SOUTH BEND – Notre Dame's defense had something to prove.
The much-maligned new defense under first-year coordinator Marcus Freeman, which had given up four plays of 60-plus yards in the first two games of the season, turned in its best performance to date and the Irish got enough offense to run away from in-state rival Purdue late and give coach Brian Kelly a chance to make history.
The No. 12 Irish won 27-13 on Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium in front of an announced crowd of 74,341. It was the latest iteration of a rivalry that was first played in 1896 but had been on hiatus since 2014. The Irish (3-0) have won eight straight in the series.
Kelly earned his 105th career victory, tying him with Knute Rockne for the most in program history, a record that had stood for 91 years.
The Notre Dame defense made it possible, holding the Boilermakers (2-1) without a point for the final 22 minutes of the game.
“There were a bunch of question marks around our defense this week and it was a little annoying,” said All-American safety Kyle Hamilton, who had 10 tackles, an interception and two pass-breakups. “We were 2-0, we were sitting in a good spot, so we just had to come out and let everybody know what we're about.”
Notre Dame gave up two plays of more than 30 yards, but otherwise held Purdue to just 3.7 yards per play and 1.0 on the ground.
The Boilermakers, who have not started 3-0 since 2007, hung in until late in the fourth quarter. Notre Dame running back Kyren Williams finally put the game away when he broke three tackles on the way to a 51-yard touchdown with 6:05 left to complete the scoring.
“He's insane,” Irish wide receiver Avery Davis said of Williams. “His ability to maneuver through tight spaces to make people miss, the strength to stay up. ... (His touchdown run) was incredible, I was just watching him for a second and forgot I had to block for him because he's so entertaining.”
Hamilton sealed the win when he intercepted Aidan O'Connell in the end zone, grabbing the ball off the hands of tight end Payne Durham for the safety's third pick of the season.
Williams gave his team the lead for good early in the second quarter when he caught a short slant on fourth-and-3 and took it 39 yards for a touchdown after Purdue had gone ahead 3-0.
Boilermakers coach Jeff Brohm lamented some missed opportunities to expand his team's lead early in the game, but called the game a learning experience.
“I like the fight of our football team,” Brohm said. “They worked hard all week in practice, they played hard. ... We have to understand that every week we've got an opportunity to win and an opportunity to lose. ... I knew coming into this game, all three components (offense, defense and special teams) had to win and that didn't happen.”
Notre Dame led 10-3 at halftime and after Purdue opened the second half with a field goal, quarterback Jack Coan found Davis on a deep post for a 62-yard touchdown to make it 17-6 with 9:59 left in the third.
Davis caught all five passes thrown his way for 120 yards, his first career 100-yard game.
There was a scary moment when Hamilton laid a big hit on Purdue star receiver David Bell coming over the middle. It was a clean, legal hit, but Bell stayed down on the turf for several minutes before being carted off.
Purdue said Bell was up, walking and communicating with his teammates after the game.
Snider graduate Lawrence Johnson, starting at nose tackle for Purdue, had three tackles, including his first career sack. He brought Coan down early in the second quarter for a seven-yard loss.