SOUTH BEND, Ind. - Brian Kelly looked around at a packed stadium and saw — fittingly enough — a sea of kelly green shirts.
On a day of firsts for Notre Dame's new head coach, highlighted by a 23-12 win over Purdue, the colorful and enthusiastic crowd stood out. They were actually rooting for his team.
"Maybe this is just my background, but anytime I've gone into a stadium with 81,000, I've always played up to that opponent. Now, it was 81,000, and it was our people," Kelly said. "The crowd was into it and it was a great advantage."
If the atmosphere was neat and the victory satisfying, the momento Kelly got after the game from athletic director Jack Swarbrick — the man who picked him for the job — was one for the trophy case.
Kelly got the game ball.
"That will be something that is very memorable," said Kelly, who transformed programs at Grand Valley State, Central Michigan and Cincinnati into steady winners and now has his dream job. "Hopefully there are many more of those to come."
The Irish also played solid defense that was lacking last season. They had four sacks and two interceptions against Purdue's Robert Marve.
"I took on the challenge at Notre Dame because I want to see this program back to where I believe it should be, and that's amongst the elite in college football," Kelly said.
"We've got some work to do. We are not there yet, believe me. Trust me. But we took a step today and we're going to keep pounding at it and working at it."
Quarterback Dayne Crist passed for 205 yards and a touchdown in first start, while running back Armando Allen had a 22-yard TD run in the first quarter and set up another with a punt return.
Of course, most Notre Dame coaches win their first game. Kelly's victory gives Notre Dame coaches a 26-3 record in their debuts, dating back to 1896. The only three to lose in their first games coaching the Irish were Frank E. Hering in 1896 (4-0 loss to Chicago Physicians and Surgeons), Elmer Layden in 1934 (a 7-6 setback to Texas) and Lou Holtz in 1986 (a 24-23 defeat at the hands of Michigan).
Notre Dame led 20-3 after three quarters before Purdue rallied behind the Miami, Fla., transfer Marve, who got the Boilermakers back in the game with a 23-yard TD run early in the final period but was penalized for celebrating.
David Ruffer kicked three field goals for the Irish, including a 37-yarder with 4:30 left to restore the lead to 11.
Marve's 23-yard TD run on a fourth-and-1 with 11:55 left got the Boilermakers back in the game at 20-12. But he dived into the end zone after he crossed the goal line, resulting in an unsportsmanlike penalty for celebrating and hurting Purdue's field position the rest of the game.
"I think I got a little bit too excited," Marve said.
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