Head coach Charlie Weis announced on Tuesday that the junior will start at quarterback for the game this weekend against No. 9 USC. Kickoff is scheduled for 3:43 PM and NBC will have the national television coverage. After an unproductive first half showing against Boston College, Clausen was replaced by Sharpley in the third quarter and the junior led the team on three scoring chances, one which was converted into a touchdown pass to Robby Parris.
Weis said Sharpley gives the team the best chance to win this weekend. Another big factor in the decision was the status of Clausen, who has taken several big hits in contests.
"I think it's a combination of one guy being in there and getting banged around pretty good," Weis said. "(Clausen's) not injured. But is he hurt? Yeah, he's hurt. There's a big difference between being hurt and injured. The separation between the two isn't big enough for a backup guy getting a nod over a fresh guy. That's why we're going in that direction."
In the loss to the Eagles, Clausen finished 7-of-20 for 60 yards. The big no-no was the two interceptions thrown by the freshman. The last one set up a Boston College touchdown that increased their advantage to 20-0. Sharpley came on in relief and immediately led the team on a 79-yard drive, capped with a 19-yard scoring strike to Parris.
The junior led the team on two more scoring chances but Brandon Walker missed a field goal and a holding penalty negated another touchdown throw to Parris. Sharpley finished with 135 passing yards and zero interceptions. But the signal caller's completed just 11-of-29 passes, good for only 38 percent. Weis said after the contest Sharpley's play was hot and cold. The performance, coupled with a hurt Clausen, was good enough to move him into the starting lineup for the first time in three years at Notre Dame.
"Its been fairly close for most of the year," Weis said of the competition between the two. "We're at a stage now where we think Evan playing gives us a better chance of winning. That's why you go with Evan."
Sharpley, who is 43-of-80 for 479 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions on the year, has seen action in five of the seven games this season. The biggest impact the junior had was in the loss at Purdue. After Clausen got banged up, the junior came on late in the third quarter and got the Irish to 26-19 at one point. An interception in the end zone with the score at 33-19 ended the comeback attempt but Sharpley finished 16-of-26 for 208 yards and two touchdowns.
Weis has stated that the junior prepares each week as if he'll be getting the snaps in the games. On Saturday against a USC defense ranked No. 8 nationally overall, Sharpley doesn't have to worry about being the backup.
"He's been patient because he knows when we judge a quarterback, we judge off evidence, not by a popularity contest," Weis said. "I can show him what I'm talking about. He knows that he continued to close the gap and now is the time. He's really excited to make the most of this opportunity because he thinks he's waited his time and he's pretty fired up."
As for Clausen, depending on how Sharpley performs, the freshman should be ready for anything on Saturday. The freshman has struggled at times this season adjusting to the college game. Clausen is 81-of-141 for 618 yards, one touchdown and five interceptions on the year. Earlier in the season, the freshman didn't have much time to throw the ball as the offensive line struggled with pass blocking.
But against Boston College, Clausen could not get the offensive moving as Notre Dame fell behind 20-0. Also, the physical pounding the freshman is taking is evident by Weis' comments on him being hurt. The Irish head coach said on Sunday there is value to watching and learning from the sidelines, as opposed to taking the snaps. Weis laid out for Clausen what he expects from him as the backup.
"(He has) to prepare as if you're playing in the game because you're a play away from playing," Weis said. "This gives you an opportunity to step back and watch the game. It slows down when you're not in there. It's real fast when you're in there."