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Clausen can't change it up

Freshman makes his first start, but Penn State's defense overpowers him and Notre Dame, 31-10, as Irish fall to 0-2.

September 09, 2007|Brian Hamilton | Chicago Tribune

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- The ball sailed across a background of frothing fans almost uniformly dressed in white. It was thrown by the promising arm of Jimmy Clausen and, for one of the first times all night, landed in the hands of a Notre Dame receiver who wasn't near the line of scrimmage.

A holding penalty, however, nullified the pass, another of the needles to Notre Dame's collective balloon Saturday. A 31-10 loss to Penn State arrived thanks to all manner of self-destruction, and with it came only the fifth 0-2 start for the Irish since 1900.

"Everyone has this empty feeling," Notre Dame guard Mike Turkovich said. "It stinks. Everyone's hurting."

Clausen was not the tonic. But the freshman from Westlake Village Oaks Christian High hardly spontaneously combusted either.

He completed 17 of 32 passes for 144 yards, but given the relentless pressure he faced -- the Irish surrendered another six sacks -- it was more than acceptable.

"I'm not doing cartwheels, but I can't say I'm displeased, either," Coach Charlie Weis said of Clausen, who wasn't made available for comment. "He wasn't the problem."

The crowd of 110,078, second largest in Beaver Stadium history, would attest to that. The fans probably would suggest the problem is the Irish offense, period, specifically the line, which paved the way to a net of zero rushing yards.

After Notre Dame's opening drive efficiently moved the ball to the Penn State 33-yard line, there was room for optimism, even after a 50-yard field goal was missed. Then the Irish went three-and-out on seven of the next eight possessions, and the halftime horn cut short the other one.

It has now been 10 quarters without a Notre Dame offensive touchdown, and Weis was left to say one of his team's goals was merely to get to halftime with a chance to win.

"Bottom line, the production hasn't been there," Weis said. "We talked about it inside. We need to do less things, find something we can hang our hat on and do it more."

And then there were the 14 penalties. A Travis Thomas personal foul on a punt return eliminated the Irish's chance to control the field-position battle early. An Ambrose Wooden pass-interference call near the goal line basically handed Penn State a 24-10 lead.

The Irish amassed 144 yards of offense -- and reversed course with 97 yards of infractions.

"It was miserable," Weis said.

This on a night when, for a while, Penn State's best offense was its special teams.

Derrick Williams' 78-yard punt return for a score got the Nittany Lions (2-0) on the board. A 68-yard kickoff return from A.J. Wallace set up a field goal. Austin Scott's second touchdown run midway through the fourth quarter was essentially a product of a weary Irish defense.

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