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After tune-up victory, Lions facing big test



Published: Wed, September 6, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.



Coach Joe Paterno is keeping his players off-limits to the media this week.

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) -- Joe Paterno knows all about the mystique surrounding Notre Dame football. He remembers listening to a Notre Dame-Ohio State game in the 1930s as a kid growing up in Brooklyn. He nearly sent a son to the South Bend, Ind., school for college.

And Penn State's coach certainly knows better than to provide any bulletin-board fodder to the Fighting Irish.

Asked Tuesday if Notre Dame might not be invincible at home after having suffered losses in South Bend last season to USC and Michigan State, Paterno, a 41-year coaching veteran, abruptly replied, "I haven't got the slightest idea what you're talking about. All I know is the team we got to play this Saturday is a very good, outstanding football team and we have to play them on the road."

After tuning up with a season-opening 34-16 win over Akron, the 19th-ranked Nittany Lions (1-0) face a much bigger challenge this weekend from Notre Dame (1-0), which fell two spots to No. 4 in this week's AP Top 25 poll. The contest between the two tradition-rich programs might have been this week's spotlight game in college football if not for Saturday night's showdown between No. 1 Ohio State and No. 2 Texas.

Limited distractions

Tickets are scarce for the Notre Dame game, but the hype is abundant at football-mad Penn State, which started its fall semester Tuesday. Paterno said he was keeping his players off-limits from the media this week to eliminate any more distractions.

"The guys are running around, trying to figure out where to go," Paterno said about the first day of school for his players. "It's a combination of the demand of people who want to talk to them this week, and that we start class today."

A two-hour practice awaited the Nittany Lions once they were finished with schoolwork. Among the areas that Paterno was likely going to focus on was the offensive line, which failed to produce an effective running game against Akron.

Only left tackle Levi Brown returned from last year's starting five. While new quarterback Anthony Morelli did pass for 206 yards and three touchdowns against the Zips, Penn State gained just 76 yards on the ground in a game that was in hand by the middle of the third quarter.

"I think we've got a chance to have a pretty good offensive line. I just don't think we were ready for some of the things last week, and obviously we'll have a tough time this week," Paterno said. "We're in a development stage. We're not there yet."

New wrinkle

One thing Paterno was comfortable with was the four-linebacker wrinkle Penn State debuted against Akron.

This week's depth chart lists Tim Shaw, whose 6-foot-1, 238-pound frame is built for linebacker duty, as a defensive end. Shaw started at middle linebacker last year, and his body might take a pounding from rushing at offensive linemen who are 60 to 70 pounds heavier.

But the converted running back is a lot faster than a typical defensive lineman. Shaw gave Akron trouble, registering two sacks and generating good pressure in the backfield. Paterno also likes Shaw because he can also drop back into pass coverage, if needed.

"If we can keep him healthy, he'll get better," Paterno said.

The lineup change also allows Sean Lee to get on the field with Shaw, All-American Paul Posluszny and Dan Connor, improving what was already a very good Penn State linebackers unit.

"They are, obviously, going to be tested when people start to get a little better feel watching him play as a pass rush and they are going to try to figure out some things they can do with him," Paterno said of Shaw. "It is a cat-and-mouse game."

Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.




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