NOTRE DAME, IN (UHND.com) – Because of the hype surrounding freshman quarterback Jimmy Clausen, most casual Notre Dame fans expected the “Lebron James of football” to step right in and have three touchdown games like he did last weekend from day one. Off-season shoulder surgery, offensive line woes, an anemic running game, a wide receiving corps which has had a case of the dropsies at times this year, and a mid season hip injury, however, have made the wait for such performances last a little longer than expected.
Here we are though at the end of one of the most disappointing seasons in the history of the program and it looks like Clausen is just getting started. In his first start since returning from the hip injury this weekend, Clausen completed 22 of 40 passes for 246 yards and 3 touchdowns.
Add in the eight drops which Charlie Weis mentioned on top of the absence of Duval Kamar and those numbers would have been even better. Still, while those numbers are far from astonishing, they are season highs in yards and touchdowns for any Notre Dame quarterback.
Prior to Saturday, the only 200 yard performance of the season by an Irish QB came from Evan Sharpley against Purdue. The only multiple touchdown games also came off the arm of Sharpley when he tossed two touchdowns against both Purdue and Navy.
The time on the sidelines watching and healing seemed to do Clausen a lot of good. He had a zip on the ball that just wasn’t there earlier this season.
As I sat in the stands watching Clausen labor through the first half of the Boston College game, it was very apparent he wasn’t close to 100%. Simple out patterns were a struggle for him and there was not a whole heck of a lot on his throws.
A bye week and two weeks on the sideline later and Clausen is throwing a much nicer ball which has made his often talked about accuracy start to become very apparent. On paper he may have only completed 55% of his passes, but if his receivers would have held onto even half of the passes they dropped, and that number increases to 65%.
“The second half yesterday Jimmy was 17 for 29 for about 200 yards and about six dropped balls,” Charlie Weis said on Sunday. “I think there were a lot of guys open, and he was getting it to them.”
We also saw Clausen start to work the ball down the seem more so than he had in previous starts. Early in the season his completion percentage was high due to an abundance of short, safe passes which netted very little yardage. Prior to this weekend, Jimmy’s average yards per completion was a mere 7.63. Saturday that number was 11.18 a completion.
Clausen’s teammates took notice to his improved play this weekend as well. Said sophomore center/guard Dan Wenger after the game, “He did a great job once we gave him protection. He threw the ball downfield and we made plays. It’s as simple as that. Everyone saw it.”
With two more starts against suspect defenses, Clausen should be able to continue to build on Saturday’s performance to create some positive momentum heading into 2008.
After the game Weis talked with his freshman signal caller on the sidelines. “I sat there and talked to him at the very end of the game. I called him aside and we talked about the program and next week and the future,” he said. “I think that one thing he understands is we took a baby step at his position, but the thing is now the team needs to take one.”
Duke will bring the 100th ranked pass defense to town this weekend yielding 266 yards a game. Their pass efficiency statistics are even worse with the Blue Devils coming in ranked 113th in the nation with an efficiency rating of 148.93. With such a porous defense to work against this weekend, expect another strong performance and another baby step for Clausen and the Irish offense.