Nittany Lions' defense punishes Clausen in Notre Dame debut

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- After choosing their words carefully all week, the Penn State Nittany Lions could finally speak freely Saturday night.

They got revenge on Notre Dame.

No. 14 Penn State's defense bottled up Jimmy Clausen, the Irish freshman quarterback making his first start, Derrick Williams returned a punt 78 yards for a touchdown and Austin Scott ran for two second-half scores in a 31-10 win at raucous Beaver Stadium.

Happy Valley rejoiced after the Nittany Lions got payback for Notre Dame's 41-17 win last year in South Bend, Ind.

"It's a revenge game, and you're beating one of the powerhouses of college football year in and year out," linebacker Dan Connor said. "It's something we wanted to do and we're proud of."

Anthony Morelli threw for 131 yards and a touchdown, though Penn State's offense looked shaky much of the day.

The Irish were worse, in almost every way.

Penn State held an opponent without an offensive touchdown for the second straight game. Notre Dame failed to score an offensive touchdown for the second straight game, and was held to zero yards rushing.

That left the Irish 0-2 for the first time since 2001, when Notre Dame lost its first three games.

"We thought they were pretty good going in, and they were pretty good," Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis said of the Penn State defense.

The much-ballyhooed Clausen finished 17-of-32 for 144 yards and an interception. Most of the freshman's completions were on swing passes or screens as Weis went conservative until midway through the fourth quarter.

"With a young quarterback, you don't want him to be comfortable. He's a talented kid," Penn State coach Joe Paterno said about Clausen.

A loud crowd of 110,078, second largest in Penn State history, appeared to lead to numerous communication problems for the Irish offense, which was whistled for several offsides and delay-of-game penalties.

"I'm not doing cartwheels," Weis said about Clausen. "But I can't say I'm displeased either. I think he wasn't the problem."

Darrin Walls staked the Irish to a 7-0 lead, returning an interception 73 yards for a touchdown and quieting a crowd dressed almost entirely in white.

However, Williams brought them back to life.

The junior, who runs track in the offseason, caught Geoff Price's punt down the right sideline and navigated through early traffic before making a cross-field dash to the end zone. Teammate A.J. Wallace delivered a key block and Notre Dame's Rasheon McNeil missed a tackle.

"You hope with the kind of speed we have that you'll get those once in a while," Paterno said.

Morelli hit Jordan Norwood for a 10-yard TD pass midway through the second quarter to give Penn State a 14-7 advantage, and a relentless defense took over from there. Scott finished with 28 carries and 116 yards along with his two scores. Morelli was 12-of-22 passing and had an interception.

Notre Dame's offensive line, which was battered for nine sacks in the season-opening loss to Georgia Tech, couldn't contain the Nittany Lions most of the game.

Trailing 17-7 early in the third quarter, Notre Dame had a golden opportunity after Tom Zbikowski returned a punt 43 yards to the Penn State 7.

From there, Penn State's defense held firm. Clausen threw an incompletion, Armando Allen was held to a 2-yard gain, Clausen threw the ball away under pressure, and the Irish had to settle for a field goal.

They would not score again.

Trailing 23-10, another Irish drive ended after Clausen was sacked on a blitz by Connor, who finished with a team-high 12 tackles.

"Obviously they're known as Linebacker U. for a reason," Notre Dame center John Sullivan said.

Clausen's best drive came late in the fourth quarter, when he led Notre Dame to the Penn State 10. However, that ended on fourth down when he was forced to scramble and then threw high, a pass that was intercepted in the end zone by Justin King.

Zbikowski led the Notre Dame defense by forcing two fumbles, but Penn State's running game finally got on track in the second half.

"We didn't come out on fire, but we ended up on top," Scott said. "That's all that matters."