Quarterback Decision on Hold

Head coach Charlie Weis decided before the USC contest to go with Evan Sharpley at quarterback. The junior replaced freshman Jimmy Clausen, who had started six straight contests. Weis said the move to Sharpley was because the junior was fully healthy while Clausen was banged up. Now, the Notre Dame head coach faces another quarterback decision heading into the Air Force game.

The Falcons will visit South Bend on Saturday afternoon to take on the Irish. Kickoff is scheduled for 2:43 PM and NBC will have the national television coverage. With Clausen getting back to 100 percent, it puts another quarterback decision on the shoulders of Weis. Notre Dame sits at 1-8 on the year after a frustrating 46-44 triple overtime loss to Navy, a game which Sharpley took every single snap. Weis will make a final determination on who'll start later in the week.

"We haven't practiced yet but they're both in the running," Weis said at his Tuesday press conference. "I'll let you know later in the week when we get to that point but they're both definitely in the running."

Since Sharpley took over the starting job from the banged-up Clausen, the junior has been average. In the 38-0 loss to USC, Sharpley was 17-of-33 for 117 yards, an interception and also sacked seven times. This past weekend, the numbers improved a bit against one of the worst pass defenses in the country. The junior was 17-of-27 for 140 yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions and was sacked four times by a Midshipmen defense who had a total of five coming into the contest. The two scores both went to freshman Duval Kamara.

But Clausen is getting back to near full strength. The 2007 season is lost and the team is trying to build momentum in the final three games into the next spring ball and 2008. Weis has to take all these factors into the equation and the Notre Dame head coach wants to see how the two of them perform this week in practice.

"What I'll be able to do is after I get through today, I'll be able to get a more definitive answer," Weis said. "I don't want to be evasive towards you guys on the quarterbacks. But I want to get through today before I give my line on how this is going to go. The one thing we won't be doing is going 50-50 on the reps all week. It might be closer than that today but not as the week goes on."

If a move was made, it would be the fourth switch this year. Demetrius Jones started the opener against Georgia Tech, only to be replaced by Clausen the following week at Penn State. Sharpley took over six games later after good second half performances versus Purdue and Boston College. Weis said at the beginning of the year he wanted to avoid playing musical chairs at the quarterback position. The last move, though, was necessitated on the health on Clausen.

"One kid is banged up,' Weis said of Clausen when he made the switch to Sharpley before USC. "The other kid isn't banged up. You play the kid who is healthy. There's a difference for pulling people on how they play versus them being banged up. It's a little different than what we were talking about in the beginning of the year."

The numbers between the two quarterbacks are close. Sharpley has attempted 140 passes to Clausen's 141. The freshman beats the junior in completion percentage 57.4 to 55.0 while Sharpley has a higher efficiency rating 106.66 to 89.51. Clausen has thrown for 618 yards and one touchdown to five interceptions compared to Sharpley's 736 yards and five touchdowns to three interceptions. Weis wants to find out who can be the lead guy in the final three games.

"The No. 1 thing is who is going to play it the best for you down the stretch," Weis said. "What you don't want to be doing each week here is who is going to play the best for us against Air Force and who is going to play the best for us against Duke and who is going to play the best for us against Stanford.

"I'm at the point right now where I want to win this game and simultaneously build some upward momentum. They go together. The decision isn't as simple as who has played better the last half dozen weeks. It's who gives us the best chance of winning this week and the next few weeks as we move forward."

Last week, Weis said the plan was to get both quarterbacks into the Navy game. Against Air Force, the Notre Dame head coach wants to find a lead guy and stick with him. The only change with this quarterback suspense is the timing. Weis has usually announced the decision at the beginning of the Tuesday press conference. This time around, both quarterbacks know the situation and the competition will play itself out over the next couple days of practice.

"I've already talked to both these guys," Weis said. "It isn't like they don't know that when they've been in there, things haven't gone great. Neither one of them is coming out and saying, ‘Hey, I've done a great job and I think it should be me.' They know we're going to put the team in the best position to win. I need to make sure we get us settled this week so we're not going back to that musical quarterback situation. Now that you have two guys with similar health, you have to plan on doing it for the stretch and not for one game."

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