Defense, Quinn Propel Irish

SOUTH BEND- Head coach Charlie Weis said it best after last week's victory over Georgia Tech that a win is a win. The offense struggled but the defense shut out the Yellow Jackets in the second half. On Saturday versus Penn State, the defense, with help from an improved offensive showing, stifled the opposition where it hurts the most: the scoreboard.

Tommy Zbikowski's 25-yard fumble return for a touchdown on the opening possession of the third quarter was the punctuation mark on the Irish's 41-17 victory over the No. 19 Nittany Lions. In front of a packed house at Notre Dame Stadium, the defense, despite surrendering 383 total yards, limited a mistake-prone Penn State to three points through three quarters while Brady Quinn threw his first three touchdowns of the season as the No. 4 Irish moved to 2-0 on the year. Next week, they'll await heated rival Michigan (2-0), who beat Central Michigan 41-17.

"We're 2-0," Weis said. "We got Michigan next weekend and that's all I'm thinking about. Michigan is 2-0 and they're coming in here on a mission. We got the best of them the past few years and they want to get the best of us. I do know that the team learned from the first game to the last game. I expected that because we have a whole bunch of intelligent guys. We're going to have to continue to play better and we were respectable in all three facets tonight.

Carl Gioia put the Irish up 6-0 in the second quarter with his second 35-yard field goal of the day, this after missing two kicks last week versus Georgia Tech. After the defense forced Penn State to punt on the following possession, that's when Quinn took over.

The senior quarterback looked a bit rattled last Saturday night against a blitzing Yellow Jacket defense. Today, Quinn had no such problems. He found Jeff Samardzija on first-and-goal in the back of the end zone to make it 13-0 Notre Dame. It was Quinn's and Samardzija's first scoring hook up of the season after connecting 15 times for touchdowns in 2005. The senior wideout finished the day with six catches for 56 yards.

A sack by Victor Abiamiri on third down gave the ball back to the Irish with 1:24 left in the second quarter. Quinn proceeded to go 5-for-5 in the hurry up offense, driving Notre Dame 69 yards on seven plays. It was capped when he hit Rhema McKnight crossing across the back of the end zone for a nine yard touchdown strike to give the Irish a 20-0 halftime lead. In the second quarter alone, Quinn was 12-of-16 for 150 yards and two touchdowns. For the game, he finished 25-of-36 for 287 yards and three touchdowns.

"The good thing about Brady is that he's the same every week," Weis said. "This guy has a passion to be great. He practices great. He never is one of these guys who just goes through the motions. There isn't one day where this kid isn't practicing to win. He had a good practice on Tuesday, a good practice on Wednesday and a good practice for most of the part on Thursday. We had a couple of opportunities to straighten those things out on Friday."

"He is an excellent quarterback and did a great job of throwing the ball and we didn't do a good job of covering their receivers today," Penn State All-American linebacker Paul Posluszny said, who finished the game with 12 total tackles. "Today we seemed a step behind on his passes today."

For the second straight game, the Notre Dame defense came out in the second half and asserted themselves. Against Georgia Tech, they got a three-and-out. On Saturday, they took it to the next level when Penn State quarterback Anthony Morelli was flustered by Maurice Crum and Travis Thomas into fumbling on a third down option play. That's when Johnny-on-the-spot arrived on the scene in the form of Zbikowski. The senior safety scooped up the fumble and rumbled 25 yards to make it 27-0 and end dejected Nittany Lions fans' hopes of a comeback. It was Zbikowski's sixth career touchdown in his time at Notre Dame (two for punt return, two for fumble recovery and two for interception return).

"I felt we had a chance until we screwed it up real quick in the third quarter," Penn State Joe Paterno said after the game when Zbikowski scored his touchdown. "We were sloppy. Again, I don't want to get into-you got to give Notre Dame credit. I think they played a real good football game. They tackled extremely well. Whether they were that good on defense, I though they played a heck of a good game on defense. We had a couple of shots early in the game where we didn't come up with the ball."

The Irish didn't stop at 27-0. Despite Kevin Kelly's 28-yard field goal to prevent the Notre Dame shutout, they continued to pour it on. Travis Thomas took a fake punt and rumbled 43 yards down to the Penn State five-yard line. Four plays later, Thomas took a pitch left and scored his first touchdown of the year from a yard out to make it 34-3. The lead became 41-3 when Darius Walker added another score when he took a screen from Quinn 16 yards to the house. Walker ended the day with 129 total yards, 57 on the ground and 72 receiving. Tight end John Carlson had a career day, nabbing six balls for 98 yards, both personal bests, to be the Irish's leading receiver.

"Today we were good," Weis said. "I don't know how good we are. But today we were good. Last week, we were good on defense and not so hot on offense. The next week, it's a different story. What we're trying to do is take every game by it's own separate season. Today, I thought was a well-rounded, across the board effort from the team. I'm not unhappy with any one facet."


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