Irish are searching for ways to tend to their own house

Posted: September 06, 2007

Notre Dame knows its lack of a national ranking, its 0-1 start and its freshman quarterback will do little to temper the hostility in State College, Pa., this weekend.

The atmosphere at No. 14 Penn State is going to be loud and hungry for green blood.

"We're going into Happy Valley as it's us against the world," Notre Dame center John Sullivan said. "The guys on the field are going to be the only ones rooting for us. We're going to be the only one in our own corner. We're going up there with 110,000-plus fans. It's going to be a harsh environment."

If hollering fans were the only problem the Irish needed to overcome this week, it would be a welcome worry over their present concerns. Notre Dame had enough trouble with communication surrounded by a friendly home crowd last week, losing by 33-3 in its opener to Georgia Tech.

With quarterback Jimmy Clausen injected into the fire, starting his first game at Beaver Stadium, Notre Dame is not expecting to have it easy and the offensive line must perform better.

The unit looked as sturdy as weeble-wobbles against the Yellow Jackets, allowing nine sacks on the three quarterbacks the Irish used.

"As an entire offense, we need to be more physical," Sullivan said. "This offense is very capable. Now it's just a matter of executing and being physical and getting things done and being aggressive. This will be a great week for us to try to do that."

Sullivan, who returned for his fifth season, is the only senior on the offensive line. He is one of only three returning starters on the entire offense.

With such a young cast surrounding him, Sullivan said he understands the importance of his job. Sullivan handled making some of the calls in situations when Brady Quinn was quarterback last season, and said he would be capable of doing so on Saturday.

"There's lot of responsibility that the quarterback has and a lot of responsibility I'm carrying right now," he said.

Sullivan, who is 6-foot-4, 290 pounds, said he tries to send messages to his teammates about maintaining consistency through the ups and downs of a season. Like his head coach, Charlie Weis, Sullivan said he does not believe in taking an emotional approach to the game.

"The message of not getting too high or too low applies to everyone on the team," he said.

Penn Sate does not traditionally use a heavy blitz scheme on defense, but based on Weis' review of Georgia Tech's successful attack on the Irish offense, the coach said "they probably should."

Penn State's defensive line is not experienced, either. But the Nittany Lions still boast a skilled defense that could pose problems.

Linebackers Dan Connor and Sean Lee are reliable veterans. Connor is a candidate for the Butkus Award; Lee recorded seven solo tackles in Penn State's opening victory over Florida International.

"Penn State has been always known as Linebacker U. and this is no exception," Weis said Tuesday.

The Penn State secondary is also intimidating, with Justin King and Anthony Scirrotto.

Even with Penn State's talent, Notre Dame realizes its order of business this week is correcting its own faults.

"No disrespect to Penn State . . . but I think [the focus at practice this week is] almost entirely about us," Weis said. "We know how good they are . . . but realistically, the bigger issue internally is us."


Contact staff writer Shannon Ryan at 215-854-5503 or sryan@phillynews.com.

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