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"The thing is," says Quehl, "we're not an emotional team ordinarily. Somebody wrote that I said practices were different now because there's not as much screaming. This is still Ara's team. It's just that we're not emotional that way. I mean, I do all that clapping, too, because the coaches expect you to and you don't want to look like you're not interested. But we are. You should have heard us on the field Monday night. It was like a bowl game."
"I think the second half made us a team and we'll get better," says Slager. "Our defense is fantastic. Guys like Steve Niehaus and Ross Browner and Randy Harrison and Luther Bradley and Jim Stock—and that darn Doug Becker sticks anything that moves."
"Niehaus isn't a heavy breather," says Quehl. "He's just a great athlete. So quick and strong. You oughta have to block him. If the defense can hold 'em off a little longer, we'll be better than last year."
On Saturday at Ross-Ade Stadium in Lafayette, the scene of many famous Notre Dame crash landings in the past ( Purdue's pride is that it has beaten the Irish more than any other team has), a record crowd—69,795—was on hand for the second straight game hoping, like the 61,501 in Foxboro, Mass., that Notre Dame was ripe. Everybody wants in on it when Notre Dame is the kill and, with only four days' rest, you had to think it possible. "I called Al Onofrio, the Missouri coach, after our Boston game," said Devine. "He'd played Alabama the previous Monday, and I wanted to find out if he thought he could be up for Purdue. He said, 'No way.' That wasn't very encouraging."
In the first half, the Irish offense performed in ragtime, committing enough boners to lose two games. Key Slager passes were dropped flagrantly, one by a receiver wide open in the end zone. On a missed signal, the whole Notre Dame team stood in place as Slager staggered backward under a cataract of black shirts for a nine-yard loss. Thank Ara, the defense was still awake. All-America Tackle Niehaus and a true heavy-breather, Ross Browner, whose brother Jim, a freshman, is the team's leading rusher, led a charge so suffocating that Purdue Coach Alex Agase went to his second quarterback before the first half was over.
And just when it appeared Purdue was on the verge of another surprise knockout, one more Irish defensive star took his cue. Leading not by the two touchdowns it should have, but by only 3-0, Notre Dame suddenly wavered under a frantic Purdue passing drive that carried the Boilermakers to a first down on the Irish four with 11 minutes to play. Niehaus and his bullies rose up there, so on third down Halfback Scott Dierking took a pitchout from Quarterback Craig Nagel, headed right, stopped, turned and passed back across field—or transcontinentally—to where Quarterback Nagel was speeding unnoticed toward the far side of the end zone. Well, sort of unnoticed. At the goal, Cornerback Bradley, who had picked up the play and adjusted, stepped in front of Nagel like a man cutting in for a dance, plucked the ball away and fled 99 unmolested yards to a touchdown. Bradley's second interception at the Purdue 23 moments later set up another Irish touchdown, this one by Al Hunter, who had also scored one against B.C. Devine played second teamers after that. He is a humanist who hates to run up the score on anybody.
It remains to be seen if he will have a hard time holding scores down. The Irish show signs of getting good enough offensively to score on everybody they play, which will assure victory in most cases, since the defense will flatten the ball on most teams. By the time the corn is all brown, and the usual slug-colored Indiana sky has set in for the winter, Notre Dame will be ready for the late-October invasion of USC. That is when Dan Devine will find out how good a team he really has.