After Notre Dame's offense sputtered to a three-point first-half effort on Saturday in West Lafayette, DaVaris Daniels was challenged to step up.
The junior wideout had just two catches for 37 yards and dropped a pass in the first 30 minutes, which saw Notre Dame fall behind 10-3. At halftime, Notre Dame coaches lit a fire under Daniels, who responded with six catches for 130 yards and two touchdowns in the second half.
"I had to step my game up, everybody had to step their game up," Daniels said. "Especially when you're trying to be that guy, that's something you gotta do -- you gotta take the team on your back, I guess sometimes."
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The message was straightforward: Irish coaches knew they'd need to find an offensive playmaker in the second half, and told Daniels he'd have to be that guy. He caught a game-tying touchdown early in the fourth quarter, and then briskly stiff-armed Purdue cornerback Ricardo Allen on an 82-yard go-ahead score.
Through three games, Daniels has 17 catches for 299 yards and four touchdowns, numbers muted by a mild groin injury sustained in the second quarter of Notre Dame's season opener against Temple. Going back and cherry-picking his BCS Championship stat line, Daniels has 23 catches for 414 yards in his last four games.
While a number of concerns remain surrounding the Irish, one preseason question appears to have been answered: Daniels, along with T.J. Jones and Troy Niklas, has emerged as a go-to pass-catcher for Tommy Rees.
Even if he needs a fire lit under him from time to time.
"Once in a while, DD is a guy you can get after a little bit and he responds," coach Brian Kelly said. "All we were saying to DD was that he is going to have to make some big plays for us. It wasn't that he was sleepy‑eyed, wasn't into the game. He's just one of those guys that you can go up to and coach him, say, 'hey, we need you to step up, it's time.'
"We told him, 'hey, the ball is going to come to you, you're going to have to make some big plays.' He responded in kind."