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Penn State head coach Joe Paterno, center, runs onto the field with his team before the start of the first half.
Sept. 1, 2007
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. --With a quality effort on both sides of the ball, No. 17 Penn State dominated in its gridiron opener, blanking FIU for the 59-0 victory, the 38th shutout under head coach Joe Paterno. Senior quarterback Anthony Morelli (Pittsburgh) posted career numbers, shattering the Penn State first half record with 231 passing yards. The Nittany Lion defense rendered FIU's offense scoreless, causing five turnovers and tallying seven sacks.
"I thought we were very, very sloppy early and I kind of thought that might happen... but I think it was a good first game for us," said Paterno. "I thought the defense played well pretty much the whole game. Kicking was good...overall I thought it was a good first game."
The Nittany Lions posted their third shutout in their last six games and earned their 100th victory in a season opening game (100-19-2). Penn State has won 23 of its last 28 games overall.
It took a dominant Penn State team less than five minutes to get the ball and move it down the field swiftly, using 37-yard connection from Morelli to Deon Butler (Woodbridge, Va.) en route. Morelli found tri-captain Terrell Golden (Norfolk, Va.) three plays later for the touchdown, going up 6-0. The touchdown catch was the first for Golden since the third game of the 2005 season. After a successful extra-point conversion, the Nittany Lions led 7-0 over the visiting Golden Panthers and never looked back.
Nittany Lion Mickey Shular (Enola) got his first career touchdown in the first quarter when Morelli found the redshirt-sophmore tight end down the right side of the field. The converted extra-point put Penn State up 14-0, where the score would remain until the change of quarter.
The Penn State defense shined in the first frame, forcing three fumbles and sacking FIU's quarterback Wayne Younger twice. Tri-captain Dan Connor (Wallingford) grabbed his second career fumble recovery, while junior cornerback Justin King (Pittsburgh) and sophomore defensive tackle Phil Taylor (Clinton, Md.) each made their first career recoveries for the Nittany Lions.
Junior kicker Kevin Kelly (Langhorne, Pa.) converted his first field goal of the year with 6:41 left in the half on a 45-yarder after a nine-play drive. An Austin Scott (Allentown, Pa.) one-yard run then capped a drive that started at the Penn State 46-yard line, and with the extra point, made the lead a 24-0. The touchdown was one of two for the senior running back on the day.
The outstretched arms of Nittany Lion defensive tackle Jared Odrick (Lebanon) preserved the shutout when the sophomore elevated to block a 39-yard field goal attempt by Golden Panther kicker Dustin Rivest that was recovered by linebacker Sean Lee (Pittsburgh).
The halftime reset showed Penn State with 266 yards to FIU's 81. Morelli racked-up a school-record 231 first half yards, while Lee led the defense with a spectacular effort, posting seven tackles, including two for loss, forcing a fumble, recording a sack, and recovering the blocked FIU field goal attempt. The defense forced three fumbles in the opening frame alone on its way to five for the day.
"I thought (this was) a good test, a good first game," said Lee. "They played hard and I think their program will continue to get better. I think next week will definitely be a bigger test, but this was a good first game for us."
Morelli kept on rolling in the second half, finishing with a career day on 23-of-38 in the air for 295 yards. He also threw three touchdown passes, which tied his career high, set against Akron in the 2006 season opener. Morelli connected with eight different receivers and broke Mike McQueary's school record of 219 yards in the first half vs. Wisconsin in 1997.
"We were able to throw the ball around a lot today, said Morelli after the game. "The receivers did a good job catching- that gives us a lot of confidence. It gives the line a lot of confidence, too. They know they can protect long enough and protect against the blitzes."
After the fourth FIU turnover of the day, a 25-yard, 42 second Nittany Lion drive ended with Scott's second touchdown of the day, this time an eight-yard run that made the score 31-0 Penn State.
After a 21-yard reception on the next drive, fifth-year senior Rodney Kinlaw (Goose Creek, S.C.) finished the job, running in another six points from the 15-yard line. Another good extra point conversion from Kelly extended the led to 38-0.
The Nittany Lions kept the offense going in the third quarter, which saw Penn State score 28 of its final 59 points. This time it was a three-play, 29-yard drive that resulted in senior fullback Matt Hahn (Dix Hills, N.Y.) catching the short one-yard pass for the score.
Junior quarterback Daryll Clark (Youngstown, Ohio) took over the offense in the third quarter, and orchestrated the period's last touchdown as redshirt-freshman Evan Royster (Fairfax, Va.) racked up 34 yards on the ground en route to his first career touchdown, a 13-yard run. Redshirt-freshman and local product Collin Wagner (State College) converted the final two extra points on the day, starting with the capper to Royster's run, making it 52-0.
After the final Golden Panther fumble of the day, Dan Lawlor (Mechanicsburg, Pa.) crossed the line from 16 yards out to push the score to 59-0.
"Well, we came up here and we did play hard, we did," said Florida International head coach Mario Cristobal. "Hats off to Penn State, they are an extremely well-coached football team. They've got phenomenal athletes. You know what Coach Paterno has done in his time and this is another example of another one of their great teams."
By the end of the day, Penn State would have touchdowns from three different receivers and running conversions from four different backs. Add in the Kelly field goal and the Nittany Lions' offense scored on FIU in just about every way possible.
No. 17 Penn State hosts old rival Notre Dame on Saturday, Sept. 8, at 6 p.m. The clash has been declared the first-ever all-stadium White Out. The game can be seen on ESPN.
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