Learning Process for Clausen

The environment for Jimmy Clausen's starting debut wasn't the most ideal. The freshman quarterback got the nod to start at Penn State in Happy Valley in front of over 107,000 screaming fans. If the situation wasn't already intimidating enough, the Nittany Lions' fans all wore white to create a difficult road setting. And Penn State possessed one of the better defensive units in the nation.

"It was a great atmosphere," Clausen said on Thursday. "That's why I came to Notre Dame to play in big games like that and go to places like Penn State and Michigan. That's the reason I came here. I wished we could have gotten those victories but we're continuing to work hard each and every day in practice."

In the 31-10 loss at Penn State, Clausen was 17-of-32 for 144 yards and threw a late fourth quarter interception in his first collegiate start. The results haven't gotten any better for the freshman quarterback or Notre Dame. The Irish are 0-4 for the first time in school history. In three starts and mop-up time in the defeat to Georgia Tech, Clausen is 39-of-68 for 305 yards and no passing touchdowns.

The Westlake Village, CA native wasn't accustomed to losing in high school. At Oaks Christian, Clausen was 42-0 as the starting quarterback. This weekend, Clausen and Notre Dame will be looking to get off the snide when they travel to West Lafayette to face 4-0 Purdue. To incur a loss is a change for the freshman signal caller.

"It's been real different, to say the least," Clausen said. "In high school, I never lost a game. But that's high school. In college, it's a way different thing. It's not only helped me but the team realize this is a hard game and each day you have to come out and get better. The teams you're going to play are going to be real good."

Clausen's story is well known. The California native was the top prospect in the nation coming out of high school and chose Notre Dame. Clausen enrolled early in January in order to participate in spring practice. With Brady Quinn leaving to the NFL, there would be a competition at the quarterback position.

The contenders were Clausen, Demetrius Jones, Evan Sharpley and Zach Frazer. Weis cut the race down to three after spring ball with Frazer as the odd man out, who transferred to Connecticut. But Clausen underwent a procedure on his elbow after spring practice to remove a bone spur. When training camp started in early August, Clausen wasn't 100 percent. Hence, Jones got the nod to start the opener against Georgia Tech.

But Jones' starting debut was a disaster. In addition to running a West Virginia-like spread offense on short notice, Jones turned the ball over twice. Sharpley replaced him and did not fare much better, getting sacked seven times by the Yellow Jackets defenders. Clausen saw action late in the fourth quarter, completing 4-of-6 passes for 34 yards. Weis decided the best move forward was for Clausen to start the following week at Penn State.

"It's been fun," Clausen said of the whole process. "It's been a different experience. Obviously, we haven't got the wins we've wanted. We're coming out each and every day and trying to get better. We're looking to get our first win."

To say the offense has struggled this season would be an understatement. Currently, the Irish are one of the worst offensive teams in Division 1A. Notre Dame ranks dead last in total offense and rushing offense, 118th in scoring offense and 117th in passing offense.

A huge problem has been the inability for the offensive line to protect Clausen and the quarterbacks. The Irish are at the bottom of the stats nationally in sacks allowed. Clausen's been sacked 18 of the 27 total sacks. The freshman, who barely got touched in high school, can withstand the rough contact.

"Football is a physical sport," Clausen said. "If I didn't want to play football and get hit, I should have played golf or something like that. It's a physical sport. I'm going to get hit."

The biggest adjustment Clausen has had to make is to the speed of the college game.

"Obviously, it's faster than high school," Clausen said. "Once you get used to it, the game slows down a bit. Obviously, it's slowed down for me and the rest of the freshmen who've gone through that transition."

Another transition for Clausen has been picking up the offense. For a while, many didn't know what the offense would look like. After the Georgia Tech debacle, Weis toned down the game plan for Penn State. After that didn't work, the Notre Dame head coach tried a little bit of everything against Michigan. It backfired big time as the Irish were shutout 38-0.

Instead of scheming his way past the opposition, Weis went back to the basics after the Wolverines defeat. An emphasis on the ground game has been made priority No. 1. There were slight improvements in the loss to Michigan State as James Aldridge ran for over 100 yards. But Clausen was just 7-of-13 for 53 yards.

Right now, the freshman is learning the nuances of the offense and becoming familiar with college defenses. As the process continues into the season and Clausen progresses in his development, Weis will gradually let the freshman quarterback do more and more with the offense.

"Eight games from now, it'll be greatly increased from where it is right now," Weis said, who thinks Clausen is growing quickly in his progress as a college signal caller. "And it's greatly increased from where it was three weeks ago. You do it as they can handle it. I'd like to do a whole bunch more of it. But you do what they can handle. As they can handle it, you do more."

"You have to be more comfortable with the offense," Clausen said, who took a step this week by taking off the wristband this week with the plays written on them. "It's one thing to read a play off a wristband. It's another thing hearing it from Coach Weis and going through it in your head and calling it and going to the line of scrimmage and executing it. As I grow and Evan grows and the other quarterbacks grow, we're going to become more familiar with the offense."

For now, Clausen stressed over and over about the team getting better each and every day and trying to win their first contest of the season. It'll be a tough chore this weekend, where Notre Dame is three touchdown underdogs to the undefeated Boilermakers. The growing pains for Clausen and the offense are evident. The freshman thinks it‘s time to start helping cure the problems.

"I would like to improve on every thing, mainly on helping this team win," Clausen said. "I haven't done enough to help this team win. I feel I could do more to help this team get their first victory."

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