Penn State football coach Joe Paterno answers questions during a news conference in State College on Tuesday. The Lions play at home against Notre Dame on Saturday.AP photo
Amidst a deluge of questions about Notre Dame’s opening-week struggles, Joe Paterno had finally had enough.
With memories of the Nittany Lions’ meltdown in South Bend a year ago still fresh, Penn State’s head coach wasn’t exactly feeling sorry for the Fighting Irish, who dropped their opener by 30 points.
“It’s Notre Dame, for crying out loud,” Paterno said at his Tuesday press conference. “They’re not going to come in here with their tails dragging. They’re going to come in here with fire in their eyes.
“The worst thing that could have happened to us was their getting licked last week. They’ve got pride and they’ve got tradition and they have kids who went to Notre Dame with high expectations for different things that would happen to them, and we just have got to be ready for that. Now whether we’re ready for that or not, whether we’re mature enough to understand what we’ve got to do, we’ll see.”
Penn State was humbled by the Irish 41-17 in last season’s matchup, but Notre Dame lost a large portion of that team to graduation and the NFL. It showed last Saturday, when Georgia Tech handed the Irish their worst season-opening home loss in school history by a tally of 33-3.
The tables appear to be turned this year, with the Lions having the experienced senior quarterback and the Irish breaking in a new starter in a hostile environment.
Anthony Morelli struggled in the 2006 game – his first road start – but Paterno said it was unfair to blame the quarterback for the game’s outcome.
“No offense to Anthony, but out at Notre Dame, we stunk out the place,” Paterno said. “I mean, Notre Dame was a better team that day than we were, but we didn’t do a very good job coaching. When I say ‘we,’ I mean yours truly. They ran a fake punt down to the 1-yard line and we fumbled an option play. We weren’t really good and I don’t think you can blame that on Morelli.”
The quarterback position continued to be the topic of discussion on the day, as Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis announced that true freshman Jimmy Clausen would be the starter for Saturday’s 6 p.m. game.
Clausen got Paterno thinking about a rookie quarterback he used in the series back in 1988.
“We (used) a guy, Tony Sacca, at Notre Dame way back when he was a true freshman. So yeah, we’ve started a true freshman,” Paterno said. “If (Notre Dame) decided to go with a freshman, they know what they’re doing. They think the freshman is ready to come and play and the freshman’s got to come in there and he’s got to get the job done. It’s a challenge to him, sure, but they know better than I know about their own team. If Coach Weis thinks the freshman is the best kid to get the job done, I’m sure he knows what he’s doing.”
Of course, Sacca only came in during the second half against an undefeated Irish squad that ended up winning easily, 21-3.
Erstwhile starting tight end Andrew Quarless seems to be a long shot to see the field this week because of his team suspension – “I doubt it,” Paterno said – and there’s no guarantee the position will be available when Paterno eventually decides to play him.
“He’s going to have to beat out (current starter Mickey) Shuler and (Jordan) Lyons, too,” Paterno said. “Obviously, last year he was a starter, but I’m not going to say, ‘OK, give me a hug.’ He’s going to have to work his way in there, but he’s going to have to beat them out, because Lyons played better than I expected Lyons to play and I think Shuler played better than the staff expected him to play.”
Notre Dame at No. 14 Penn State
6 p.m. Saturday
Beaver Stadium at University Park
ON THE WEB
For more Penn State coverage, read Derek Levarse’s blog at www.timesleader.com