The Irish Have Their Quarterback

SOUTH BEND - Another game, another struggle to find the positives, or even a positive for that matter. Well there was one, really only one, that glares out from another disappointing loss, this one a 41-24 defeat at home to Air Force, for Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis to be happy about.

That one major bright spot was Jimmy Clausen.

The freshman signal-caller showed everything, or at least the potential for everything, Weis would want in a starting quarterback. Yeah, there were some throws Clausen will want to have back when he watches the film, and he wasn't perfect, but he was composed all afternoon. The 6-foot-3, 207-pound Westlake Village, Calif. product showed moxie when the chips were down, and even when the game was out of reach.

And he also played well, and to the final whistle, Notre Dame's (1-9) sixth-straight home loss, showing what he can do when finally healthy.

Clausen completed 22-of-40 passes for 246 yards and three touchdowns. The two-yard touchdown pass to John Carlson, and the 21-yard scoring toss to David Grimes were great throws. A few of his balls were thrown low, and Clausen was sacked six times, but most of his passes were on the money, and at least six were dropped.

"Well we got ourselves a quarterback," Weis said.

Finally, after making a change four times.

And it didn't really look like it in the first half. Clausen's second stint as the Irish starter looked much like the first six starts he made. There were a lot of short passes, and Clausen was getting hit often. At one point, he was just 3-of-9 passing for 38 yards, hit five times, sacked twice and knocked down two more times.

Clausen stayed poised. He floated a pass to Carlson over three Air Force defenders to tie the game at 10, late in the first half. In the final 30 minutes, Clausen was 17-of-29 for 192 yards and two more scores, doing whatever he could in trying to direct a comeback against the Falcons (8-3).

"Jimmy did a very very good job in the second half stepping up and throwing the ball," Weis said. "I'd say if there is one thing you walked out of that game saying, we got ourselves a quarterback.

"He was slinging it pretty good, and he at the end because we had a couple incompletions, and must have had a half dozen dropped balls, I don't know what it was, he could've had more production.

"I'm not worried about stats," the third-year head coach continued. "I'm just talking about his composure. He had good composure, he shuffled in the pocket, he's not a 4.5 40 quarterback, but he shuffled in the pocket. I think he was a little more ruffled in the first quarter when he was getting hit a few times, but I think he did a really nice job in the second half stepping up and throwing the football."

In showing Clausen's development, the touchdown pass to Grimes, was actually a pre-snap read that Clausen checked into. He saw the go-route available and hit the junior receiver in stride. His third touchdown throw, a nine-yard swing pass to classmate Armando Allen, tied Clausen with Matt LoVecchio for the most scoring tosses by a freshman in a single game in program history. The score brought Notre Dame to within 34-24 with 7:56 to play.

A little banged up, Clausen sat and watched the previous two Irish games from the sidelines and Evan Sharpley took over the starting duties. He healed up, took in the game from a different perspective, and Weis said this past Thursday that Clausen looked better than at any time he'd ever seen him.

After Saturday's game, everyone can echo that same sentiment. And the great thing is, there were many Irish players that needed to see the trainer after the loss, but Clausen wasn't one of them.

Trailing by the game's final score with less than two minutes to play, Clausen was still slinging the rock, still trying to make things happen. If there wouldn't have been a couple drops, Clausen might have thrown four touchdown passes on Saturday.

"I sat there and talked to him at the very end of the game," Weis said. Freshmen are not available for interviews because of school policy. "I called him aside and we talked about, you know, the program and next week and the future. And I think that one thing he understands is we took a baby step at his position, okay, but the thing is now the team needs to take one.

"And my correlation to the team was, okay, you have to take one step at a time but as a team, the first step is winning a football game. And you can't sit there and isolate 50 things in a game, hey that was a good play, that was a good play, that's a good play. The bottom line, the final score was 41-24. That's still the bottom line.

"So I think that he feels that he's taking a baby step but that's not good enough right now for us. It didn't put us in position to win the game."

Eventually, and likely as soon as next fall, Clausen and the Irish will be winning a lot of games. The next baby step comes in the home finale next Saturday against Duke. Then another to end the season at Stanford. Top Stories