Wednesday, September 05, 2007
Notre Dame at Penn State Preview
University of Notre Dame
Fighting Irish (0-1)
Head Coach: Charlie Weis
Coaching Record: 19-7, 3rd season
Last Year: 10-3, Lost to Louisiana State in Allstate Sugar Bowl (#17 AP / #19 Coaches postseason ranking)
Last Week: Lost to Georgia Tech, 33-3 (Biggest home opening loss in ND history)
The Pennsylvania State University (aka Penn State)
Nittany Lions (1-0)
Ranking: AP: 14 Coaches: 15
Head Coach: Joe Paterno
Coaching Record: 262-121-3, 42nd season
Last Year: 9-4, Beat Tennessee in Outback Bowl (#24 AP / #25 Coaches postseason ranking)
Last Week: Beat Florida International, 59-0 (FIU ranked dead last [119th] in NCAA by Sports Illustrated, ESPN)
Location: Beaver Stadium (aka Happy Valley)
Date and Time: September 8, 2007 6:06 p.m.
Series Record: Notre Dame leads 9-8-1 overall, trails 2-5-1 in Happy Valley
Notre Dame Quarterback and Receivers vs. Penn State Secondary
Coach Weis has pulled his head out of his proverbial arse, and named Jimmy Clausen the starter for this week. Long term, Clausen is the solution at quarterback, and he should have this offense moving much cleaner than it was under Sharpley and Jones. That said, this secondary is sickeningly good, and there won't be much room for Jimmy to thread the ball downfield. However, we may see a lot of out routes this game, as Jimmy is a very accurate passer and it's an easy route to beat the corners on for our smaller faster receivers.
Edge: Penn State
Notre Dame Offensive Line vs. Penn State Defensive Line
As badly as our offensive line looked last week (finishing dead last in the NCAA in sacks given up with 9), I'm still not willing to concede this victory to Penn State. Penn State's D-line is young and has been decimated by injuries. Notre Dame has the advantage early on of being much bigger and more seasoned by last week's trial by fire. I'm sorry, but Florida International barely qualifies as a warm-up. That said, I won't be giving the edge to our offensive line against anyone until they prove that they deserve it.
Notre Dame Running Backs and Tight Ends vs. Penn State Linebackers
Penn State is considered by many to be Linebacker U, the place where players go to learn to be studs in the NFL. This year is no exception, as the field the nation's top inside linebacker, and one of the nation's top 15 outside linebackers in the starting lineup. This unit is better than the unit we faced last week, and has the potential to give us fits in the running game. Our best chance here is for the Penn State defensive coordinator to out-think himself and go blitz happy, as that is not what this unit is trained to do. This unit is much better in their base defense. Either way, Thomas, Aldridge and Allen are going to have a tough time running on these guys.
Carlson needs to step up and have a big day bailing Jimmy out over the middle for us to make hay on offense. If he wants to make All-American again this year, this is the game where he earns it. If he can beat Dan Connors in one-on-one over the middle matchups, we can (and probably will) win this game. For now, I'm not holding my breath.
Edge: Penn State
Notre Dame Defensive Line vs. Penn State Offensive Line
Penn State returns a veteran interior line, but is starting a pair of fresh tackles. Look for Corwin to test the edge of this line with several blitzes, leaving Kuntz inside to hold his own. I liked what I saw early on last week from this unit, and I expect good things if Coach Brown can keep them out of the tank.
Edge: Notre Dame (barely)
Notre Dame Linebackers vs. Penn State Running Backs and Tight Ends
Last week, I said that this matchup would decide the game, and it did. The linebackers (and defensive ends and cornerbacks) could not "set the edge" against Georgia Tech, and Tashard Choice feasted on the outside run. I'm expecting our defense to do a much better job of setting the edge in this game, and Penn State's Austin Scott is no Tashard Choice. I'm going out on a limb here, considering the rushing yards we gave up last week, but I expect that this unit will hold against a far less talented running back. Oh, and Penn State's starting TE is suspended, so we're facing their top backup at tight end.
Edge: Notre Dame
Notre Dame Secondary vs. Georgia Tech Quarterbacks and Receivers
Although Georgia Tech didn't need a passing game to beat us, and basically scrapped it once they got up big, our secondary showed up to play last week. This week, I expect a harder test as the Penn State rushing attack won't be as potent against us as it was against Florida International. Morelli is a hit or miss QB, and could struggle with our secondary and blitzing. However, he has a trio of experienced and talented receivers to choose from, so expect a few growing pains for our secondary in addition to our marked improvement over last year.
Edge: Penn State
Notre Dame Coaches vs. Penn State Coaches
Joe Paterno is only rivaled by Bobby Bowden in how long he's been pacing a football sideline. He's getting a little senile in his old age, but he's forgotten more football than most of us will ever know. He's got a good staff, well seasoned and knowledgeable.
Coach Weis was on the top of my coaches list, but last week's fiasco knocked him down a couple of pegs in my book. Until he shows me he can coach up this team, I've got to give the edge to the more experienced coach, as Charlie keeps making rookie mistakes.
Edge: Penn State
Quarterback and Receivers vs. Secondary: Edge Penn State
Running Backs and Tight Ends vs. Linebackers: Edge Penn State
Offensive Line vs. Defensive Line: Draw
Defensive Line vs. Offensive Line: Edge Notre Dame (barely)
Linebackers vs. Running Backs and Tight Ends: Edge Notre Dame
Secondary vs. Quarterbacks and Receivers: Edge Penn State
Coaches vs. Coaches: Edge Penn State
Analysis and Prediction
Walking into Happy Valley, with 107,000 screaming fans in full whiteout mode, playing against a top 15 ranked team, with the sting of a home shellacking fresh on our minds, and the sting of last year's shellacking fresh on theirs, I think that a win is just too much to ask for my beloved Irish.
Penn State is overrated this year, and will finish somewhere around the Outback Bowl like they always do, but on Saturday I expect them to play like they're in the god-forsaken Rose Bowl playing for the national championship. Don't expect them to buy into the "Notre Dame sucks during their rebulding year" talk. Too many familiar faces from last year to fall into that trap.
However, I think that the team will make improvements in leaps and strides from last week, and we'll see glimpses of the potential this team has once they develop some chemstry and gain some experience. I even expect we'll make a late push in the game, once the initial buzz and excitement have passed. Ultimately, however, an experienced linebacking corps and secondary is going to stymie young Skywalker, er, -ahem- Clausen. Our defense will put up a valiant fight, but in the end won't be able to win it by themselves.
Our only hope is for Zibby and Armando to shake things up on special teams to keep us in this game.
This pains me, loyal alum and die-hard Irish fan as I am, but:
Notre Dame 14
Penn State 24