Notre Dame, IN (UHND) – Junior quarterback Jimmy Clausen took another step towards fulfilling the lofty expectations placed on him as the nation’s #1 recruit three years ago on Saturday in Notre Dame’s impressive 35-0 season opening win over Nevada. The quarterback’s work on the sideslines, however, might have been just as impressive as his work on the field.
Clausen was on fire from the get go Saturday. He completed 15 of 18 passes for 315 yards and 4 touchdowns without anything close to an interception. He went through his progressions quickly when he had to and was decisive with the football.
Charlie Weis told the media after Saturday’s game that he could remember just two mistakes made by his junior quarterback. “But other than those two plays, I can’t remember a play that he wasn’t right on. So I was pleased with his effort,” said Weis. Those two plays were two of Clausen’s three incompletions – one coming when he missed a wide open Kyle Rudolph down the seam and the other when he threw a jump ball out of bounds to Golden Tate on a fourth and short.
The jump ball to Tate did show that while Clausen was nearly perfect, he still has room for improvement. Weis has given Clausen more freedom at the line of scrimmage in terms of audibling and that play was an example of Clausen audibiling out of a play when he shouldn’t have. “They ran one cover, and originally Golden was going to run the slant, he tapped and tried to have him run a go, and really I would have liked him run the slant and go ahead,” said Weis.
Clausen showed his maturity in his post game comments when he talked about the fourth down play to Golden Tate as well. “I had him on a go, and I shouldn’t have done that. I should have just kept the play on on, and we probably would have picked up the first down. He might have run it in for a touchdown,” he said afterward. While it might seem minor, it says a lot about a quarterback when he can talk about the plays he missed after turning in a nearly flawless performance.
Still, it’s pretty hard to argue with 15 of 18 for 315 yards and 4 touchdowns. If Weis can count Clausne’s mistakes on one hand every game this season, it’s going to be a fun year to be a Notre Dame fan.
Nevada head coach Chris Ault took notice of Clausen’s strong performance as well. “I thought Jimmy did a nice job. He kept his poise. He threw the ball very well. It looked to me he did, in my opinion, he had some nice pocket presence, some of the things we’re trying to do.”
Clausen’s work on the sidelines though was equally as impressive as the gaudy numbers he put up on the stat sheet. Over the course of the past two seasons the biggest knock on Clausen has been his leadership capabilities. His teammates elected him a captain over the summer and on Saturday Clausen validated their selection by displaying the kind of leadership that we had yet to see out of him previously.
Charlie Weis made mention throughout the summer that Clausen had made big strides in the leadership department. On Saturday he backed up his coach’s statements with his actions.
Throughout the game Clausen was seen walking up and down the sidelines encouraging his teammates and congratulating the defense as they came off the field. We all got used to seeing this kind of behavior from Brady Quinn while he was at Notre Dame, but prior to yesterday that type of behavior was the exception, not the norm from Clausen.
NBC’s Pat Hayden made mention during yesterday’s telecast that when he talked to Clausen during their weekly production meeting that it was like talking to a different quarterback. He said that he could tell in his dealings with Clausen that he had indeed matured during the off-season. Hayden also drew attention to Clausen’s interaction with his teammates while on the sidelines throughout the game.
Clausen’s great opener comes on the heels of the best game of his college career in the Hawaii Bowl. In his last two games, Clausen has completed 37 of 44 passes (84%) for 716 yards with 9 touchdowns and 0 interceptions – the kind of numbers everyone’s been hopeful he would be capable of since he was named the starter two years ago. He’s also taken just two sacks combined in his last two games.
Saturday was in many aspects a perfect season opener for Clausen. He performed well both on and off the field, but still has a few plays to sit down and look at with Weis in the film room. The next step for Clausen to make will be to continue this kind of success on a consistent basis and to do it against some better defenses. Not to take anything away from Clausen’s performances these past two games, but the WAC isn’t known for its defense. Clausen will start to silence any remaining doubters if he can put up similar numbers against teams like Michigan and Michigan State the next two weeks.
For now though, things are looking pretty good for Clausen and the Irish. To borrow a line that Charlie Weis likes to use a lot, the arrow is pointing up for Clausen right now.