Rebuilding Lions Stumble at ND

Penn State can't overcome a strong Irish outfit and its own mistakes in falling to 1-1 on the season. Notre Dame built a big lead in the first half and poured it on after the break, improving to 2-0 with the easier-than-expected victory.

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Maybe this rebuilding effort isn't going to be so seamless after all.

Brady Quinn threw for 287 yards and three touchdowns and Notre Dame left Penn State's defense in tatters as the Irish romped, 41-17, Saturday at a raucous Notre Dame Stadium. While not unexpected, the Irish's victory was far more decisive than anyone in the Penn State camp had hoped. The Nittany Lions had been entertaining seemingly realistic upset hopes going into the game but left town looking nothing like the poised, polished team they aspire to be this season.

“Notre Dame played very well and did a great job coaching,” Joe Paterno said. “They outplayed us. We made too many mistakes. We were sloppy. You have to give the Notre Dame kids credit for how alert they were, and you have to give the coaching staff credit for the good things they did that kept us off balance most of the game.”

Notre Dame (2-0) took control of the game in the second quarter, taking a 20-0 lead on a 9-yard touchdown pass from Quinn to Rhema McKnight with seven seconds left. The touchdown culminated a lopsided first half in which the Irish wore down Penn State's defense by controlling the ball for just under 19 minutes.

The Nittany Lions' comeback hopes all but evaporated just after halftime when Anthony Morelli got sandwiched on an option play and had his subsequent fumble returned by Tom Zbikowski for a 25-yard touchdown a minute into the third quarter.

“At halftime, we felt like we'd come out and make something happen,” linebacker Dan Connor said. “We have a lot of playmakers on offense and we have a strong defense. We thought we'd make something happen, but they got a big play.”

The Irish kept pouring it on as the second half continued. They faked a punt with a 27-3 lead and elected to go for it on fourth-and-goal, handing to Travis Thomas for a 1-yard touchdown to make the score 34-3. Then Darius Walker scored in the fourth quarter on a 15-yard pass from Quinn.

Playing their highest-ranked opponent in four years, the Nittany Lions (1-1) simply weren't precise enough to pull off an upset. They had four turnovers Saturday — three fumbles and an interception. In addition to Morelli's fumbled pitch, they botched the hold on a chip-shot field goal in the first quarter, then lost the ball at the Notre Dame 46-yard line when Tony Hunt fumbled, setting up an Irish field goal. Late in the first half, desperate to put something together on offense, they got a big gain on a catch-and-run by Hunt but then watched as the play was negated by a clipping penalty on A.Q. Shipley.

Nor could the Lions get turnovers when they needed them. They dropped interceptions on the last plays of Notre Dame's first two scoring drives, and couldn't coral a loose ball when Zbikowski fumbled a punt in the second quarter. Nolan McCready's bobbled interception on Notre Dame's second scoring drive summed up the Nittany Lions' whole afternoon. He appeared to have room to run if he had been able to hold on to Quinn's errant pass at the goal line.

“I was thinking the whole rest of the game, 'That's a whole different game and who's to say what happens,' ” McCready said. “I'm mad at myself for dropping that.”

It was an anticlimactic end to weeks of hype. Penn State's appearance in South Bend was the toughest ticket in Notre Dame history with a record 67,000 requests placed during the school's ticket lottery. The tri-state area was buzzing Friday night, with former stars such as Tim Brown and Joe Montana arriving in town for the game. (Presumably their ticket requests were granted.)

Notre Dame jumped on top early, using a no-huddle offense and Quinn's accurate passing to go 63 yards after the opening kickoff and take a 3-0 lead on Carl Gioia's 36-yard field goal.

Gioia added a 35-yard field goal in the second quarter, and Jeff Samardzija had a 7-yard touchdown catch with 3:58 to give Notre Dame a 13-0 lead.

As it turned out, that was nearly all they would need. Penn State's defense wore down after spending so much of the first half on the field and was breathing hard when the Irish launched their effective two-minute drill late in the first half. Said Paterno, “Toward the end of the half, we were hanging on in there. Notre Dame was coming at us at a good pace, starting the game without a huddle and things like that.”

The Nittany Lions managed only a 2-yard touchdown catch by Deon Butler, a 5-yard scoring run by backup quarterback Daryll Clark and a 28-yard Kevin Kelly field goal.

Morelli completed 21 of 33 passes for 189 yards, while Hunt ran for 74 yards on 12 carries. But it wasn't enough. Not by a long shot.

“This wasn't the best day for Penn State football. It wasn't the best day on my part,” receiver Derrick Williams said. “It's very tough. But everybody's going to lose someday. The biggest thing is what are you going to do after a loss? How is the team going to take it? I think we're going to take it a positive way and build on this and have a positive season.”

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