SOUTH BEND, IND. — Kyren Williams scored two long touchdowns, the second a 51-yard run with 6 minutes, 5 seconds remaining, and No. 12 Notre Dame held off Purdue 27-13 on Saturday as coach Brian Kelly tied Knute Rockne for the most victories in the history of the program.
Victory No. 105 for Kelly in his 12-year career at Notre Dame was also the 26th straight for the Irish at home.
The Fighting Irish won their eighth straight over Purdue and first since 2014.
“It takes a lot of things to be in place for that to happen,” said Kelly, whose first victory at Notre Dame was a 23-12 home victory against Purdue in 2010. “Father John (Jenkins, the university president) and (athletic director) Jack (Swarbrick) have been on this journey. Consistency, leadership and alignment — all those things have to come together to get to this point.”
Williams, who scored on a fourth-and-3 pass play of 39 yards from Jack Coan early in the second quarter to give the Irish their first lead at 7-3, finished with 86 yards on 11 carries and two receptions for 47 yards.
“I liked the way our guys prepared this week,” said Kelly, whose team had struggled in victories over Florida State (41-38 in overtime) and Toledo (32-29). “Our level of preparation rose and so did our performance. It wasn’t the best by any means. But we developed some players today. They got grittier.”
Coan, who was sacked four times and struggled with his accuracy, completed 15 of 31 passes for 223 yards and two touchdowns. He connected on a 62-yarder to Avery Davis in the third quarter that put the Irish up 17-6. Davis led the Irish in receptions with five for 120 yards. Notre Dame also had a pair of field goals from Jonathan Doerer.
“I thought we did a good job in the first half, kept them in check, got to the quarterback,” Purdue coach Jeff Brohm said after his team fell to 2-1. “The second half, they made some adjustments and we gave up some big plays.”
The Boilermakers outgained the Irish 348-343 thanks to a 291-223 edge through the air and got their only touchdown on a 2-yard pass from Jack Plummer to Milton Wright in the third quarter.
That cut the Irish lead to 17-13. Mitchell Fineran had a pair of 34-yard field goals for Purdue.
Plummer completed 25 of 36 passes for 187 yards but left the game after being sacked by Notre Dame’s Isaiah Foskey and Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa. He was replaced by Aidan O’Connell, who threw for 104 yards on 11-of-18 passing. But with 2:32 remaining, he was picked off by Kyle Hamilton in the Irish end zone, and D.J. Brown later added an interception to seal the victory.
The Boilermakers kept pace with the Irish thanks to Plummer, who entered the game hitting 73.8% of his passes and ranking 13th in the nation in pass efficiency at 183.1. His performance didn’t disappoint, but Purdue clearly needed more from its running game, which managed just 57 yards on 25 carries.
“From here on out, what I told our football team is every game’s going to be like this,” Brohm said. “We’re going to have physical matches and we’re going to have to play better to win.”
While the Irish struggled on offense, their defense, maligned for giving up four plays of 60 yards or longer in its first two victories, tightened things somewhat against the Boilermakers. For the third straight game, linebacker JD Bertrand finished with double-digit tackles with 12, two more than Hamilton, and the Irish recorded three sacks.
“We added some things this week to get better,” Kelly said. “We executed better and tackled better. There’s going to be some growing pains but this was an improvement.”
Notre Dame next faces Wisconsin on Saturday at Soldier Field.