With Clausen at the Helm, Offense Should Look More Familiar

NOTRE DAME, IN (UHND.com) – When Demetrius Jones lined up under center last weekend, the Notre Dame offense did not look too familiar to anyone watching. Over the last two seasons under Charlie Weis, Notre Dame has run a prototypical pro-style offense. Saturday Notre Dame came out in a spread attack and the results were not anywhere close to what the Irish have become accustomed to producing. With Jimmy Clausen making his first career start this weekend in Happy Valley, the Irish offense should look much more familiar, but the question remains of whether or not the results will be familiar.

Facing an aggressive defense with an offensive line ushering in three new starters last weekend, Charlie Weis decided to try and use his athletic quarterback’s running ability to offset the Georgia Tech blitz and in some instances it worked, but the offense never got into any sort of rhythm. Jones’s two fumbles killed the only drives that netted first downs while he was in the game.

With Clausen taking the snaps this week, however, the Irish should return to the traditional, pro-style offense they have run over the past two years tailored to Clausen’s strengths – mainly his accuracy. Clausen is not known for having a cannon of arm, but rather his accuracy has been praised throughout his high school career. That being said, expect Weis to call a lot of short passes for Clausen early on to loosen up the Penn State defense.

In Clausen’s brief appearance at the end of the Georgia Tech game, we got a glimpse of his accuracy and feel for the quarterback position. The difference between Clausen and Evan Sharpley was that Clausen’s throws were thrown to a spot where the receiver was going to be and not where they were at that time. Clausen makes up his mind where he is going with the ball rather quickly and uses his quick release to get the ball where it’s going in a hurry.

I don’t expect the offense to look exactly like the one Brady Quinn ran last year, because Quinn’s strengths are different than those of Clausen’s. We didn’t see Quinn getting the ball to his receivers in motion that often, but I think that is something we’ll see more of with Clausen taking the snaps.

One area of the passing game that should definitely look more familiar this week is the use of the tight end. Weis’s offenses have made great use of the tight end over the past two seasons, but it took until the third quarter to get the ball into All American John Carlson’s hands last weekend. Look for Weis to dial up some plays for Carlson early and often to help get Clausen into a rhythm. Penn State has some very athletic linebackers, but if Nittany Lions indeed blitz as much as expected, Carlson should be open for some nice gains if Clausen can spot him in time.

While the offense should be more familiar to those watching Saturday, it’s unlikely the production will be the same considering Clausen will be making his first career start. Throw a tough defense and a hostile environment into the mix and things look even tougher for the Irish offense.

Still, a return to a more familiar offensive system and play calling should allow the Irish to move the ball much more efficiently than a week ago when the offensive line was dominated in the trenches resulting in an offensive output of just three points.

Returning to a more familiar style of offense should also help improve the play of the offense line since the blocking schemes needed to pull off the spread are a bit different than what the Irish offensive line is used to. Notre Dame’s offensive line looked slow and confused against Georgia Tech and a return to a more traditional Weis style offense should allow them to play faster due to their great level of familiarity with it.

Notre Dame’s offense is sure to hit a few rough spots in Happy Valley with a rookie quarterback, but overall the Irish should move the ball with more ease than they did a week and the result should be a greater offensive output. Considering the Irish scored just three points against the Yellow Jackets, that shouldn’t be too hard.

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