More Installation On The Way

When Notre Dame quarterbacks coach Ron Powlus made his first career start in an Irish uniform back in 1994, the red-shirt freshman had the whole offense installed for the season-opening win over Northwestern. Even though he was injured the year before, Powlus was able to soak up most of the playbook, and head coach Lou Holtz didn't have to hold back when he ran Powlus out there in his debut.

"In a way, I was fortunate that I had the year to learn, and see, and watch," Powlus said after Notre Dame's practice on Tuesday. "That was, we didn't have to change much in our world, because I had been there for a year and the spring. So it was pretty much our whole offense."

Powlus, the nation's consensus top recruit from Berwick High in Pennsylvania, broke his collarbone during the preseason of his true-freshman year. While rehabbing, he was able to become educated on the intricacies of Holtz's offense.

Though he enrolled early for spring football, freshman Jimmy Clausen hasn't had the same blessing in disguise as Powlus did, in learning head coach Charlie Weis's offense. With the Irish offense gaining just 122 yards in the season opening 33-3 loss to Georgia Tech, Weis named Clausen, the nation's consensus top recruit, the starter for last Saturday's game at No. 11 Penn State.

In the 31-10 loss to the Nittany Lions, Weis only had a small portion of his offense installed for Clausen. With 110,000 screaming fans in his ear, Clausen was calm and cool, completing 17-of-32 passes for 144 yards, despite being pressured nearly every time he dropped back to throw.

"We had minimal in," Weis stated. "I wouldn't say the least I've ever had, but it wasn't very much. And, well, we believed it was enough to be able to manage the game. But the problem I have is I have a catch-22. I would rather not open it up. But you have to open it up, you have to open it up to give you an opportunity to score points.

"Because I'm aggressive by nature, you have to make sure in that catch-22 we're talking about, that you don't hang the quarterback out to dry," Weis continued. "But at the same time, you put the team in position to score some points."

Clausen appears ready for more. He's asking for more. Weis says he'll be getting more this week, as the Irish (0-2) prepare for Saturday's game at Michigan (0-2).

Maybe in the back of his mind during the Georgia Tech game, Weis knew he was going to have to go with Clausen against Penn State. Weis told the media that Clausen performed the best of the four quarterbacks competing for the starting job back in the spring, but summer surgery to remove a bone spur in his elbow limited him during the competition in fall camp. Slowly but surely, Clausen started to come back, and Weis got his feet wet during mop-up time against the Yellow Jackets. The 6-foot-3, 207-pound signal-caller came in and made quick decisions, completing 4-of-6 passes for 36 yards.

That taste of action led Weis to believe Clausen was ready. Against Penn State, Clausen nearly had his first touchdown pass on two occasions. In the fourth quarter, classmate Duval Kamara dropped a score in the back of the end zone. On the very next play, a pressured Clausen avoided the rush and threw a high pass that went off the out-stretched hands of Robby Parris and into a Penn State defender's arms.

Notre Dame's vanilla offense struggled for the second week in a row, this time gaining just the 144 yards Clausen threw for. On the season, the Irish have rushed for a nation's worst, minus-eight yards. Most of Clausen's throws were screens, swing passes and short tosses against Penn State. In hopes of energizing the offense against Michigan, Weis might open things up and go with a heavier dose of down-field passes.

"He's getting more," Weis said. "And he's getting more within the reasons of what I think he can tolerate. Obviously, we've gone through two games without much production on offense, so you can't sit back. You can't just sit there and take baby steps. You have to make some significant strides to try to get some production on offense."

***Weis was pleased with the way Clausen played in his first career start. He said so many times, mentioning that Clausen made the right decision with the football most of the evening.

Powlus and junior receiver David Grimes echoed those sentiments following practice on Tuesday.

"For a quarterback, playing in a game like that, in a situation he was in as his first start, I thought Jimmy handled himself well," Powlus said. "Certainly we all need to do more in every position to win games. That's what our focus is. But very generally speaking, Jimmy handled himself very well.

"Without getting too specific into our offense, he showed to make good decisions and handled himself well. That's what you felt like you could count on with him, and that's what he showed us. We didn't feel like there was any kind of let down with him."

Clausen connected with Grimes five times for 45 yards.

"As a freshman, I think he handled himself well," Grimes said. "He kept his composure. He seemed to have a steady head and kept his cool."

***Offensive line coach John Latina, guard Michael Turkovich, and Grimes talked about the Irish's return to the practice field, as the offensive unit continues to try and get better following last Saturday's second consecutive disappointing loss.

"Today was a good day," Latina said. "I think our attitude was good. I think our willingness was good. As a coach, that's what you hope for, especially with the situation that we're in. You hope your kids keep a good attitude. You hope your kids keep a good willingness to work. Because that's the only chance you have to overcome what we're going through, is the work and having a great attitude."

"Today actually wasn't a bad day, I thought we really started to execute a lot better," Turkovich said. "After this weekend, we're just looking to get better all around, and I think we took some steps forward today.

"Practice was upbeat," Grimes said. "Guys weren't hanging their head. We're still working hard, trying to push through and get our first victory."

***Powlus walked into the auditorium of the Guglielmino Athletics Complex huffing and puffing.

"I just ran with them," he said. "We're all in this together."


IrishIllustrated.com Top Stories