Sep 18, 2013, 9:04 PM EDT
Craig Chval, the official 2013 football beat writer for the Strong & True blog, is currently a junior at the University of Notre Dame. Over the course of the year Craig will bring you insight from within the student section, interviews with Fighting Irish players and previews of each game. You can follow Craig (and the rest of the Notre Dame student beat writing staff) on twitter at @JrNDBloggers.
If you had to pick a moment to define last Saturday’s victory over Purdue, it would almost certainly be a play that happened some time between 13 and 11 minutes left on the clock. In those two minutes, of course, the Irish scored two touchdowns: an 82-yard touchdown grab/stiff-arm/sprint by DaVaris Daniels, and Bennett Jackson’s interception return.
While not quite up to 2006 Michigan State levels, the comeback now became a 14-point lead for Notre Dame. But the Boilermakers’ quick strike turned that margin into a slightly-less-comfortable 7, and a fumble on the first play of the ensuing Irish possession didn’t ease matters.
However, a three-and-out forced a Purdue punt with 7:22 left in the game. They would never get the ball back. And the man to thank for that was running back Cam McDaniel.
Over those 7 minutes, the Irish worked a beautiful, 11-play, 65-yard drive before taking two knees and letting the clock run down. Ten of those plays and 42 of those yards belonged to McDaniel.
“Really just being given an opportunity to go out and finish the game is an absolute honor, and I was ready to take advantage of it,” McDaniel said. “I believe that we have a phenomenal offensive line that is ready to get the job done. And I believe that everybody could kind of smell victory at that point.
“And so for me it was just do-or-die time, knowing that I had to execute.”
Prior to that drive, the Irish running game was having a bit of trouble with that. Their 2.12 yards per rush is about what you’d expect going against the ’85 Bears.
But somehow when Purdue knew the run was coming, McDaniel thrived, going for 4.2 yards a carry and converting on two third downs. His style of running was perfect for the situation, bowling over guys and dragging them for an extra yard or two.
“I think it’s just a mindset of I’m going to make something happen every given play, and just really that I’m going to outwork my opponent on this play,” he said. “For me it goes back to the sacrifice of offseason, of before I even came to Notre Dame, and all the training and all the hard work that I put into it. And for me I’m confident that I’ve worked harder than my opponent. And so I want to prove that each play.”
Along with George Atkinson and Amir Carlisle, McDaniel makes it tough on the coaches to pick a back to give carries to. And with highly touted freshmen Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston waiting in the wings, performances like Saturday might be necessary for him to stay at the front of the stable.
“It’s a competitive atmosphere and George and Amir and I all know that,” he said. “I think we all definitely have some things we can contribute to the team, and so we’re just going to go in and execute when our numbers are called, any one of us.
“You better believe that all three of us, though, want the ball and we want to show what we’re capable of us.”
After finishing fifth on the team with 23 carries last year as a sophomore, McDaniel has already surpassed that total with 29 this year, trailing only Amir Carlisle’s 30.
“It’s an absolute blessing and I just praise God for the opportunity,” he said. “I’m just excited about this year and this team and where we’re headed. The more opportunities I get, I’m hoping to thrive and execute on those.”
At this point in the interview, I asked Cam if he’s seen Bull Durham. It’s a shame he hasn’t, because he’d make Crash Davis proud. And the way he finishes games, he could be a pretty good closer.
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