Notre Dame tight end Kyle Rudolph (9) reacts with Notre Dame center Eric Olsen after Rudolph scored on a two-yard touchdown reception during the fourth quarter of a college football game against Purdue in West Lafayette, Ind., Saturday. Notre Dame won, 24-21.AP photo
SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Notre Dame is finding ways to win close games it lost a season ago.
Their 24-21 victory over Purdue on Saturday, highlighted by Jimmy Clausen’s 2-yard TD pass to Kyle Rudolph with 24.8 seconds left, marked the latest the Irish have scored to win a game on the road since 1997, and the 72-yard drive was the longest by the Irish when they scored the game-winner in the last 25 seconds.
“The team has changed,” coach Charlie Weis said. “Where maybe my teams in the past in the same situation might have been frazzled, this team didn’t get frazzled.”
It marked the second straight game in which the Irish won in the final minute. Against Michigan State, safety Kyle McCarthy had an interception at the 4 with 57 seconds left to seal Notre Dame’s 33-30 victory.
The week before, Michigan’s Tate Forcier threw a 5-yard touchdown pass with 11 seconds left to beat the Irish 38-34. So the Irish are 2-1 in games decided in the final minute.
Last season, the Irish had three games where they had a chance to win late and failed. Michael Floyd was tackled at the 7 against North Carolina in the final seconds and appeared to try to lateral the ball, but the Tar Heels recovered and held on for the 29-24 victory. Against Pittsburgh, the Irish led 17-3 at halftime and 24-17 with five minutes left but lost in four overtimes. The Irish blew a 13-point, fourth-quarter lead in a 24-23 loss to Syracuse.
Against the Boilermakers, the Irish kept their composure despite being without their best receiver who is out for the season with a broken collarbone, despite their best tailback sitting out with an injured ankle and despite Clausen missing much of the second half with a turf toe injury.
The Irish have more confidence than they did last year, Rudolph said. He said the Irish believed they were going to win even after the Boilermakers took the lead with 3:41 left.
“There was no doubt. Who knows if last year we would have been able to go down in the fourth quarter down four points with two minutes left. But this time when the defense came off the field everyone was telling them, ’We got you guys. We’re going to take care of it. You guys made a big play last week, it’s our turn this week.’ There was no one who doubted that we were going to do down the field and score.”
Weis credited Clausen, saying he’s so calm in the huddle that it helps other players remain confident.
“He never got flustered,” Weis said.
Clausen said he had a simple message for his teammates in the huddle. “I just said, ’Hey fellas, let’s go. This is what we work hard for. Put the ball in our hands, let’s take it down and score and win the game.”
Clausen was 6 of 9 passing for 69 yards during the decisive drive.
McCarthy said the difficult lessons learned in last year’s tough losses are helping this year.
“We’ve learned a lot,” he said. “We’ve hit some bumps in this program the last couple of years. I think this is just a testament of our guys working hard and putting those years behind us and learning from those years.”
Linebacker Darius Fleming said the last-minute wins should help the Irish down the road.