WEST LAFAYETTE — Sometimes you just have to throw a little extra lighter fluid on the coals to get the fire going good.
Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly fanned the flames under DaVaris Daniels’ rear end and the talented wideout responded by lighting up Purdue in the second half of a 31-24 road victory Saturday night, Sept. 14.
“He’s one of those that once in a while you have to light a fire under,” Kelly said. “You don’t have to do that to Tommy Rees. But he’s such a talented young man. He showed how good of a receiver he can really be.”
And then some, perhaps.
After a tough 9-yard touchdown catch in the end zone which tied the game at 17 early in the fourth quarter, the junior burned up the Ross-Ade Stadium turf with a white-hot 82-yard catch-and-run to give the Fighting Irish the lead for good.
Three factors made the play special.
A. A picture-perfect pass from quarterback Tommy Rees, who followed up a so-so first half with a 12-for-16, 215-yard second half performance.
B. A Daniels stiff arm that would have stopped a horse created some room to maneuver.
C. A remarkable sideline ballet by Daniels in which at least three steps narrowly avoided the stripe.
It was power with a flash of artistry.
“I knew I was kind of close to the sidelines,” Daniels said. “I had a step on him. I had to make sure I kept my feet, so I kept my feet moving, create a little distance with my stiff-arm ... luckily that all worked out.”
The play embodied the kind of effort the Irish coaches not-so-politely desired in the second half.
“It was interesting. We got on him pretty good in the first half,” Kelly said. “He went out of bounds one time ... he stepped up his game big time. In the second half he played more physical.”
Even though the situation was different — third-and-goal at the 9 — Daniels made an equally impressive move earlier, again by using his strength. After missing on a first-down connection, Rees found Daniels two snaps later.
“Obviously the first touchdown was a ball he really had to take away from the defender,” Kelly said. “Then the run after the catch was just phenomenal. He’s that kind of player.”
“Tommy threw a good ball (on the first TD) and I ran a decent route, but we ran it two plays before,” Daniels said. “Luckily, Tommy flattened me out and I made a play on the ball.”
On the long TD, Daniels said he knew was walking a tightrope.
“I had a feeling,” he said. “The hairs on back of neck kinda stood up when I got close.”
Just like the hairs on the necks of Irish fans throughout most of a sluggish opening half.
As far as the halftime chewing out, Daniels shared it was “a little bit” of a talking to and that he said he knew it was coming — and warranted.
“I had to step up my game. Everybody had to step up their game,” Daniels said. “I take a lot of pride in (physical play) and that’s something that every receiver wants ... to be that guy.
“From my standpoint, that has to be all the time, it just can’t be in the second half like it was tonight. The first half, we didn’t show that.”
Daniels is smart enough to know that Notre Dame’s success or failures don’t start or end with him. What he does realize, though, is that the offense, especially after last week’s shortcomings in Ann Arbor, needed not only to make plays, it needed big plays.
The game-changer kind of play.
Short pass game, long pass game — it didn’t matter — the Irish spent most of three quarters in search of a spark.
They found one just in time.
“When you’re trying to be that guy,” Daniels said, “it’s something you’ve gotta do ... take your team on your back and try to make plays.”
Bill Beck is The Elkhart Truth sports editor. Contact him on Twitter @BillBeckTruth or email to firstname.lastname@example.org.