Notre Dame, Ind (UHND.com) – On Friday night Travis Thomas told a crowd of 35,000+ fans that he and his teammates weren’t scared for their season opener. On Saturday Thomas and the Irish backed up Thomas statement with a resounding 41-17 win over #19 Penn State.
Thomas would play an integral role in the Irish win with a key fake punt and touchdown run in the third quarter after the Lions scored their first points of the game.
After jumping out to a 20-0 lead at halftime, the Irish would add a defensive touchdown on the Lions first drive of the third quarter when Tommy Zbikowsski scooped up a fumble and raced to the end zone from 26 yards out.
The fumble came off an ill-advised pitch on an option play by Penn State quarterback Anthony Morelli. Morelli was being tackled as he attempted to pitch the ball. The pitch would be well off the mark and bounced right into Zbikowski’s hands.
Penn State would respond with their first points of the game when they converted a field goal from 28 yards out by Kevin Kelly and were ready to get the ball back with a little momentum before Thomas took the fake punt 43 yards to set the Irish up with a first and goal.
Four plays later, Thomas converted another fourth down with a one yard touchdown run that took the helmet off of Penn State corner Justin King who could not stop the senior from reach the endzone and putting the Irish ahead 34-3 after Carl Gioa converted the PAT.
The Irish built their 20-0 lead behind the arm of Brady Quinn. Quinn, who completed 25 of 36 passes for 287 yards, led the Irish on two touchdown drives in the second quarter when Notre Dame began to run away with the highly anticipated matchup with Penn State.
After two of the first three offensive drives stalled in the redzone because of penalties, Carl Gioa, who missed both of his field goals last week, connected on two field goals from 35 yards out to give the Irish a 6-0.
With just a 6-0 lead in the second quarter, Tommu Zbikowski muffed a Penn State punt which freshman Raeshon McNeil pounced on. Nine plays and 75 yards later, the Irish were up 13-0 after Brady Quinn tossed his first touchdown pass of the season with a seven yarder to Jeff Samardzija.
It wouldn’t take Quinn long to throw his second touchdown on the year. The senior Heisman hopeful threw a nine yarder to Rhema McKnight with seven seconds left in the first half to put the Irish ahead 20-0 at half.
Quinn would add a third touchdown pass in the fourth quarter when he connected with Darius Walker from 18 yards out on the last drive of the game for the Irish starters on offense. Quinn came into the game with zero touchdowns on the year after getting shut out of the endzone through the air in the season opener last week in Atlanta.
Walker, who nearly topped 100 yards last week found it might tougher going on the ground this week averaging just 2.8 yards a carry on 20 attempts (56 yards). The junior running back did, however, add 72 yards on 7 receptions including the 18 yard touchdown in the fourth quarter.
John Carlson led the Irish in receiving with a career high six receptions for 98 yards and is becoming a go to target for Quinn this year as defenses continue to key in on All American Jeff Samardzija. Samardzija meanwhile, added six catches for 56 yards.
For the second week in a row the Irish defense silenced some critics by collecting three turnovers – two fumbles and one interception – while limiting the Penn State offense to just three points before the Lions added two late touchdowns in the fourth quarter.
Officially, the Irish defense surrendered 383 yards, however, 172 of those yards came in the fourth quarter after the offense had already posted 41 points on the scoreboard. The Notre Dame defense also limited Penn State to just five of 13 third down conversions and made Penn State convert fourth downs for both of their touchdowns.
With their win over Penn State, Notre Dame now owns a 9-8-1 record over Penn State. The Irish evened the series in their last meeting in 1992 and could make sure they have a winning record over Penn State for years to come with a win in Happy Valley next year.