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SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) -Brady Quinn threw three touchdowns and the Notre Dame offense returned to fantastic form in a 41-17 victory over No. 19 Penn State on Saturday.
Quinn, the Heisman hyped quarterback, was 12-of-16 passing for 150 yards and two touchdowns in the second quarter alone as fourth-ranked Notre Dame opened a 20-0 lead. The defense and special teams chipped in, too, breaking the game open in the third quarter by scoring one touchdown and setting up another as the Fighting Irish cruised. The game was essentially over at halftime.
“What I liked was the first half was meticulous,” Irish coach Charlie Weis said. “We had it about 19 minutes out of the 30 minutes. That’s not just offense. That’s offense and defense.”
Coach Joe Paterno’s Nittany Lions (1-1) haven’t beaten a ranked team on the road since a 34-31 win at No. 19 Wisconsin on Oct. 5, 2002. It was a disappointing performance for the Nittany Lions, who were eager to show they’re ready to be national contenders again after winning the Big Ten last year.
“I think they outplayed us,” Paterno said. “We made too many mistakes. We were sloppy.”
Quinn and the Irish looked much sharper than they did a week earlier in a 14-10 victory at Georgia Tech, when they played so inconsistently that even Weis dropped the Irish a few spots on his ballot in the coaches’ poll.
Asked how it felt to beat a coach like Paterno, Weis said: “I was happy to beat Penn State. … We were happy to beat a team as good as Penn State the way we did today.”
Quinn threw touchdown passes to Samardzija, Rhema McKnight and Darius Walker.
“I thought Brady Quinn was a heck of a football player coming in and he didn’t do anything to change my mind,” Paterno said.
Through two games Quinn has 533 yards passing — well ahead of last year’s pace of 367 yards.
Weis said the only bad pass he thought Quinn threw was when he overthrew John Carlson in the end zone early in the second half and the Irish had to settle for a field goal.
Quinn said the big difference was the play off the offensive line, which wasn’t very good against Georgia Tech.
“Everything that happened today I think should be credited to them, not us,” Quinn said.
Penn State linebacker Paul Posluszny said the Irish caught the Nittany Lions off guard.
“We expected them to keep going deep, but they just cleaned us all out and went underneath,” he said.
Safety Tom Zbikowski returned a fumble for a 25-yard touchdown for Notre Dame and Travis Thomas — the running back turned starting linebacker — set up his own 1-yard TD run with a 43-yard run on a fake punt.
Anthony Morelli, making his second career start for the Lions, found playing on the road a little more difficult than playing Akron at home. He was 21 of 33 passing with one interception and a fumble. He threw a 2-yard TD pass to Deon Butler with 5:51 left in the game.
“We actually moved the ball well in the first half, but just couldn’t finish anything off. That was our fault,” Paterno said.
The difference in the game was that Notre Dame was able to overcome its mistakes, while the Nittany Lions could not. The Irish again struggled early with penalties, two that stalled drives. Then Zbikowski couldn’t handle a punt, but it bounced forward and Raeshon McNeil recovered for the Irish.
The Nittany Lions had a botched field-goal attempt on their first possession. Then Tony Hunt fumbled the ball on Penn State’s second possession and Ronald Talley recovered for the Irish. On their first possession of the second half, Irish linebacker Maurice Crum Jr. knocked the ball loose when he hit Morelli. Zbikowski picked up the fumble and went in for a touchdown.
The Irish special teams contributed as well. Carl Gioia, who missed both his field goal attempts against Tech a week earlier, kicked two from 35 yards, and Geoff Price had a 62-yard punt.
The victory gives Notre Dame a 9-8-1 edge in the series, with the two teams meeting again next season in State College. It was the first meeting between the two storied schools since Penn State joined the Big Ten in 1993.
“I want the kids to feel good about that win,” Weis said. “We just beat a good football team soundly. I want them to feel good and enjoy it tonight,” he said. “We’ll worry about those things tomorrow.”