Web Update: Irish romp Nittany Lions
Dan Murphy | Saturday, September 9, 2006
Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn hit a wide open Rhema McKnight in the back of the end zone with seven seconds left in the second quarter to give the No. 4 Irish a 20-0 lead over No. 19 Penn State at halftime. The Irish never looked back.
Quinn led the Notre Dame attack, completing 25-of-36 passes for 287 yards and three touchdowns. The Irish added 21 points in the second half to beat the Nittany Lions 41-17.
Quinn was perfect on the crucial drive, completing all five of his passes for 58 yards and rushing twice for 11 more.
“That was a big drive because I am a situational guy and we have been practicing that situation for a long time,” Irish head coach Charlie Weis said.
The series began with a 17-yard pass to senior tight end John Carlson. Carlson had a career day, setting highs in both catches (6) and yards (98).
Carlson’s first catch of the game, a 30-yard pass over the middle, put the offense in range for a field goal to take an early 3-0 lead. Carl Gioia, who missed two field goals in last week’s win over Georgia Tech, rebounded well hitting two 35-yard attempts.
“I said, ‘Okay, Carl, let’s go, you’re in there,'” Weis said. “I think the sooner – the sooner you can get a player out of that rut, the sooner you can break through, usually you can move past that.”
Quinn’s other main targets Saturday were running back Darius Walker and wide receiver Jeff Samardzija. Samardzija scored the first Irish touchdown on a 7-yard catch with 3:58 left in the first half. Walker closed the Irish scoring with a 15-yard scamper on a screen pass from Quinn.
The Nittany Lions had a chance to get on the board early, but a high snap on what would have been a 32-yard field goal attempt resulted in a turnover.
Fumbles cost Penn State in the second half, as well. On the second play from scrimmage in the third quarter, Irish linebackers Travis Thomas and Maurice Crum jarred the ball loose of Penn State quarterback Anthony Morelli on an option play. Notre Dame safety Tom Zbikowski returned the fumble 25 yards for the score, and the Irish took a 27-0 lead.
“[Zbikowski] just has a nose for the ball,” Irish defensive end Victor Abiamiri said. “You can’t explain it, some guys just have a knack for finding the ball and love to have the ball in their hands.
Penn State finally scored on the following drive, going 69 yards on 10 plays.
The Lions moved the ball down the field with two big plays – a 28 yard scramble from quarterback Anthony Morelli and a 34 yard reception by wide out Jordan Norwood.
But once again, Penn State couldn’t get the ball in the end zone. Nittany Lions place kicker Kevin Kelly finished the effort with a 28-yard field goal with 11:29 remaining in the third quarter.
“It was a question of we didn’t do anything to finish them off,” Penn State coach Joe Paterno said.
Penn State could not find an offensive rhythm until the game was well out of hand, only finding success with draw plays and screen passes on several occasions during the game.
“We were able to do a little something with the screen games,” Paterno said. “I think you are going to have to these [tough] days, with all the zone blitzes and everything else.”
That led to a long afternoon for the Penn State, as Notre Dame controlled the time of possession and scored on seven of nine possessions in the first three quarters.