SOUTH BEND – There wasn’t any worry in Notre Dame’s offensive huddle on the final drive against Toledo.
Down five with less than a minute-and-a-half remaining in the game, Notre Dame quarterback Jack Coan orchestrated a three-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that would end up being the difference on Saturday.
“Basically, I just had to do my job,” said Coan of the game-winning drive. “You see Tom Brady and quarterbacks like that when they lead all these game-winning drives. They just sort of come out and do their job. They don’t try to overreach on anything, they just make good decisions up and down the field, and that’s what I was trying to do.”
The 18-yard touchdown pass to tight end Michael Mayer across the middle looked like a normal football play. But the sequence of events becomes even more impressive when you consider what Coan had gone through just a play prior.
After hitting his hand on a Toledo player rushing up the middle, Coan came away clutching his hand. The graduate senior dislocated a finger on his throwing hand and had to quickly sprint to the sideline to get it put back into place. In a matter of seconds, his finger was fixed and he was back in the huddle.
“It’s actually pretty much back to normal at this point,” said Coan of the injury. “I thought it was going to be a lot worse. … I wasn’t really thinking about it during the play after. There was so much going through my mind. I was so focused on being locked in on my job, I didn’t think of it at all.”
Coan didn’t have the perfect day, struggling against oncoming pressure for most of the game and throwing an interception that was returned for a touchdown in the first half. But he did what he was brought to Notre Dame to do: come through in the clutch late.
Unlike in the first game where he played every snap, freshman quarterback Tyler Buchner took some of those away with his explosive play-making ability against the Rockets. Buchner proved he can be an asset moving forward, and Coan has embraced that wholeheartedly.
“He really helped us move the ball,” Coan said. “He did an unbelievable job running the ball and even the few passes he had were good. He definitely helped us win. … It was honestly my first time as a quarterback coming in and out like that. It really wasn’t that difficult. I felt like I just came in and picked up where I left off. To do my job and to make the right decisions.”
O-LINE FACING STIFF TEST
So far, the performance from Notre Dame’s offensive line hasn’t lived up to the standards head coach Brian Kelly or any of the players expect through two games.
Of course, growing pains were likely expected with four new starters. Injuries haven’t helped either after left tackle Blake Fisher went down and backup Michael Cormady suffered an ankle injury on Saturday that has him questionable to play against Purdue.
“We’re still obviously a work in progress,” Notre Dame offensive lineman Jarrett Patterson said. “Biggest thing right now is communication. Jack (Coan) and the coaches do a good job of putting us in a good position out there. … We’ve been improving. Especially (Tuesday). We got a lot better. … We know we have to get better. Our goal is getting back to the playoffs, and we know that it starts up front.”
They’ll have to improve a lot with a very strong Purdue defensive line – led by George Karlaftis – coming into Notre Dame Stadium this weekend. At 6’4”, 275 pounds, Karlaftis has the range and athletic ability to disrupt the rhythm of most any offense. Through two games, he has eight tackles, a forced fumble, three quarterback hurries and two pass breakups.
“Obviously their defensive end, George Karlaftis,” said Patterson when asked what jumps out about Purdue’s defense. “He’s a really good football player. He can rush the passer and get off blocks in the run game. Overall, they’re a really good defense. They play really hard. They’ll blitz and bring all kinds of pressure, so we’ll have to be ready for them to throw everything at us.”
If Cormady isn’t available, sophomore Tosh Baker – who saw some time against Toledo – will be thrust into the starting left tackle spot as the team’s third-string guy. Against a solid defensive line, that can be worrisome, but Patterson feels confident in the line’s ability to hold its own against the Boilermakers.
“Here in the past, we’ve had injuries,” Patterson said. “We’ve been able to keep things running smoothly. Every year I’ve been here, somebody’s gone down and somebody’s had to step up. That’s the reality of how football works. But we’re confident in the guys that we have out there.”