(AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — Notre Dame's DaVaris Daniels doesn't think his 82-yard touchdown catch, when he caught the ball in stride, stiff-armed Purdue cornerback Ricardo Allen and then raced to the end zone, was the best example of how he's improved.
The 6-2, 203-pound wide receiver believes his 9-yard catch from Tommy Rees 2 minutes earlier was a better display of that, when on 3rd-and-goal he ran into the end zone, cut right and leapt above cornerback Antoine Lewis for the TD catch.
"I ran the right route, I ran it pretty good, I got myself open and Tommy put it on me and ended up in a touchdown," Daniels said.
Daniels scored touchdowns on successive offensive plays to lead the 22nd-ranked Irish (2-1) to a 31-24 victory. The catches came after coach Brian Kelly and the other Irish coaches got on him for not putting in a strong effort in the first half, particularly with a dropped pass on the first play of the second quarter, going out of bounds on one play and slipping on another that almost led to an interception.
"He's one of those guys once in a while you have to light a fire under," Kelly said.
He responded in the second half with six catches for 130 yards and the two TDs, including the ninth-longest catch in school history that had teammates still smiling about several days later. Rees said he had one thought when he saw Daniels throw the stiff-arm: "Stay in bounds."
"He made a great play," Rees said.
The challenge this week for Daniels and his teammates will be to make plays against Michigan State (3-0), which is ranked No. 1 in total defense and pass efficiency defense, fourth in rushing defense and fifth in passing yards allowed.
"We've got a challenge ahead of us," Daniels said. "I think we're ready for it."
Kelly was asked earlier this season about what it was going to take for Daniels to move from being a player who occasionally showed flashes of brilliance to someone who could be a consistent difference-maker.
"Just hit him over the head with a stick every day. I mean, really, this is just a matter of him deciding he's going to do it. He's capable of doing it. He wants to do it. We have to show him how to do it," he said.
Daniels led the Irish in yards per catch last season at 15.8, but averaged fewer than three catches a game. He began showing signs of what he could do, however, by having the longest catch for Notre Dame in five of the 11 games he played. In his last full game before breaking his collarbone against Boston College, he had a season-high seven catches against Pittsburgh. Then he returned for the BCS game and caught six passes for 115 yards against Alabama.
"That's my biggest thing, just being consistent. I'm trying to work at that every day," he said.
Asked what he thinks being a consistent receiver means, Daniels said: "Just somebody that you know is going to make a play when a play needs to be made, and somebody that's going to do it over and over again. That's the type of person I want to be and I'm practicing to become."
He gives the Irish a second go-to receiver, along with TJ Jones. Kelly said it makes it much tougher for opponents to defend.
"It definitely stretches the field for us. Certainly our ability now to vertically push the ball enhances what we want to do now with both of those guys," Kelly said.
The key, though, is for Daniels to do consistently be a threat so opponents have to worry about him, Kelly said.
"He's two quarters of the way. He needs to be four quarters of the way," Kelly said. "He can obviously impact a football game. We want him to impact it four quarters."