Penn State beat Notre Dame the last time the teams met in Happy Valley. The Nittany Lions have a good chance of doing it again when the two storied programs play there Saturday.
Some members of the 14th-ranked Nittany Lions haven’t forgotten last season’s 41-17 loss at Notre Dame, the first meeting between the schools since the Irish won 17-16 in 1992.
“It’s embarrassing. We played terrible against them last year,” Penn State linebacker Dan Conner said. “Since the beginning of the season, the Notre Dame game is something we have been looking forward to.”
The Nittany Lions, who last beat Notre Dame 35-13 at home on Nov. 6, 1991, have good reason to be excited after facing little trouble in a 59-0 victory over Florida International in their season opener last Saturday.
They are also aware that Notre Dame struggled in a 33-3 home loss to Georgia Tech last weekend - the worst season-opening defeat in Irish history.
After recording seven sacks and holding FIU to 114 yards, the experienced Penn State defense—which has three shutouts in its last six games—should be eager to face the Irish, who were held to 122 yards against Georgia Tech.
“We’re going to be ready this week,” said Penn State linebacker Sean Lee, who was named Big Ten defensive player of the week after recording seven tackles, a sack and forcing a fumble last Saturday. “We know the implications of this game. It’s very exciting. We’re going to be ready to play.”
Penn State coach Joe Paterno made his first appearance on the sideline since breaking his left leg last November at Wisconsin, and saw senior quarterback Anthony Morelli go 23-for-38 for a career-high 295 yards and three touchdowns as the Nittany Lions outgained FIU 549-114.
Morelli, who is coming off a season where he threw for 2,224 yards and 11 touchdowns, played well with the game out of reach against Notre Dame last season, going 21-for-33 for 189 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
Stopping Morelli is just one concern Notre Dame will have Saturday.
Three Irish quarterbacks - Demetrius Jones, Evan Sharpley and Jimmy Clausen - were a combined 15-for-22 for 130 yards and were sacked nine times last Saturday.
Irish coach Charlie Weis announced Tuesday that highly touted freshman Clausen will replace Jones as the starter Saturday. Weis opted not to start him against Georgia Tech since he was recovering from arthroscopic elbow surgery and wasn’t fully healthy.
Clausen, though, was 4-for-6 for 34 yards in the final two series of that contest.
“I think he’s ready to run the offense,” Weis said. “He was always ready mentally, but his arm wasn’t full go until last week.”
Making matters worse, Notre Dame was held to minus-8 rushing yards on 41 carries and failed to score a touchdown for the first time in a season opener since a 20-12 loss at Michigan on Sept. 14, 1985.
“There’s a whole litany of problems right there that we have to fix,” said Weis, whose team will try to avoid losing four consecutive games for the first time since it fell to Oregon State in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 1, 2001, and dropped the first three contests of the 2001 season.
Notre Dame is 9-8-1 all-time against Penn State.