I'm going to switch up my weekly game review post and forgo the position-by-position breakdown. After all, there are only so many ways to say that Samardzija is really good. Instead I'll just focus on things that stood out to me, both in the game overall and at the player level.
• As Coach Weis said, just a fantastic game by all three facets of the team: offense, defense, and special teams. Sure there were mistakes, but it was great to watch all parts of the Irish team work together for a convincing win and not have to hope that the offense/defense would be able to make up for the shortcomings of the defense/offense.
• When is the last time ND got criticized for running up the score on a quality opponent? My take on the fake punt and 4th down attempts late in the game are as follows. When the fake punt occured, ND was winning by 24 points and there were still over 21 minutes left in the game. As many ND fans remember, the Irish were down by 21 points to Michigan State last year with 20 minutes left and yet still managed to tie the game and force overtime. It was unlikely that Penn State would be able to do that, but the game was hardly over then. Apparently Coach Paterno agrees that it wasn't that bad a call.
"I never really thought, till they get the fake punt, the big play, which was a great call on their part, till that happened, I still felt we had a shot at it."There were also some cries about still passing while up 31 in the 4th quarter and going for it on 4th down. Of the 5 passes that Quinn threw after ND went up by 31, only 2 of them were thrown past the line of scrimmage. One was a dump-off to running back Darius Walker and the other was a 3 yard pass to tight end John Carlson. Not exactly throwing it deep, Spurrier-style, there. As for the 4th down conversion, ND was already on the PSU 26 yard line. That doesn't leave any room for punting so Weis could either attempt the field goal and get accused of trying to run up the score, or go for it, and get accused of trying to run up the score. I think it's worth pointing out that the guy who got the ball on the 4th down attempt was ND's backup fullback, senior Ashley McConnell; a player who had only one career carry at that point.
Once the starters were pulled with 12 minutes remaining in the game, ND didn't attempt a pass again even though it might be wise to have ND's second string QB, Evan Sharpley, actually attempt his first collegiate pass before something happens and he's forced into a more serious situation.
• While we're on the subject of backups, it was great that so many of the 2nd stringers got a good amount of game action. Perhaps it wasn't so encouraging to watch as Penn State rattled off two quick TDs, but nothing helps a player like playing in a game, which is something that really hurt ND in the past as too many close games meant very few chances to play backups and develop team depth.
• Lastly, it was nice to see that NBC finally upped the production value of the broadcast. New intro, Jimmy Roberts on location, full coverage of the team running out of the tunnel before the game and singing with the students afterward; it was all a welcome change from the cheesy guitar intro of seasons past. Of course, the price we pay is that we'll have to watch those two Vonage ads approximately 357 more times this season. "Honey, look! Dolphins!"
• Brady Quinn has looked a bit off at times, especially on his fade passes to the corners of the endzone, but his two long passes to John Carlson were things of beauty. It's hard to find passes much better than those.
• The OL did a great job against the PSU front seven, but Bob Morton still looks to be having a bit of trouble with blitzing linebackers and quicker defensive lineman, especially when they stunt. I figure teams will keep sending multiple men his way until he's able to work with Sullivan and Young to shore up the leaky right side of the line.
• Speaking of Sam Young, he continues to impress me with his size, speed, and ability to knock defenders back. His trophy case is going to be very full by the time he leaves ND. And when he went out of the game in the 2nd quarter, Paul Duncan did a pretty good job in his stead. After so much uncertainty in the pre-season, the right tackle position seems pretty solid now to me. Taking it a step further, Young and Duncan should form an excellent bookend tackle duo over the next three seasons.
• It's great to watch Travis Thomas all over the field on offense and defense. He looks very solid at linebacker considering how new he is to the position. And I think his hustle throughout the game is just another testament to the great job by Coach Ruben Mendoza and the rest of the strength and conditioning staff. All of the Irish players look to be in fantastic shape and showed just how conditioned they are as they wore down both the Yellow Jackets and Nittany Lions in the 2nd half of both games.
• With a tough running team in Michigan coming up, I don't think ND will be able to get away with running the nickel as much as they have recently. Someone is going to need to step up and have a solid game at the strongside linebacker position. Weis credited Mitchell Thomas for his special teams play, which is good, because when Anthony Vernaglia was in late in the game, he looked pretty out of place on a number of plays. He was the first linebacker off the bench, as he replaced Travis Thomas in the nickel when ND started to work the backups into the game, but for the second straight game he didn't record any tackles. I only saw ND run a straight 4-3 defense once with the 2nd string and the lineup was Mitchell Thomas, Toryan Smith, and Joe Brockington. The rest of the time it was just Vernaglia and Brockington as ND stayed in the nickel in order to force PSU to run out the clock with short throws and rushes.
• Other players that I noticed for either great individual plays or just all-around hustle: Chinedum Ndukwe - for yet another devastating hit on an opposing player; Travis Leitko - for really hustling all over the field; Terrail Lambert - for that open field punt return tackle on Derrick Williams; Sergio Brown - for holding on to the Penn State player by his jersey just long enough to allow the rest of the team to tackle him; Raeshon McNeil - for diving for Zibby's fumble punt return and out-hustling the Penn State defenders for the ball; and Steve Quinn - for a superb special teams tackle after knifing through the Penn State wedge.