Nittany Lions Dominate In Happy Valley
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. - Beaver Stadium was being referred to as the "White House" and if we continue with that theme then on Saturday night Penn State linebacker Dan Connor was the Commander in Chief.
Connor anchored a stingy Penn State defense that led the Nittany Lions to an impressive 31-10 victory over Notre Dame in front of 110,078 fans, the vast majority of which were wearing white.
The attendance is the second-highest attendance ever at Beaver Stadium and the atmosphere in the stadium was pandemonium throughout. With the win, 14th-ranked Penn State improves to 2-0 while Notre Dame falls to 0-2.
In two games this year, Penn State has yet to give up an offensive touchdown. Notre Dame, which has yet to score an offensive touchdown in two games as well, scored its only touchdown on a 73-yard interception return by cornerback Darrin Walls in the first quarter.
"We are more than satisfied," Connor said of not giving up an offensive touchdown. "That's our goal. You are surprised when you can achieve something like that but that's what we're working hard for. The defensive coaches have done an incredible job."
Connor led the game with 12 tackles including two and half tackles for a loss.
"Dan is always all over the field," said Penn State Defensive Coordinator Tom Bradley. "He is a big football player. He is smart. He is tough. He's everything you want as a linebacker."
Penn State held Notre Dame to only 144 yards of total offense and zero net yards on the ground. Freshman quarterback Jimmy Clausen was making his first career start in the hostile confines of Beaver Stadium and struggled under the tough circumstances. Clausen, who rarely tested the Penn State secondary vertically, went 17-for-32 for 144 yards and an interception.
Penn State's defense, which recorded six sacks, was smothering and the Nittany Lions forced the Irish to punt ten times. Aside from the first drive of the game where Notre Dame missed a field goal, the Irish never got going and were hampered by penalties all day.
"Anytime you are not playing a very efficient offense yourself and any time you have a number of penalties in there, it just doesn't bode well for any sort of momentum," said Notre Dame Head Coach Charlie Weis. "If you go from the middle of the first quarter right to the third quarter for that matter, it was just a sputtering after a sputtering."
Penn State was sluggish early in the game on offense and received a boost from Derrick Williams' 78-yard punt return for a touchdown to tie the score at seven with 52 seconds left in the first quarter.
After that, the Nittany Lions never looked back.
Penn State closed out the first half with a 10-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Anthony Morelli to Jordan Norwood. Morelli was solid throughout and was 12-for-22 for 131 yards with a touchdown and an interception. His day was highlighted by a picture-perfect throw to Chris Bell in the third quarter. The 51-yard pass play set up an Austin Scott touchdown.
"Chris Bell is a playmaker. He made a big-time play," Morelli said. "I was happy with the offense today. We were balanced. We didn't come out on fire but we finished on top and that's all that matters."
In addition to the defense, special teams was a big factor for Penn State and speedy kick returner A.J. Wallace started the second half with a 68-yard kick return that set up a field goal. That return set the tone for the second half and the Nittany Lions dominated the second half, especially on defense where they surrendered only 66 total yards.
"They get the job done," Morelli said of the defense. "They are really well coached and they play together as a team."
The Nittany Lions held the Irish to only three points in the second half and that field goal was set up by a 47-yard punt return by Tom Zbikowski who gave the Irish the ball on Penn State's 7 yard line. With this type of defensive performance, Penn State validated the fact that it thinks it can stop anybody.
"That's or goal," said linebacker Sean Lee of being able to stop any offense. "That's how we feel. We have to have that confidence. We want teams to fear us. We want to make plays. We want to cause turnovers. We want to be a fast, athletic defense and I think we are proving that we are."
Penn State added two touchdowns by Austin Scott, who rushed for 118 yards, in the second half to put Notre Dame away.
But when it all came down to it, it was all about the defense.
PLAYER OF THE GAME: Dan Connor
They don't call it Linebacker U for no reason and Connor is playing up to any and all expectations. Connor is a specimen and was all over the field today and reeked havoc on Clausen and the rest of the Notre Dame offense. He is the quarterback of the defense and is valuable to everything that Penn State does on the defensive side.
PLAY OF THE GAME: Derrick Williams' punt return touchdown. Penn State seemed sluggish until the super-athletic receiver/punt returner broke this touchdown. The return electrified a rambunctious crowd and got the players and the fans going. After that return, Penn State never looked back and was in firm control of the game.
WHAT'S NEXT: Penn State plays Buffalo next week and they are expected to cruise to a victory at Beaver Stadium. Penn State is very much in the race for the Big Ten Championship however and its match up with Michigan the following week at the Big House is certainly a big game for the Nittany Lions. Sure, Michigan has stumbled to an 0-2 start out of the gate but as always, tension will be high among these Big Ten rivals. Notre Dame actually faces Michigan next week and it is a match up of two teams that are gravely disappointed with their seasons thus far. It is a must win for both teams and the loser of that game has a very bleak outlook for the rest of the year.