Learning On and Off the Field

After starting the second contest of the year at Penn State, Jimmy Clausen was underneath center on the first offensive series for the next five games. The freshman signal caller took a beating, sustaining hit after hit as Notre Dame is dead last nationally in sacks allowed. After another rough outing in the loss to Boston College, Charlie Weis decided to make a move to Evan Sharpley for USC.

The results were pretty similar to when Clausen was at quarterback for the nation's worst offense. Sharpley finished just 17-of-33 for 117 yards. The junior also threw an interception to no touchdowns and was sacked five times in the game. Weis has said before the Trojans contest that Clausen was a bit banged up from the first seven contests of the year. Not starting allowed the freshman to watch the game from the sidelines. It wasn't such a bad deal for Clausen, who continues his learning process in Weis' offensive system.

"It slowed down a lot for me while I was on the sideline," Clausen said on Tuesday. "Anyone that has played football goes into a situation where they go into college from high school and play a few games and then goes to the sidelines. You see it slows down a lot for you on the sidelines. You can make your reads just like you do on the field."

Clausen went into more detail of how his Saturday afternoon went watching the USC game from the sideline and trying to learn more each and every snap.

"While we're on offense, I'm right next to Coach (Michael) Haywood getting the signal of the play call," Clausen said. "I look at the coverages and the reads, like Evan is doing on the field. After the series is over, I talk to Evan to find out what he sees and to see if he has any questions. I like going down to watch the other offense and out defense play. I like watching the whole game. I like watching the game and my teammates."

Weis said before the USC contest that there was great benefit for quarterbacks watching from the sidelines. It's necessary to get on the field experience as well. But with Clausen banged up, Weis decided to go with a healthy Sharpley. After the Trojans shutout victory, the Notre Dame head coach and the freshman signal caller had a conversation, which turned out to be quite informative for Clausen's growth as a quarterback.

"With the quarterbacks, I always try to give them lessons on development," Weis said. "And after the easiest time to do some teaching is right after a game is over. Because that's the easiest time to sit there and say, ‘Did you see this, did you see this? Did you see this? Did you see this?‘ Because especially when you're not playing, it's easier to see things when you're not playing. It really helps in a quarterback's case and it really helps in their development."

As for his health, Clausen said he's sore all over from his first college football season.

"Right now, I'm just day-to-day," Clausen said. "I'm trying to get healthy. But I'm day-to-day."

Clausen has had a rocky freshman season trying to learn the college ropes. After going through his high school career 42-0 and rarely ever being touched, it's been almost the total opposite. The freshman did start Notre Dame's only win, a 20-6 victory over UCLA. Clausen, back in his home state, actually rushed for a one-yard touchdown on a quarterback sneak. More importantly, the California native did not turn the ball over.

Other than that small bright spot, it's been a rough transition. Clausen is 81-of-141 for 618 yards, one touchdown to five interceptions with a 57 percent completion rate. The hope is that the learning on the job now as a freshman will translate into big things for the Irish offense in the future. Clausen has valued the lessons he's learned this year.

"It's been a good experience, not only for me but for everyone," Clausen said. "We are where we are now. We're 1-7. We're going to make the best out of the rest of the season. There's a lot of fifth-year seniors who came back. They've helped keep the team together, as have Coach Weis and the other coaches on the staff. It's not the way everyone wanted it to be but that's how it is and we have to move forward and win these next four games."

The next four games is big for Notre Dame's future plans. Weis wants to get more guys into the mix and develop them for 2008. A strong finish to this season could carryover momentum to next spring and into the fall. With a loaded recruiting class set to step on campus in the summer, success in this last month of play could be a turning point back to respectability for the Notre Dame football program.

"We had some talks about that off the field," Clausen said. "We're going to keep working as hard as we can, not only (the freshmen) but the sophomores and juniors and with whatever seniors come back."

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