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Irish offense no match for PSU defense

September 9, 2007
By Neil Rudel
UNIVERSITY PARK — Notre Dame sent its marching band, the nation’s oldest, to Altoona to perform in advance of Saturday’s night game with Penn State.

Then the Fighting Irish really got gracious: They unveiled their offense.

You get the feeling Notre Dame could still be playing and not put up an offensive touchdown.

At the same time, the Penn State defense had a lot to do with that. In fact, the Penn State defense is starting to look like it’s awfully special.

Saturday night, in a spectacular white-out atmosphere backdropped by 110,078 family and friends, the Nittany Lion defense allowed almost nothing in a 31-10 victory.

The Fighting Irish managed a net rushing total of zero and punted on 10 of their 14 possessions.

Notre Dame’s touchdown — its only TD in two games this season — was delivered via an early interception return. The Lions’ exclamation point came after an Irish punt return of 47 yards by the rugged Tom Zbikowski to the PSU 7 in the third quarter was immediately turned into a field-goal attempt.

That pulled ND within 17-10 and reinforced this reality about Penn State: Its offense has quite a comfort zone alongside its defense.

“Our defense,” Joe Paterno said, “kept the pressure on almost every down.”

The Lions did take a little time to adjust — one ND series. Poised freshman Jimmy Clausen, who looks like he’s going to be a good one, completed a few short passes for three first downs and moved the ball into Penn State territory.

Thereafter, the Penn State defense allowed just six first downs, including two by penalty.

“Our tackling was the key,” backup defensive end Jerome Hayes said.

Clausen almost drew sympathy from Penn State. Almost.

“It’s tough for a freshman quarterback to come in with a crowd like that,” Paterno said. ‘I thought the crowd was phenomenal.”

It was so loud, defensive coordinator Tom Bradley said, “I had to tell the (coaches) in the press box to yell louder.”

Given the heat of the night, which presumably was just a bit less oppressive on the field as it was in the insufferable press box, the Lion defensive braintrust did a nice job substituting early and often.

The result was a fresh defensive line that continuously harassed Clausen.

“When you’ve got 110,000 people and 11 who want to rip your head off, it’s going to be little scary,” Hayes said.

In the first quarter alone, Bradley shuffled in backups Hayes, Aaron Maybin, Chris Baker and Phillip Taylor. Each contributed and is helping to establish what entered the year as a question mark into one of the team’s many strengths.

“As a front four, we came in to make a statement to the college football world that despite our inexperience, we have a lot of talent,” Maybin, a redshirt freshman who had one of the Lions’ six sacks, said. “We’re very excited and happy.”

With good reason: The Lion defense has yet to allow a touchdown this year.

Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or

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