Tricky Things To Come

Rick Minter remembers the reverse Penn State ran against his Notre Dame defense back in 1992. The play call went for 15 yards and a first down, much to the displeasure of Irish head coach Lou Holtz. "I'm saying yay, and Lou's saying what the heck are you talking about. I just said we just took their trick play and gave up 10 yards. That's better than a touchdown."

Not much has changed with the Penn State offense since Minter's first stint as an Irish assistant. The Nittany Lions like to run trick plays to keep the defense on its' heals and play cautious. With guys like speedy sophomore receiver Derrick Williams, offensive coordinator Galen Hall is liable to call a gadget play at any time during Saturday's game at Notre Dame Stadium.

"Galen is one of those coaches that's got great experience and knowledge of the game, and knows how to slow down a defense," Minter said. "I think we pride ourselves on running around on defense, so we'd like to think there'll be misdirection in there somewhere.

"We just trust our techniques, our keys and fundamentals. This early in the season you are still going to see some things that you haven't seen or haven't truly prepared for in a sense of did they do it last week no, do we see it this week yes."

"They got great speed everywhere and they can do a lot of things with a lot of receivers based upon speed," middle linebacker Maurice Crum said. "I think we just have to be sound, pay attention and be alert."

The Notre Dame defense has more to worry about then trick plays concerning the 19th-ranked Nittany Lions. There is a lot of speed and athletic ability at receiver, tailback Tony Hunt rushed for 1,047 yards last season and sophomore quarterback Anthony Morelli made some big throws in his first career start last Saturday, a 34-16 victory over Akron.

The 6-foot-4, 220-pound Morelli is a prototypical drop-back passer with a good arm. He completed 16-of-32 passes last week for three touchdowns and zero interceptions in very wet conditions. On Morelli's first pass, he threw a beautiful 42-yard scoring strike to Deon Butler.

"He's good," safety and defensive captain Tom Zbikowski stated. "He was very poised for his first start. We'll see what happens when he comes into a little more hostile environment. He has a strong arm. From what I saw, he looked pretty accurate. We'll look more into film and see if we can get any tendencies from him."

Unlike Georgia Tech dual-threat quarterback Reggie Ball, who the 4th-ranked Irish did a nice job of containing in a 14-10 road victory, Morelli isn't a threat to take off and run. With that being the case, the Notre Dame down seven won't have to play as much containment and can blitz the quarterback more.

The Nittany Lions offensive line with four new starters and All-American candidate Levi Brown (left tackle) didn't allow a sack last week. The Irish had just one against the elusive Ball.

"We've seen them on film and they look pretty good, and they have an All-American offensive lineman, so they are definitely a solid unit," senior defensive end Victor Abiamiri said. "They do have four new starters across the line and we have a bunch of returners coming back, so experience wise that gives us a little bit of an advantage."

One of the things the Irish really worked on during the spring and fall was improving a pass rush that only produced 32 sacks a season ago. The veteran d-line will get a good chance to show what they've learned against a more traditional passer.

"With experience, knowledge and talent if you will comes expectations," Minter stated. "We expect those guys to play well. They're a veteran group now, they're one of the strengths of our defense, so they need to set the tone, they need to be physical, they need to dominate the line, they need to hold fort, they need to apply pressure. That's just what we expect them to do. It just needs to become the norm."

"We can be a little bit more aggressive with a quarterback that isn't as much of a run threat, which allows you to be more aggressive as a pass rusher," Abiamiri explained. "You can take a little bit more chances."

Just because Morelli can't run as well as Ball doesn't mean he's easy to get at.

"It comes down to blocking schemes," head coach Charlie Weis said. "The logical thing to say is that he's a drop back quarterback and you better get to him so he can't step up in the pocket. They are a very well coached team as far as coaching schemes go. You're going to have to come up with some ways to get there. I don't mean blitzing. You have to get there and beat their protection schemes."

If Morelli gets times to throw, he'll be hooking up with the strength of the Nittany Lions offense. Penn State goes six deep at receiver, led by Williams, Butler and Jordan Norwood. All three had touchdown catches against Akron .

"They're fast," cornerback Ambrose Wooden said. "As (secondary) coach (Bill) Lewis said, they are like a football track team. All the guys have great speed, they are great athletes and I'm looking forward to another challenge in front of us."

"We got our hands full maybe with a more collective group across the board," Minter said. "Where as the focus and attention last week went to (Georgia Tech's Calvin Johnson)…..This week it's a little more diverse where they got fast guys all over the field."

This is a matchup the Irish are prepared for personnel wise. Weis has already said that he trusts up to eight guys in his secondary, making that three more than last season. Leo Ferrine was one of those five, and he appears to be back from injury adding another defensive back the Irish can use to thwart the Penn State receivers.

"It does lend itself to matching up a little bit better perhaps than we did a year ago, more depth just for the good of the calls, not just to matchup, but to be able at some point in time to play more guys or rest more guys or keep fresher if you will at the moment," Minter explained.

Akron put eight guys in the box most of the game to control the Penn State running game. As a team the Nittany Lions could only muster 76 yards rushing on 27 carries. Hunt ran 14 times for 36 yards and a touchdown. The Irish defense is better than Akron 's and won't load up against the run like that. The defensive line will be responsible for containing Hunt and company.

"I'm counting on them to make a whole bunch of plays for us in the game," Weis said.

Just like he's counting on seeing a trick play or two.


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