Sharpley Shines in Relief, But Clausen Should Start

NOTRE DAME, IN ( – Evan Sharpley stepped in admirably for Jimmy Clausen on Saturday when the talent freshman had to come out of the game with an apparent hip injury. Sharpley completed 18 of 26 passes for 209 yards and a couple of touchdown in the final quarter and a half against Purdue, but as long as he is healthy, Jimmy Clausen should remain the starting quarter for the Irish this season.

Sharpley’s strong relief appearance will no doubt have a large portion of the Irish faithful calling for a switch behind center, but it’s not as though Clausen played poorly before being injured. In fact, Clausen was showing signs of turning the corner before being knocked out of the game after taking several big time shots from the Purdue defense.
On Sunday Charlie Weis told the media Clausen is still likely his starter if he is healthy this weekend. “I would say that’s probable,” he said when asked if Jimmy was the starter against UCLA.

And Weis is right in sticking with Clausen.

Before being injured, Clausen, like Sharpley, completed 18 of 26 passes for 169 yards and tossed his first career touchdown pass. He also looked like he was starting to turn the corner for the first time this year where he was out there making plays and not just running for his life.

In fact, for the first time this year, Clausen was not sacked and part of the reasoning for that was his week to week improvement. Jimmy actually was playing pretty well, to tell you the truth. Didn’t get sacked in the game. While the offensive line delivered its best pass protection of the season, Clausen made some plays to get rid of the ball that he wasn’t making a few weeks ago. He avoided the rush and got rid of the ball when he had to.

Clausen, however, didn’t play perfectly. “He had the one bad play on the interception where he was trying to make a play and threw the ball across his body instead of just either taking a sack or throwing the ball away when he got flushed out and was rolling to his left,” Weis said when assessing Clausen’s performance Sunday.

The play was a perfect example of a freshman making a freshman mistake. Instead of getting rid of the ball he forced something and his arm was hit as he threw resulting in the interception.

“Right after that interception, I called him over and said, Hey, look, that’s a play you got to sometimes take a sack or sometimes throwing the ball away is a good thing,” said Weis.
Still, Clausen didn’t do anything against Purdue that would lead anyone to think that had he played the full game he wouldn’t have been able to continue the success he had on the first touchdown drive of the game. Even before the initial touchdown drive of the game, Clausen and the Irish were moving the ball at times, but special teams blunders and turnovers stymied the Irish offense in the first half.

This isn’t to say that Sharpley didn’t play extremely well. He most certainly did. “I would say above average,” Weis assessed Sharpley’s performance on Sunday. “ But I’d move that to pretty good due to the number of reps he got in relationship to Jimmy.”

Just as Clausen had some faults with his game, so too did Sharpley. One of the biggest knocks on him in his brief appearances this year was that he held onto the ball too long and that was the case at times on Saturday. While he did a great job of moving around in the pocket, he still didn’t show a great feel for the blitz and ended up getting sacked twice.
Both quarterbacks, though, played better than they had previously played this year and both moved the offense through the air better than we’ve seen all year. “I think the team now knows that we have two guys that we can put in at quarterback that can move the team and give us a chance of winning. A couple weeks ago we didn’t even know if we had one,“ said Weis.

Weis also had to be happy that his freshman quarterback took a major step forward with his performance and also showed a lot of guts trying to play through the pain. Clausen also showed a lot of maturity by telling Weis he wasn’t able to make the throws he had to after the injury. “On the one throw down the sideline to Golden (Tate), where Golden’s five yards behind for a long touchdown, and he said ’Hey coach I’m throwing it as far as I can throw it’,” Weis said in his post game comments Saturday.

If #7 is healthy on Saturday, he should start. The question all week, however, will be how healthy he is. Knowing that Sharpley can come in and move this offense will definitely play a role in assessing if Clausen can suit up Saturday. As Weis said Sunday, “It at least gives me now some weapons to work with where I can feel with a lot more confidence we’d be able to throw the football.”

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