Orton-Stubblefield connection lifts Purdue
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Purdue offensive coordinator Jim Chaney doesn't care to coach football as an 11-on-11 sport. He wants the game boiled down to his guy against the other guy. And why not? Chaney's guys are quarterback Kyle Orton and wide receiver Taylor Stubblefield.
No. 15 Purdue blew out Notre Dame 41-16 Saturday, winning on the Notre Dame campus for the first time since 1974, so long ago that Purdue coach Joe Tiller may have had hair. The game, played in spectacular fall sunshine before 80,795 fans, was seen as a test of legitimacy for each team. The Boilermakers passed the test, thanks to their offense, while the Irish fell to 3-2.
Purdue led Notre Dame 20-3 early in the third quarter, and the Boilermakers were pinned at their own 3-yard-line, third-and-10, with the Notre Dame student section bellowing in their earholes. Chaney expected Notre Dame to play a soft zone against Purdue's five-wideout set. Instead, the Irish came out in press man coverage and prepared to blitz.
Chaney saw Orton give the hand signals to Stubblefield to call "73" -- go deep. Running back Jerod Void, lined up wide, came in to help protect. Lined up right across from Stubblefield was Dwight Ellick, the Irish's best corner.
"I'm thinking there is a big-play possibility," Chaney said. "Kyle brought the back in. It's them vs. us. It simplifies the game down to the essence: Kyle's arm, Taylor's ability to catch. I don't give a damn what the other nine people do."
Twice in the first half, Orton had tried to hook up with Stubblefield on the same route. "The balls were slightly underthrown, and overthrown," Stubblefield said. "Orton came back and told me, 'I will not miss you the next time.'"
Stubblefield said that before the game, one of his coaches showed him a newspaper story in which the Notre Dame defensive backs said, in Stubblefield's words, "They were going to press coverage so tight I wouldn't be able to breathe."
At the snap, Stubblefield put enough of a move on Ellick to get a step past him. "A little 'T-Stub Special,'" said the senior, who's generously listed at 6-foot-1, 182 pounds. "You have to win off the line. That's what it comes down to."
Orton put enough air under the ball. Ellick, beaten once, compounded his mistake by leaving his feet. Stubblefield caught the ball and Ellick fell to the ground. By midfield, Stubblefield began pumping his left arm in the air. The 97-yard touchdown gave Purdue a 27-3 lead with 11:51 left in the third quarter.
When they got to the bench, Stubblefield pointed at Orton and struck a Heisman pose. We'll see that kind of showmanship from Orton about the time that he dances the female lead in the West Lafayette Ballet's version of "Swan Lake." But anyone who watched Orton play Saturday couldn't argue with Stubblefield's thinking.
"Until a team wants to sit back and play zone, we are going to have some big days," said Orton, who finished 21-of-31 for 385 yards and four touchdowns, three of them in the Boilermakers' 21-point third quarter.
|“||He was unstoppable. He is a great quarterback. A lot of people say he is the leading candidate for the Heisman Trophy. He's got my vote. ”|
|— Notre Dame DT Justin Tuck on Kyle Orton|
For the season, Orton has thrown 17 touchdowns and 137 passes without an interception. In fact, the Boilermakers have yet to commit a turnover, which, in this offense, is as rare as, oh, beating the Irish by 25 points, which Purdue hasn't done since 1960.
Judging by the statistics, the Purdue offense and the Notre Dame offense didn't differ that much. The Boilermakers gained 512 yards of total offense; the Irish, 536. But a closer inspection revealed the little things that made a big difference.
For instance, the Purdue offense didn't commit a penalty until the fourth quarter, when Tiller had begun to empty the bench. If you want to be technical, Stubblefield committed one, the Big Ten crew flagging him for unsportsmanlike conduct for the five arm pumps as he trucked downfield on the 97-yard score.
Notre Dame didn't play error-free ball. Far from it. For instance, the Irish committed four false starts on first downs, two of them after long plays deep into Purdue territory. They killed the momentum they gained by driving down for a tying field goal on their opening drive by allowing Jerome Brooks to return the ensuing kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown.
Freshman tailback Darius Walker, whose arrival against Michigan jump-started an offense that had been on blocks in the driveway for two years, rushed 19 times for 60 yards, most of it long after the game had been decided. Worse, Walker fumbled at Boilermaker 3 late in the second quarter.
The Irish, instead of scoring and pulling within 13-10, gave up that 11-play, 97-yard scoring drive and trailed at the half, 20-3. How good is this Purdue offense? The drive ended when defensive end Rob Ninkovich caught a two-yard touchdown pass from Orton. Ninkovich had two sacks in his real job, but he also plays tight end in the Boilermakers' goal-line offense.
"You think you're going to dink it around, run the ball and get out of here with a win," Chaney said. That is, until Chaney gets it down to his guy against their guy. Every week, his guy proves he is one of the best quarterbacks in the nation.
"He was unstoppable," said Notre Dame defensive end Justin Tuck, who shared one of the Irish's two sacks. "He is a great quarterback. A lot of people say he is the leading candidate for the Heisman Trophy. He's got my vote."
Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.