Friday, September 08, 2006

Snow Bowl Revisited

It's one of Notre Dame football's most indelible images - Reggie Brooks, every inch of his body extended, corraling with his fingertips a desperation bullet from the pressured arm of Rick Mirer, stabbing his foot in bounds for a successful 2-point play and a thrilling 17-16 win over Penn State in 1992. It's more than a game. It will live on forever as "The Snow Bowl".

Now, 14 years later, the Nittany Lions return to expanded Notre Dame Stadium riding momentum from an 11-1 campaign in 2005 - and, quite frankly if you ask me, an inflated opinion of themselves. Maybe seeing the Irish struggle in the face of the Georgia Tech blitzkrieg defense has provided a boost to their confidence, but confidence carries you only so far when you're breaking in 8 new defensive players who've never made a road start, let alone one on as big of a stage as Notre Dame Stadium will be on Saturday.

Will the Irish win it all? We'll see. One thing is for sure - they'll have no chance if they don't take care of JoePa and the Nittanies. On to preview #2 of 12:

#4 Notre Dame vs. #19 Penn State
3:30 PM EDT
Notre Dame Stadium - Notre Dame, IN

Why Penn State Will Win

Its linebacking corps is the swiftest and deepest in the country. All-America candidates Paul Pozlusny and Dan Connor certainly feel better about themselves after watching Ga. Tech's Philip Wheeler become the most noticeable player in the Notre Dame backfield on Saturday. They're smart, athletic, and carry a badge of pride as the de-facto leaders on a defense that lost 8 starters, including monster rush end Tamba Hali and the entire secondary.

The thing to watch with the Nittany Lions is how all their young guns on both sides of the ball react to the intensity of the spotlight. It's one thing to be on the sidelines when Michael Robinson is leading a late-charge at Michigan's Big House; it's quite another for Anthony Morelli to assume that wheel on his own in what is sure to be a fired-up Notre Dame Stadium. And lemme ask - if Morelli is the best arm JoePa has ever coached, why'd he ride the bench behind Michael "WR/RB/KR/DB" Robinson?

Make no mistake though, the Nittany Lions are a talented bunch. Most of them very green, but very talented none the less. If they block out distractions and hype and play to their potential, they can pull off the upset.

Why Notre Dame Will Win

All it took was one average game, his first, on the road in a hostile environment, and suddenly Brady Quinn is asking the Heisman voters, "Hey, what about me?"

Quinn knows he dropped opportunities to blow the game open against the Yellow Jackets. The hallmark of a great QB? Never making the same mistake twice. All eyes are on Quinn, and not just because NBC's cameras would rather not show Tom "Man Eater" Zbikowski and his mohawk. This is Quinn's statement game, just like Troy Smith's will be later on tomorrow in Austin. Forget about individual awards and all the other superflous crap - if Notre Dame expects big things to come from this season, it needs a big performance on the biggest of stages from its 4-year starter.

The 4th year is particularly key. The Irish may in fact be less talented than Penn State - but experience is one skill that lacks a tangible element. I can't define how much experience determines the outcome, but I know it when I see it. Look for Quinn and his 8 fellow returning starters to show some moxie and assert themselves early against a young and perhaps foolishly aggressive PSU defense. Getting off to a quick start is key - a young team not only can be deflated quicker, but on the flip side gains confidence and poise the longer you let them stick around.


The biggest thing working in ND's favor is a ton of veteran experience matching up with solid but unproven potential - particularly in the secondary where 4 new starters have to match up with Rhema McKnight & Jeff Samardzija. Much like last week, Irish fans should know that Penn State will make a game of it, but overall leadership and the surge of the home crowd carries the Irish to a late-game clinching score.

Notre Dame 31, Penn State 21.



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