"We've been there," a grouchy sounding Paterno said. "I've been there. We're playing a real good football team. They're playing at home and have a lot of tradition and pride. We have to go out and play."
The matchup on Saturday afternoon pits two of the best programs in college football. The Irish received an all-time record of almost 67,000 requests for tickets for the contest. Kickoff is scheduled for 3:42 p.m. The storylines are plentiful and each fan base would love to stick it to the other side. But according to Paterno, the hype for the game is all a creation of the media.
"I got no idea about hype," Paterno said. "That's you guys. You rank hype. We have a good, tough football game to play and we got to get ready for it. This is a good team. Notre Dame is a fine football team, one of the best teams in the country. But what's hype? Hype is hype."
Both teams resurfaced on the national stage last season. Notre Dame went 9-3 and earned a trip to the Fiesta Bowl. Penn State was one play away from a perfect season as they compiled a 11-1 record, including a Big 10 championship and a BCS win over Florida State in the Orange. The revival of each program puts Saturday's match-up back on must-watch status for college football fans. Paterno has seen the Irish return to national prominence. Most credit head coach Charlie Weis's offensive system and no-nonsense attitude. Paterno thinks the players also deserve a lot of credit.
"I look at (Brady) Quinn and that wideout whose name I can't pronounce, I'm sure he's not Italian," Paterno joked. "Obviously, Coach Weis has had some input on reads and different things. But Quinn, when you're looking at a football team, you look at the players who are playing. Brady Quinn is obviously one of the better quarterbacks in the country. With (Rhema) McKnight back and that good young back they have, they're such a balanced football team.
"And against Georgia Tech, they played better defense than they did against Ohio State. They played faster and reacted to the ball quicker. All those things, you have to give some credit to Coach Weis. But if you say there's an imprint on the team because of him, I don't know. You probably have to ask the kids at Notre Dame that."
One of those Notre Dame kids has definitely caught the attention of the Nittany Lion head coach.
"He's a complete quarterback," Paterno said of Brady Quinn. "He's tough, smart, has a heck of an arm and he knows what he's doing. Somebody asked me earlier whether or not Coach Weis has something to do with that. Yeah, I think he has. But overall, Brady Quinn is a good quarterback and a big-time player."
Paterno was also watching this past Saturday night's game vs. Georgia Tech. Notre Dame avoided the upset by winning 14-10 over the Yellow Jackets with help from a great defensive performance and 99 rushing yards and a touchdown by Darius Walker. Paterno was more impressed by the crispness and ball security each team showed in their season openers.
"I thought that was an interesting game in the sense of field position," Paterno said. "There wasn't a turnover in the game. I think Notre Dame hurt themselves with some bad penalties, which hurt themselves from scoring. I think Notre Dame's punter did a superb job. That punt returner, No. 9, is really good. I think it was a game that was played extremely well, outside of a few Notre Dame penalties. From a coaching standpoint, to see both teams play so precisely in the first game is a credit to the coaching staffs."
As for Penn State, they've had to replace four starters along the offensive line. Only senior left tackle Levi Brown and his 35 starts return to a group that paved the way for 212 rushing yards per game in 2005, good for 14th in the nation. But the new inexperienced group struggled against an Akron defense the surrendered 159 YPG last season. The Nittany Lions managed only 76 yards on 27 carries last weekend for an average of 2.8 per rush. Paterno was displeased with the group after the contest, saying ‘they got their ears kicked in' by the Zips defense.
"I thought they were a good football team, extremely well coached and that our young offensive linemen would have problems," Paterno said. "I'm a little disappointed that they got a little bit flustered and started to be tentative coming off the football. I think we can have a pretty good offensive line. I just don't think we were ready for some of the things last week. Obviously, we're going to have a tough time this week. We're playing on the road with the crowd noise. We have to pay attention to the snap counts. We can't get panicky when things don't go right."
Paterno did reveal one good piece of news for Penn State fans. Defensive lineman Jim Shaw injured his ankle in the win over Akron. Paterno said on Tuesday that he should be okay by game time on Saturday.
An area where the Nittany Lions might try to create big plays is at the wide receiver position. Three sophomores occupy the top spots. Derrick Williams (6-0. 201 lbs.), Deon Butler (5-10, 168 lbs.) and Jordan Norwood (5-10, 168) are three explosive playmakers for new Penn State quarterback Anthony Morelli to target in on. Penn State might find other ways other than the passing game to get these three the ball. They all scored touchdowns in the win over Akron.
"I think Derrick Williams has made a big difference," Paterno said. "Not only by what he's done on the field but also the way he practices and his leadership. Butler was a walk-on. He's a very underrated player on this football team. Norwood was not a highly recruited player. I like Norwood. I saw him play basketball and told myself, ‘Here's an athlete.' He sees things and has great hands. We ended up with three or four kids who could play."