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Irish Insider: It’s time to live up to the hype

Bob Griffin | Friday, September 8, 2006

Anyone check out NCAA Football 2007 yet?

If so, has anyone played with Notre Dame?

If not, well, don’t – it’s not fair. They’re too good. Let that sink in for a minute.

Notre Dame’s attack is one of the most lethal in college football. Quinn, Walker, Samardzija, McKnight. And that’s before a decent tight end (Carlson) and a stacked offensive line are added into the mix.

It’s taken a decade (since the end of the Holtz era) but Notre Dame has officially returned to the college football radar. And after so much time outside the National Championship picture – all the pieces are in place this season for, pardon the phrase, a return to glory.

Even video game manufacturers noticed.

That’s what makes this weekend’s game against No. 19 Penn State so important. The No. 4 Irish have to show the country they’re worthy of the hype they created last season and through the summer. Hype that makes Notre Dame a favorite for a trip to Glendale, Ariz.

And at the same time – hype the team failed to justify last week.

Georgia Tech turned out to be as challenging as Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis expected. But what he didn’t anticipate were nine offensive penalties, six dropped balls and zero passing touchdowns.

Notre Dame was lucky to escape with a win, and if the Irish come out with the same offensive performance against Penn State – Nittany Lions quarterback Anthony Morelli and his talented receivers should find a way to muster more than 14 points.

Notre Dame’s strength on offense against the Yellow Jackets was Irish running back Darius Walker. He carried the ball 22 times for 99 yards and a touchdown. And even more important than the numbers was the stability he created when Quinn didn’t have his best game.

He won’t have it easy this week, though. Penn State linebackers Paul Posluszny – the returning Butkus Award winner – and Dan Connor (13 tackles in his first game of the season) might as well reserve a spot on their shelves for All-American trophies.

They can probably even start looking at expensive apartments in NFL cities.

The two are a major reason why the Nittany Lions defense allowed an eye-popping 33 yards on 34 carries last weekend against Akron.

So when Notre Dame comes out looking to make a statement Saturday, the responsibility will rest in its best player’s hands – Brady Quinn. Penn State will likely do a good job keeping Notre Dame’s rushing attack in check but its secondary – outside safety Donnie Johnson – leaves something to be desired.

Quinn will need to exploit this. The senior quarterback threw for 246 yards last week, but has not produced a passing touchdown since last November against Stanford. It would be crazy to think Quinn and Weis are unaware of this.

A convincing win – not a blowout, but a well-played performance – would do a few things. It would silence the talking heads that threw the Irish under the bus after Notre Dame’s Fiesta Bowl disappointment.

It would quiet the skeptics that believe Notre Dame is overrated heading into the 2006 season and its close win over Georgia Tech was just the first indication.

A win would inspire the dozens of recruits visiting Notre Dame Stadium who are considering making it their home for four years. It would show that Weis’ Irish know how to win a big game – something they could contribute to in the future.

It would be a boost that would give Notre Dame the confidence and momentum to plow through the rest of 2006. And most importantly, it would validate all the magazine covers, summer boxing matches and “Take me out to the ballgames.”

Oh yeah. And it might even begin to ensure that college football fans feel guilty about playing with the Irish in NCAA Football 2008.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Contact Bob Griffin at rgriffi3@nd.edu.