Notre Dame can expect more of PSU's four-linebacker set.
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) -- All summer long, Joe Paterno and his coaching staff tried to quash talk that Penn State might use four linebackers on defense more often.
With a quartet of quick, athletic linebackers often scooting around the field, the 19th-ranked Nittany Lions frustrated Akron's offense in a 34-16 win Saturday at soggy Beaver Stadium. At times Penn State also used an odd two-lineman, four-linebacker, five-defensive back scheme when Akron faced third-and-long situations.
That's different from the four-lineman look featured on last year's solid unit, so Heisman hopeful quarterback Brady Quinn might have something new to think about when Penn State visits No. 2 Notre Dame on Saturday.
"We're trying to show a lot of different things, and try to confuse them. We got a lot of speed on the field," linebacker Dan Connor said about playing Akron. Connor registered two sacks, one forced fumble and a game-high 13 tackles.
"We'll see what we do next week," he said.
Far from perfect
Penn State's performance against Akron was far from perfect. There were blunders on special teams and the offensive line couldn't generate a running game. New quarterback Anthony Morelli clicked with his talented receivers, throwing for three touchdowns and 206 yards, but had a few mistakes.
Still, the Nittany Lions played with a comfortable, mostly double-digit lead after halftime, overcoming opening-game jitters and slick field conditions caused by the remnants of Tropical Storm Ernesto.
"We can improve on a lot of little things. ... The weather was tough," Morelli said. "We'll come out Monday and start preparing for Notre Dame."
Three starters graduated off last year's workhorse, four-man defensive line, including pass-rusher Tamba Hali. But all three starting linebackers, including Connor and All-American Paul Posluszny, returned, giving the Nittany Lions depth at the position.
Against Akron, linebacker Tim Shaw, who played the middle last year, often rushed quarterback Luke Getsy and had two sacks.
"We read all the rumors about it but did not know what they would do," Akron coach J.D. Brookhart said. "I thought it could be a logical move considering all of the good 'backers that they have."
Paterno likes the athleticism of Shaw, a converted running back.
"It was just a question of the team we were playing against and trying to get the best kids we have into the ballgame," said Paterno, who won his 355th career game and improved to 34-7 in season openers. "But it basically was a four-man line most of the day."
A new starting secondary also debuted. One safety, Donnie Johnson, registered some big hits among his eight tackles, and another, Anthony Scirrotto, returned an interception 28 yards.
Defensive coordinator Tom Bradley was satisfied with his backfield given the field conditions.
"It was really slippery out there and our players are built for speed," he said.3
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