(UHND.com) Well, its just about midnight here on the east coast and I’ll be heading out to South Bend in just under five hours so I figured I could do one of two things, grab some sleep, or write my preview now since Im not sure what kind of internet connection I will have out there so here goes and forgive me for being brief this week.
Ok, bottom line is neither team impressed me much last week. Notre Dame’s struggles were well documented in the articles I did this week so I won’t spend too much time rehashing them. I also touched on Penn State’s problem areas from last week as well on Wednesday.
Both teams had trouble with their offensive line. Notre Dame couldn’t keep Tech out of the backfield and in Quinn’s face while Penn State’s line paved the way for a measly 2.8 yards per carry. The difference is Notre Dame returned four starters while Penn State started four new ones so Penn State’s issues along the line are a bit more acceptable.
I was surprised at the trouble Notre Dame had picking up the blitz especially since its happened two straight games now dating back to the Fiesta Bowl. I expected more out of the veteran line and they will be tested again this week with Penn State’s outstanding linebackers.
Penn State would be stupid not to try and pressure Quinn as Ohio State and Georgia Tech successfully did and I fully expect them to bring some heat on Quinn which makes the play along the lines the pivotal factor in this game.
If the Notre Dame line can protect Quinn he will have time to dissect a secondary featuring four new starters. Penn State has a talented group of defensive backs, but they are not heavy on experience. With Notre Dame’s receivers and Quinn tossing the ball the opportunity is there for a big passing day, if the line keeps Quinn on his feet.
Look for the Irish to slow down the Penn State rush with some short passes and quick passes to the tight end. We saw this last week, especially early on, but Quinn was erratic at times and missed some open receivers.
I also expect to see another heavy dose of Darius Walker this week on draws and screens. Walker had a great second half once Weis made it a point to establish the run and with some new starters along the defensive line at Penn State, Walker could find some room before reaching the Penn State linebackers.
Speaking of the Penn State linebackers, they might be one of the best units in the country. Paul Posluszny is one of the best defenders in the country and leads a talent group of linebackers. They are fast and quick and can hit as well as any unit in the land. If Penn State sends them on the blitz, look for the Irish tight ends to work the middle of the field.
On defense, the Irish have to find a way to pressure first year starter Anthony Morelli. Morelli has a cannon, but is very green with just one career start – last week against Akron. Against the Zips Morelli completed only 50% of his passes as he struggled with accuracy at times. Morelli showed that he can bomb it out however and that is something that the Irish defense will have to take away. If they let the Penn State receivers get by them, Morelli has the arm to make the home run pass all day.
For Penn State to really get their offense going against the Irish however they will need to run the ball more effectively. With four new starters on their offensive line they struggled running the ball. Tony Hunt was not a factor last week and will have to be for the Lions to move the ball. Hunt is a big, strong back who is best at running between the tackles. He lacks great speed, but if the line gives him room to run, he can run over linebackers and defensive backs.
This one will come down the battles up front. Which ever team protects their quarterback the best will come out victorious. For Notre Dame, Quinn could have a huge day if he is given time working against the inexperienced Penn State secondary. Conversely, if they pressure Anthony Morelli, they could force him into mistakes as this will be his first road start of his career.
Sorry to cut this short this week as I’d really like to go into some more detail, but…..
Prediction: Notre Dame 31 Penn State 21