Saturday's Keys

Penn State's players remember the embarrassing 41-17 loss they suffered at Notre Dame Stadium last season. At one point, the game was 41-3. If that's not motivation enough, they also want to prove to themselves they're good enough to compete for a Big Ten and National Title, and that begins Saturday against Notre Dame.

That doesn't bode well for a young Irish team entering a hostile environment at Beaver Stadium.

Notre Dame has its hands full. Other than the obvious, these are the keys to the game for the Irish.

1. Whether it's David Grimes, D.J. Hord, George West, Robby Parris, or Duval Kamara, two of the five receivers need to step up and make some plays, or freshman quarterback Jimmy Clausen is going to see tight end John Carlson double-teamed most of the evening. That's exactly what Georgia Tech did last Saturday, and that will continue to be the blue print until another reliable pass-catcher or two emerges. Two or more of those receivers will have to be involved early and often. Look for a west-coast style attack, where Clausen takes a three-step drop and quickly gets rid of the ball for efficient gains. One of Clausen's big strengths is making quick decisions of where to go with the ball, and his quick release. That will combat the constant pressure the Irish will be expecting again, as Georgia Tech sacked the Irish quarterbacks nine times. A few receptions by the receivers and running backs, and maybe Clausen will have the time to find Carlson open down field like Brady Quinn was able to on a number of occasions last season.

2. This will be the secondary's first true test. This isn't the best passing offenses the Irish will see this season, but its certainly a challenge. Penn State returns its top three receivers from last season in Derrick Williams, Deon Butler and Jordan Norwood. Defensive backs coach Bill Lewis stated "they‘re very fast." Those three will be on the field most of the night, so the Irish will be in a nickel package much of the game. Quarterback Anthony Morelli was very efficient in the Nittany Lions 59-0 victory over Florida International last Saturday. He completed 23-of-38 passes for 295 yards, and matched his career best with three touchdowns. He found eight different receivers, so he likes to spread the ball around, and threw zero interceptions. The Irish had just one sack last week against Georgia Tech, and that came on the game's first drive. Notre Dame will have to disguise a lot of blitzes to get the senior Morelli out of his comfort zone. Sophomore cornerback Darrin Walls will really have to grow up as a player, as he will likely be tested the most.

3. The Irish need a big play early offensively. Head coach Charlie Weis stated that Clausen's a confident kid, but nothing like a long run or big pass gain to set the tone. The Irish are certainly reeling after the 33-3 loss to Georgia Tech last week, and an explosive off the bat would completely erase that memory. Maybe it's a gadget play the Irish have worked on this week. Maybe it's Armando Allen or James Aldridge getting loose for a long gain. A play like that would certainly quiet the 107,000-plus fans expected to wear all white for Saturday's contest.

Prediction: Penn State 28, Notre Dame 14: Notre Dame fans will be able to take a lot of positives out of this game, but if all you're looking for is a win or bust, then it will be another rough Saturday. The offense will look ten times better, but against a veteran secondary and outstanding linebackers like All-American candidate Dan Conner, stringing together multiple long drives will be tough. Notre Dame will move the ball, but will have troubles completing drives. The defense will get to Morelli a couple times, and will make some plays, but I'd be surprised if they didn't give up a big play or two. For the Irish to win this game, they will have to play pretty close to perfect, and get a big play out of its offense, a key turnover (which they forced zero last weekend) or a special teams play scoring or setting up a touchdown.


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