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Football: Team win came down to coaching

Ken Fowler | Monday, September 11, 2006

There was no drama, no snow and most certainly no “white out.”

In the first meeting between Notre Dame and Penn State since the “Snow Bowl,” the Irish blew out the Nittany Lions, dominating every aspect of the game.

“I’m not unhappy with any one facet [of our play],” Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis said, referring to the team’s offense, defense and special teams. “Normally I’m unhappy with one facet or two facets or myself. But, you know, the only one I’m unhappy with is me as usual.”

He shouldn’t be. Weis out-coached Joe Paterno’s staff by a mile.

It all started with the Irish defense, playing aggressively and with a brilliant strategy.

Because the Penn State wide receivers have “top-end speed,” Weis said, he rolled the defensive backs over to the outside to force the Nittany Lions to run the ball. They did just that.

Penn State quarterback Anthony Morelli completed 75 percent of his passes in the first half, but he couldn’t put a single point on the board because Penn State offensive coordinator Galen Hall called for 15 runs compared to just eight throws in the first two quarters.

Weis was willing to let Penn State run the ball to avoid giving up big plays through the air. It worked, and the Nittany Lions played right into his hands.

“You have to give [Notre Dame’s] coaching staff credit for how many good things they did,” Paterno said. “They kept us out of balance most of the game.”

Notre Dame’s coaching strategy certainly paid dividends. The Irish didn’t give up a touchdown until they were up 41-3. The only time Penn State hurt Notre Dame’s first team was on delay rushes and screen passes. But that was a strategic decision by the Irish.

“As I’ve said before, you can’t shut down everything,” Weis said. “If you’re going to shut down the wide receivers or try to hold them in check at least, then you’re going to open up some opportunities for the running game, and that’s what happened in the game.”

Irish defensive end Victor Abiamiri said the team was beat on the screens and draws because they were being overly aggressive. But that wasn’t really a bad thing in his mind – and the minds of the coaches.

“When we would make sideline adjustments, [Notre Dame defensive line coach Jappy Oliver] would say to look out for the screen plays,” Abiamiri said. “But he’d remind us not to lose our aggression.”

The Notre Dame coaching staff simply dictated the game. It chose the team’s strengths, accepted its weaknesses and exploited Penn State to the nth degree.

And it wasn’t just on defense.

Notre Dame kept Penn State reeling when the Irish offense was on the field. Notre Dame switched back and forth between the no-huddle and normal offense throughout the game, and Weis kept maximum protection in the backfield on most passes for Brady Quinn.

The vaunted front-seven for Penn State was forced to blitz heavily if it wanted to get any pressure – and risk the Irish scheme – or hope the secondary could contain an All-American in Jeff Samardzija and a natural athlete in Rhema McKnight.

“We were just trying to take advantage of our game plan and what we wanted to do,” Irish quarterback Brady Quinn said.

Weis designed and had ready an attack that could exploit whatever defense Penn State had in mind. On the flip side, when Penn State fell behind 27-0, its hurry-up offense looked so disorganized that Bill Diedrick could have been calling the plays.

The difference in analytical preparation between the two teams was immense. The Irish knew what they could do, knew what they wanted to do, and they did it.

In the wake of the Notre Dame onslaught, Penn State looked confused, asking questions too late for the answers to matter anyway.

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

necessarily those of The Observer.

Contact Ken Fowler at [email protected]