the final drive. Hats off to Notre Dame. They played better than we did right there at the end of the ballgame."
Purdue's offense divided time at quarterback between Caleb TerBush and Robert Marve. Each had his shining moments. Each had his struggles.
The Boilermakers generated 288 offensive yards, 198 of which came through the air.
Their big headway came on defense, getting to Golson five times for sacks. One of those hits resulted in the critical fumble that precipitated the dramatic finish.
Golson's fumble on the Irish 15-yard line -- the play on which he got hurt -- set the Boilers up for a game-tying pass from TerBush to Antavian Edison.
Tackling problems on the Notre Dame defense were evident on Purdue's last drive of the third quarter. Three short passes by Marve gained 60 yards, setting the table for Sam McCartney to boot a 30-yard field goal to cut the Irish lead to 17-10 on the first play of the fourth quarter.
Two plays after Notre Dame took a 14-7 lead in the third, Bennett Jackson picked off a Caleb TerBush pass and Notre Dame converted it into a 30-yard field goal and a 17-7 advantage.
A defensive three-and-out and a 65-yard march that ended in a 3-yard scoring pass from Golson to TJ Jones put the Irish up 14-7. Two connections for 47 yards to tight end Tyler Eifert made the drive work.
A sluggish first half did little to establish any sort of momentum for either team. The 7-7 deadlock spoke to the frustration both offenses experienced.
Notre Dame moved the ball, put up some respectable passing numbers (11 of 15, 189 yards), but couldn't translate the production into points.
The closest thing to a first-quarter score was a 40-yard Brindza field-goal attempt that sailed wide left.
Notre Dame finally scored on a 3-yard run by Golson 3:45 before intermission. The TD was set up by a 30-yard connection to tight end Troy Niklas and a 41-yard hookup with DaVaris Daniels after the Boilermakers secondary blew its coverage.
Purdue mounted a scoring drive with time winding down before the half. Marve, replacing TerBush, had an 11-yard first-down scramble to get the ball in Irish territory. On fourth-and-4 from the Notre Dame 41, Marve rolled left under pressure then lobbed a duck into traffic that tight end Crosby Wright caught for an 11-yard gain and a first down. O.J. Ross caught a 16-yard pass to the Irish 14. Six plays later, Marve hit Edison for the 2-yard, game-tying score.