WEST LAFAYETTE – Purdue pushed Notre Dame until the end in Saturday night's 31-24 loss at Ross-Ade Stadium.
Coach Darrell Hazell, whose team was blown out by Cincinnati to start the season and had a less-than-convincing win over Indiana State last weekend, said pushing the No. 21 Irish (2-1) was validation for his team. But it did show the strides the Boilermakers (1-2) are making after three weeks.
"I know that we are getting better, that's the whole key to this program right now, it's to improve," Hazell said. "But I'm not into moral victories.
"I'll tell you tonight on the sidelines was not a lack of confidence, and that is a huge step for this program."
Purdue went ahead 10-0 after the first 20 minutes and held a 10-3 lead at halftime. The Boilermakers limited the Irish to just three first downs and 123 yards in the first half.
"As a group, our defense played good and when they play good, we're going to play good, but it wasn't enough to get the 'W', so we still gotta go back and get to work," linebacker Joe Gilliam said.
Notre Dame tied the game at 10 on its first drive of the second half, but Purdue took the lead right back with an eight-play 54-yard drive that ended with B.J. Knauf collecting an 18-yard touchdown pass from Rob Henry with 6:28 to play in the third quarter.
Henry finished with 256 passing yards and touchdowns to Akeem Hunt, a 15-yarder in the first quarter; Knauf; and Justin Sinz, a 9-yarder with 8:16 to play that capped the scoring.
"I think we are all continuing to learn and to be comfortable with each other and to get comfortable with this offense," Henry said. "I think that everyone will continue to see us improve. We have the talent, and we have the guys on the team that are good enough for this to be a really good offense."
But Notre Dame's offense was better for the first 2:20 of the fourth quarter.
Tommy Rees hit DaVaris Daniels for touchdown passes of 9 yards (13 seconds into the fourth) and 82 yards (2:20 into the fourth) to give the Irish a 24-17 lead. Cornerback Bennett Jackson added to the lead by returning an interception 34 yards for a score.
The Boilers responded to the 31-17 deficit with 11:18 to play by marching 75 yards on seven plays, ending with Henry's TD toss to Sinz.
But Purdue couldn't get any more points, even after Amir Carlisle fumbled the ball to the Boilers on the Irish's 41 with 8:10 to play.
Notre Dame forced a three-and-out and then was able to run out the final 7:22.
"Obviously a tough loss for us," Hazell said. "I thought our boys played extremely hard, they came in there and kept fighting. Obviously, a couple plays we would like to get back. I was very proud of our football team tonight. We will continue to get better."