WEST LAFAYETTE – Notre Dame needed about 4 1/2 minutes to avert disaster against Purdue on Saturday night.
The No. 21 Irish scored three touchdowns early in the fourth and held on to defeat Purdue 31-24 in Ross-Ade Stadium.
Notre Dame (2-1), which tied the game at 17 just 13 seconds into the fourth quarter, took its first lead when Tommy Rees hit DaVaris Daniels for an 82-yard touchdown pass – which had to stand up to a review – with 12:40 to play. Cornerback Bennett Jackson returned an interception 34 yards 90 seconds later to put the Irish ahead 31-17.
"To win you got to do some things well," coach Brian Kelly said. "In the second half, we outscored them 28-14. I think a lesser team wilts under the way (Purdue) started. But we hung in there, we kept playing, we kept fighting.
"We are still trying to find who we are. We're still trying to find ourselves. Here's what we did – We played hard for four quarters, and we fought our butts off. And then we found away to make some plays."
Purdue (1-2) answered Notre Dame's 21 quick points with a seven-play, 75-yard scoring drive, but the Boilermakers never got any closer than seven points after Justin Sinz's touchdown catch, even after Purdue recovered an Amir Carlisle fumble on Notre Dame's 41 with 8:10 to play.
The Irish forced a three-and-out by the Boilers after Carlisle's fumble, and closed the game behind running back Cam McDaniel, who carried the ball 10 times on Notre Dame's 13-play, 61-yard drive that put things out of reach for Purdue.
"He definitely impacted the game, no question," Kelly said of McDaniel. "You saw how hard he ran."
Rees threw for 309 yards with two touchdown passes to Daniels, who had 8 catches for 167 yards. McDaniel, who needed four stitches in his head after the first half, ran for 56 yards and a score.
"After a couple of those big touchdowns, guys really showed the energy and that kind of turned things around for us," Rees said.
Rob Henry threw for 256 yards with three touchdowns and an interception, and Akeem Hunt had nine catches for 72 yards with a touchdown and ran for 22 yards.
Purdue opened in high gear, marching 75 yards on 12 plays on the opening series to take a 7-0 lead when Henry hit Hunt for a 15-yard touchdown pass just less than six minutes into the game. The Boilermakers went up 10-0 when Paul Griggs, who missed a 27-yard field goal in the first quarter, connected from 47 yards out with 10:44 to play in the first half.
The Irish started to show some offensive life on their fifth drive with Rees hitting Chris Brown for a 40-yard completion to move from Notre Dame's 20 to Purdue's 40. The Irish got down to the Boilers' 3 but settled for a 20-yard field goal from Kyle Brindza to cut their deficit to 10-3 with 44 seconds left in the first half.
Purdue's defense kept Notre Dame in check early by limiting the Irish to three first downs, 29 rushing yards and 94 passing yards in the first half. Notre Dame finished with 20 first downs and 91 rushing yards to go along with Rees' 300-plus passing yards.
"We did a good job in running game," Purdue coach Darrell Hazell told the Associated Press. "There were a couple of plays we'd like to get back, but they (Purdue's defense) did a good job against the run."
Notre Dame tied the game on a 1-yard touchdown run by McDaniel 4 1/2 minutes into the third quarter, but Purdue answered with an eight-play, 54-yard drive that ended with B.J. Knauf scoring on an 18-yard catch for a 17-10 lead with 6:28 left in the third quarter.
Notre Dame pulled even again 13 seconds into the fourth quarter as Rees hit DaVaris Daniels for a 9-yard touchdown on third-and-goal.
"I think that's an awesome sign showing that our football team is growing up, and we are really finding our identity," McDaniel said of the Irish overcoming the Boilers' early lead.
Notre Dame then took control of the game in about 90 seconds on the Daniel touchdown and Jackson interception return for a score and a 31-17 lead.
"It definitely gives the defense more momentum," Jackson said of his interception. "We pride ourselves on getting turnovers, and that is something that we haven't been doing as much as we would like. Everyone gets momentum from that play."
Said Kelly: "We're not a finished product, but to go on the road, after a tough game last week against a Big Ten opponent, it's a really good win for our football team."