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LEROY ON THE LOOSE
Dan Jenkins
October 07, 1968
With the Golden Dome and Pat O'Brien and those screaming thousands at South Bend it looked like a setup for Notre Dame, but coldly professional Purdue and its red-hot halfback turned the Irish rooters green
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October 07, 1968

Leroy On The Loose

With the Golden Dome and Pat O'Brien and those screaming thousands at South Bend it looked like a setup for Notre Dame, but coldly professional Purdue and its red-hot halfback turned the Irish rooters green

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Maybe the Vatican ought to consider banning Purdue instead of the Pill. Maybe Purdue is the hugest, fleetest, calmest, most skilled football team that ever tromped through the Indiana sycamores. Maybe Leroy Keyes is the greatest quadruple threat since Mt. Rushmore. And maybe Notre Dame would be better off trying to win one for Ara Parseghian instead of the Gipper. These and various other sinister thoughts are to be weighed now that the Boilermakers have put it on the Fighting Irish twice in a row in a great big Poll Bowl that brings out the Rockne in everybody.

Last week the whole scene was set up perfectly for Notre Dame. The Irish were at home, all nestled comfortably in that cavern of devotion known as the Notre Dame Stadium, and they had a running game that they lacked last year to go along with Terry Hanratty and Jim Seymour, the Mr. Fling and Mr. Cling of more glorious days, and the weather was perfect, clear and sport-jackety comfortable, and Pat O'Brien had spoken at the Friday night pep rally and done his Gipper thing, and Notre Dame wanted these Purdue people badly because of last year's loss. There were even large signs and banners strewn around the campus commanding Parseghian's legions to do some very un-Catholic things to Purdue—and the Golden Girl, too.

But there was just one thing wrong with all of this. Purdue goes to South Bend like it goes to the drugstore. If it were any other group of players, terror would have enveloped them, as it did Oklahoma on the previous week, and the Irish would have run them all the way to Elkhart. That is what happens at South Bend. An unknowing visiting quarterback looks for a receiver, and he sees Rockne in the clouds. A runner darts around end and the Four Horsemen slap at his shoe tops, tripping him. A pass receiver reaches up to latch onto a down-and-out, and suddenly the ball coming toward him is Frank Leahy's grinning face with a halo over it. But none of this happens to a Boilermaker.

He comes from two hours down the road, and he is a tall, thick, brooding, nonchalant fellow who has heard the Notre Dame fight song so much he thinks it's a deodorant commercial. He has been to South Bend, that service-station stop off the Indiana toll road. He knows he has got a lot of help out there with him, unbothered, unmoved guys like himself: a ferocious, fearsome foursome on defense to make Terry Hanratty throw a wobbler off his front foot; a cool quarterback named Mike Phipps who can take a football and knock a face guard off a man's headgear at 40 yards; and, best of all, Leroy Keyes, who will run, throw, catch, defend and smile at you as he does it all.

In the presence of 59,075 last Saturday, and millions of others on an ABC-TV regional telecast that was practically national (it was wired into 56% of the country), the Boilermakers looked almost bored before the kickoff. Here were the Irish leaping around pounding each other while that song bent the heavens, but over there stood the Purdues, hands on hips across the field, and some of them playing catch. These Boilermakers, they come to South Bend and they make the Poll Bowl, for goodness sake, look like an opening game against Virginia.

In the space of a 3 l/2-minute portion of the second quarter last Saturday, before Notre Dame even had time to wake up the echoes, the Boilermakers scored 20 points and put the game out of reach of Parseghian, Hanratty, Seymour, Pat O'Brien or anybody else. A lot of freaky stuff took place thereafter, but Purdue moved to a 23-7 lead in that span, as Keyes ran, passed, caught, etc., and you knew that if the Boilermakers could avoid going to sleep from their nonchalance, it was really all over.

By then several things had been established. Mike Phipps could throw a pass to his splendid end, Bob Dillingham, just any time he wanted to, because Notre Dame was double-covering Keyes physically and giving him 11-man coverage psychologically. Dillingham, who had been beaten out of his job the week before, ended up catching 11 passes for 147 yards and two touchdowns. Keyes, despite all the defensive attention lavished upon him, could run wide almost at will, which he did twice for touch-downs and a few more times, too, getting 90 yards in all. And Leroy could catch a big third-down pass from Phipps if needed, even with a couple of the Fighting Irish grasping at his arms before, during and after the ball's arrival, or meander out to his left and loft a neat up-and-over pass to Dillingham for one of those touchdowns.

"There was never any question whether we could move the ball. We knew that," said the baby-faced Phipps, who beat the Irish last year as a sophomore. 'Their secondary was young. We knew we'd beat 'em. All we wondered was whether our defense could hold 'em."

The defense not only held Notre Dame when necessary, it made the big plays—an interception and a fumble recovery—which set in motion the 20-point barrage that ultimately led to the slightly misleading final score of 37-22. The Purdue defense had moments of letting down and allowing the Irish runners to burst into an open secondary and look niftier and speedier than they are. But the defense would recover in time to catch them after five or six yards, because the thick-legged Notre Dame backs lack the balance and moves to scurry away. Hit hard, they do. But run far, they don't. And then the Boilermakers, as if brought to life by the realization that Notre Dame was getting close, would apply the pressure to Hanratty and force him to throw the bad ball on a key down. Six times they reared up to stop Notre Dame inside their own 30-yard line when it meant something. A couple of times this defense, which is directed by a very agile middle guard named Chuck Kyle, came close to turning Hanratty passes into Purdue touchdowns. "If Hanratty has a chance to set up and throw off his right foot he's accurate," Kyle said after the game. "But if you press him he throws a wobbly ball." And then on occasion, even when' Hanratty threw well, Leroy Keyes was in the game on defense, and that was bad for Notre Dame. Keyes covered Jim Seymour quite tightly when Hanratty was restricted to only three or four seconds to release a pass. Leroy squirted in front of Seymour once and had a Hanratty pass in his hands with 85 yards of bright sunshine before him, but he jiggled it and dropped it. Had he managed that interception, it would have made the score 30-7 with the game not half over.

This was one of several opportunities Purdue missed to raise the score far higher than merely the most points ever run up on a Notre Dame team that was rated No. 1. It is true the Irish had some opportunities themselves. They would have had to in a game that produced more than 900 yards of total offense and 55 first downs. But Purdue had the most. The Boilermakers once moved 72 yards to the Irish eight and did not score, and they also were foiled at the Notre Dame 17-and 19-yard lines.

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