In a release sent out to the media on Wednesday after practice was concluded, Weis let it be known that Notre Dame would be making their third quarterback switch of the season, this time back to Clausen for the second time for the contest against the Falcons. The freshman was sent to the bench after a poor performance in the loss to Boston College, which included a third quarter interception that led to an Eagles touchdown. Clausen has also been hurt a bit, or "banged up" as Weis would describe it. After a few weeks of sitting, the freshman is healthy enough to assume the starting duties.
"I told you what I'd do on Tuesday," Weis said on Thursday. "I gave them equal reps. On Wednesday, Jimmy got more. I was going to wait until Thursday but I had told a few of you guys on Wednesday who were around. Based off of Tuesday and Wednesday's practice, we went in that direction."
Weis said Clausen showed a lot of zip and accuracy this week in practice and that the freshman is the healthiest he's been in at least a month. Clausen has appeared in seven of the nine games played this year and started six of them.
The freshman started the team's only win of the season, a 20-6 victory at UCLA. Clausen actually scored on a quarterback sneak in the contest and didn't throw an interception against the Bruins. On the year, the freshman has thrown for 618 yards, one touchdown to five interceptions with a completion rate of 57 percent.
"He looked better at just about everything than he did a few weeks back," Weis said of Clausen this week in practice. "I don't know what the cause is that. I'd like to sit there and say I have all the answers to that. But I do know that he looked very fresh and very sharp and we were very encouraged."
Weis said on Tuesday that he wanted to pick a quarterback for the stretch drive and the Irish head coach reiterated that on Thursday, saying the intent is for Clausen to start the final three games. When the move to Sharpley was made after the Boston College contest, Weis talked about the game slowing down to a standstill for a quarterback while watching the proceedings on the sideline. It's usually better done than said and the hope is that it helps Clausen on Saturday against Air Force.
"When you explain it to a young guy, they don't get it at first," Weis said a quarterback learning while sitting on the sidelines. "Until they are back where you are and can see what you're talking about, that's when they get it. Because when you go to the line of scrimmage, it's like, ‘Okay, here it comes.'
"But a quarterback on the sideline can see, ‘Okay, they're bringing two-strong on this play and watch the safeties.' You can see that stuff happening before the play takes place. It's easier when the guy is standing right next to you. When you're underneath center and it's all happening right there, when you're inexperienced you're more worried about running the play than watching all the things pre-snap in order for you to be successful."
As for Sharpley, the junior will return to the bench and assume the backup duties. Sharpley has appeared in eight of nine games this season, throwing for 736 yards and five touchdowns to three interceptions while completing 55 percent of his passes. In the losses to USC and Navy while he was starting, Sharpley combined to go 34-of-60 for 273 yards and two touchdowns.
The junior has shined in two contests this season coming off the bench. Against Purdue, Sharpley almost led Notre Dame back from a 23-0 deficit, tossing for over 200 yards and two touchdowns. In the loss to Boston College, the junior led the Irish on their only touchdown drive of the day, a scoring connection to Robby Parris. Weis likens Sharpley to a player he coached while in the professional ranks.
"He has a great temperament to be a backup quarterback.," Weis said of Sharpley. "But I don't want to be disrespectful and say he's only a backup quarterback. But he has a great temperament to be a backup quarterback.
"He's similar to me like Damon Huard. Here's a guy in my past who had been playing but was a backup to Drew (Bledsoe) and a backup to Tommy (Brady). Here's a guy who's starting in the league right now. But he was a perfect guy to be backup because he was a pro and got ready to play every week with less reps than the other guy."
***Nose tackle Pat Kuntz was hurt in the defeat to Navy when he got kneed in the back in the first half. The junior did not return to action but has been on the practice fields this week. Kuntz's replacement, freshman Ian Williams, totaled 11 tackles in relief action. Kuntz is the team's sixth leading tackler with 38 stops and it'll be a game-time decision on Saturday as to whether or not the junior will play.
"I'll have to wait and see how he looks," Weis said. "He's been tapering up rather than down. He didn't do much the first day. He was out there more today with pads on. We'll have to wait and see. He had told me after yesterday that he thinks he'll be ready."
***Weis on if he saw the problems of this team coming before the year started: "You knew there was going to be some voids of experience with guys this year. Numerically, you knew there was going to be some voids. What you hoped was that between the guys who came back for a fifth-year and a half dozen or so guys in the senior class, you hope they can hold the fort long enough while the young guys got their feet wet and ready to go. You were hoping there wouldn't be such a dramatic drop off for wins and losses.
"You can sit there and try to make positives out of everything. But the bottom line is that we're 1-8 and rather than make excuses about the volume of numbers in the upper classes, you have to say we didn't do a good enough job spreading the wealth to put them in a position to win more games."