"The thing that encouraged me the most was since I've been here, that was probably the first time I can say it was a team win," Weis said on Sunday. "I thought that all three facets of the game stepped up. It wasn't perfect. I could give you a litany of things that went wrong. But it was a team win. It wasn't won by the defense. It wasn't won by the offense. It wasn't won by the special teams. It was won by all three facets. To me, that's the most uplifting thing when it's across the board and it's a team win. That makes you feel pretty good."
The defense stepped up to the naysayers for the second straight game. Notre Dame gave up a lot of yards (383) but that's not where games are won and lost. Three points through three quarters, with the help from three Penn State turnovers, was a solid showing against a top-20 opponent. Weis credited middle linebacker Maurice Crum, Jr. with the performance he had on Saturday. The senior was a monster, registering 14 total tackles, including three for losses and one forced fumble that resulted in Tom Zbikowski's 25-yard touchdown return.
The Irish got to Nittany Lion quarterback Anthony Morelli three times with sacks and created three turnovers. Penn State's field goal in the third quarter was the first points allowed on the Notre Dame defense in over 66 minutes.
"I had a lot more confidence in the defense then everyone else did," Weis said. "I know that some of you thought I was holding something back. I wasn't. We'll just have to see. They've played two games and we've made some progress. But there's a long way to go. This team rolling in this week, we're going to get tested pretty good. So far, so good. We got two in the bank."
One sore point was the nine plays allowed for 198 yards. But none of those resulted directly in a touchdown. Last season, it seemed that the big plays all went for scores (see 2006 Fiesta Bowl). Through two games, Notre Dame has been fortunate to prevent the long scoring play.
"When the big plays are 40-50 bombs for touchdowns, they're already scores," Weis said. "If you give up a 20-yard run, you still have a chance to hold them or stop them. When you play through three quarters and you only give up three points, your odds of winning are pretty good. I would not call it a bend but don't break defense because with the exception of the last couple of drives, we held them pretty much in check.
"Everyone wants to go three-and-out. But you also have to identify, and the coaching staff is doing a good job of it, the strengths and weaknesses through two weeks of who we're going against and limit what they do best."
Zbikowski was once again in the right place at the right time. The senior safety scooped up a fumble and ran it back for a touchdown to make the score 27-0. It was his sixth touchdown of his career. Two have come on punt returns, two on interception returns and two on fumble returns.
"Some people say it's opportunistic," Weis said. "Some call is luck. I hope it keeps happening. He has a nose for the ball and the ball comes to him. It's kind of funny. I've watched guys in my career and it's funny how it happens. Sometimes the players are great and other times they're not.
"We picked up an old DB from the Cowboys when I was with the Giants by the name of Everson Walls. Everytime somebody was throwing the ball to him. He's a corner. He ran about a 4.8. But they're throwing him the ball. There's Everson Walls. Everytime I turned around, somebody was throwing an interception to him. Zibby is one of those guys where the ball comes to him. Part of it is instinct but the other part of it is being in the right place at the right time."
On offense, Quinn and company finally got the ball rolling after a game one downer. The senior quarterback fired three touchdowns, one each to Jeff Samardzija, Rhema McKnight and Darius Walker. The offense rolled up 393 yards of total offense. It was a marked improvement from the Georgia Tech contest but still not a picture perfect effort in the eyes of Weis.
"I had high expectations for the opener along with the second game," Weis said. "Did I think we made progress from the first game to the second game? Yes. The number of mental errors went down. The number of penalties went down. But we still had mental errors. We still had three penalties. There's still some times were things could have gone better than they did. We still had two penalties in the red zone. There was a chance for it to be 14-0. Instead, it was 6-0. One touchdown and you're down. I thought we could have played better in the opener but it was a nice bounce back."
One player had an afternoon to remember. Senior John Carlson caught six balls for 98 yards, including a long of 32 yards. Before this game, his career totals were 13 grabs for 87 yards and a touchdown. Needless to say, Carlson is now a target in the Notre Dame offense. He's had to learn a thing or two since becoming the starter this season.
"He always had great stamina and strength," Weis said. "He's a very good athlete. The thing is you have to learn to be the starter. Sometimes people think that's presumptuous and an easy thing to do. But Anthony was the starter and John didn't have the responsibilities of being the go-to-guy when people are worrying about your wide receivers. We have a few front line wide receivers that are going to get a lot of attention. If they're getting attention, the easiest two guys to throw it to are the tight end and the back. In the whole off-season, he's worked hard with Brady. It's starting to pay off."