Penn State rolls over Notre Dame, 31-10

Posted: September 08, 2007

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. - For Penn State, if there was a consensus as to what was its biggest question mark going into the season, there probably would have been two answers: "Austin" and "Scott."

Tonight, the redshirt senior running back turned those question marks into exclamation points as the Lions muffled Notre Dame, 31-10, in a prime-time game before 110,078 mostly white-wearing fans at Beaver Stadium.

Scott, the all-time leading rusher in Pennsylvania high school history, eased the fears of Lions fans lamenting the loss of the departed Tony Hunt by rushing for 116 yards and two touchdowns on 28 carries.

Scott also complemented a ferocious Penn State defense, harkening back to the days when the Lions won games on those elements alone. Grounding and pounding.

Fittingly, the Lions' 1982 national championship team, which beat Notre Dame on its way to the program's first crown, was honored at halftime. That Irish team was perhaps only slightly better than this year's version, which is now 0-2 and heading to Michigan, which is also amazingly 0-2.

The injury riddled, sometimes-maligned Scott came back from a redshirt season as the top tailback. But there were questions about his ability and durability. And since quarterback Anthony Morelli and the entire receiving corp had returned, it was naturally assumed that the Lions would favor the pass.

But Scott, out of Parkland High in Allentown, was workman-like tonight, gobbling up grass and first downs. His 5-yard touchdown run with 7 minutes, 40 seconds left essentially sealed the outcome, giving No. 14 Penn State (2-0) a 21-point lead.

Despite the occasional lackluster play, both teams were able to reel off big plays. The difference was the Lions managed a few on offense, while freshman quarterback Jimmy Clausen and the Irish were consistently thwarted by a nasty Penn State defense.

Opting for short screen passes and quick outs, Irish coach Charlie Weis did his best to protect Clausen in his first career start. But almost every time Clausen had to throw downfield, he was met by either the Lions' front seven or couldn't find open receivers.

Penn State, meanwhile, took a 24-10 lead in the third quarter essentially off two plays by two true sophomores. First, A.J. Wallace took the second half opening kick 68 yards, setting up a 37-yard Kevin Kelly field goal. And then, Chris Bell's 51-yard reception highlighted a 7-play, 65-yard drive that resulted in a 1-yard Austin Scott touchdown.

In the middle of the two Lions' scores, the Irish were given prime field position when Tom Zbikowski raced down to the 7-yard line. But the Lions defense, which has yet to yield a touchdown, held, and Notre Dame settled for three points.

To open the game, the down-on-their-luck Irish couldn't have scripted a better start. Even though it didn't net any points on its opening drive, Notre Dame was able to ease Clausen into a difficult situation with an assortment of dink-and-dunk passes.

The Irish advanced down to the Penn State 33-yard line - with Clausen connecting on 5 of 6 pass attempts - but a 50-yard field goal try was wide right. Still, Notre Dame had to be feeling pretty good about itself. And when a Morelli fade on the Lions' first possession was intercepted by cornerback Darrin Walls and returned 73 yards for a touchdown, Notre Dame was ahead, 7-0.

For Morelli, who also fumbled at the end of the first half, it was an all too-cruel reminder of last season's game against the Irish. In that 41-17 loss, the quarterback, then a junior, had two turnovers, the first of which was a fumble returned for a touchdown.

The Lions' problems with turnovers continued when Scott coughed the ball up on Penn State's next series deep in its own territory. But the Notre Dame offense failed to capitalize, as it did for most of the game, and the Lions zoomed back when Derrick Williams returned a punt 78 yards for a touchdown.

Williams, often credited with resurrecting the Lions program when he chose Penn State as a highly-touted high school senior, had looked pedestrian during his sophomore year.

But with a new slimmed-down physique, the junior looked the phenom, dashing downfield while avoiding tacklers.

With the score knotted, 7-7, the Lions implemented a no-huddle offense in the second quarter and cashed in shortly after when Morelli hit Jordan Norwood underneath for a 10-yard touchdown, capping a 6-play, 51-yard drive and a 14-7 first-half lead.


Contact staff writer Jeff McLane at 215-854-4745 or jmclane@phillynews.com.

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