We've gone through the gamut of why….schedule, inexperience, etc. Now the question remains can it be fixed and how? Yes, it can be fixed. There's plenty of talent as I'll show you. How is up to Weis, and the team. Weis alone can't fix this, the team has to do the work and make the sacrifices this off-season, during spring practice, summer lifting, and during fall camp.
Thus, my "State of the Union," and where I think Notre Dame is at, and what may need to happen to solve some problems. Let me be clear in saying I'm hardly an expert. I'm just giving you my thoughts, based on my limited knowledge, as to some problems I see, and how they may be fixed in the future.
The Now: Jimmy Clausen appears to be the future of this program, at least in the now. He's more accurate than Evan Sharpley, and if for no other reason than he already runs this offense as well as Sharpley as a true freshman.
Clausen's accuracy is hard to discount, especially when you don't have receivers running wide open all over the field. To run the Weis offense, you need an accurate and productive quarterback, especially on third down. Clausen has made a number of great plays already in his career as well as some bad ones. But he limits his poor decisions, and seems to have some very promising leadership qualities to build upon.
The former five-star player is finally getting healthy, and he looked better than he ever has last week against Air Force. Now we need to see him continue to improve.
Where can he improve? I think most of his improvement will come with time both on the field and in the film room. Clausen doesn't seem to recognize the blitzes as well as he needs to. Every team seems to utilize the same weakside blitz on the Irish with great success. They overload the weakside (side minus the tight end), and the backs don't seem to pick it up, and Clausen doesn't appear to recognize it often enough. Teams disguise this blitz until right before the ball is snapped. Maybe some longer snap counts might help, as most defenses aren't patient enough and will likely show this blitz if the Irish delay the snap count more often, but the entire unit, from the O-line, to the backs, to the quarterback to the receivers need to get this solved.
This problem isn't just on Jimmy, his receivers also must recognize the blitz and adjust their routes accordingly—something that also doesn't happen often enough. The running backs frequently miss it, find nobody blitzing in the middle and then slide out as a receiver and it's too late. The linemen also usually get confused when three guys come from this side, with only two blocking, and they don't know which guy to take. The third guy blitzing is usually the responsibility of the running back, and too many times they've missed this read.
Re-watch the games and you'll see this happen countless times throughout every game this season. This is why Weis will say "two sacks were on the O-line, two were on the running backs, and two were on the quarterback." It's not always just the quarterback's fault, or the linemen, or the backs. Everyone is contributing to this problem.
Clausen seems to do a nice job of reading coverage, but he needs to understand he needs to get rid of the ball and find the hot read when teams are blitzing. Why do I say this? When he has been intercepted, it hasn't been because he was fooled with the coverage. He seems to have a good grasp of what defenses are doing as he rarely throws the pick that leaves you scratching your head.
He also needs to learn to step up in the pocket to avoid the outside rush, but with the poor pass protection all season, I understand why he does this. Still, he'll need to learn to step up and get rid of the football.
Clausen also appears to lock onto his primary receiver from the initial snap at times. This is something all first-year quarterbacks do, especially considering the limited time he has to throw the football. As he gets more and more reps, and he feels more comfortable in the pocket, I believe you'll see him do a much better job of scanning the field and not tipping off defensive backs to where he is throwing the football. Yes, Brady Quinn locked onto his receivers as a freshman as well.
For a true freshman, I think Clausen has performed very well. I think back to watching Matt Stafford at Georgia his first two seasons—another highly-rated former five-star quarterback. I think Clausen is way ahead of Stafford when considering their freshmen seasons. I think if you give Clausen some time to throw, receivers running better routes, and a running game, you'll find a highly productive quarterback. He has none of those three things currently.
The Future: Dayne Crist obviously will factor into the future. He is another guy with a very promising future. He has outstanding leadership qualities, a big arm, and he probably moves better than Clausen.
The five-star prospect has as much "upside" as any player I can remember considering his unusual combination of size, strength, speed and leadership qualities. He will most certainly factor into the equation.
Like any freshman, he'll suffer the same growing pains Clausen did this season, so Irish fans can't expect too much too soon from Crist.
But what about Sharpley? I think Evan has handled this situation about as well as anyone could possibly imagine. He's a true team player and a very impressive kid. I'm sure he's wondering about his future as well, but he's also one play away from playing again.
Irish fans have to hope Evan is satisfied with his role on the team. Crist will get every opportunity to win the job next fall, but if he doesn't, he quickly becomes the backup if Sharpley isn't around. I'm not suggesting Sharpley won't be around, I think he will, but it's only natural for he, like Demetrius Jones and Zach Frazer, to wonder about his future as a quarterback at Notre Dame.
My guess is Weis would much prefer to redshirt Crist if he can't unset Clausen by the end of fall camp. Once again, a lack of depth here may put Crist on the field sooner than he needs to be if he doesn't win the job in fall camp. Notre Dame fans have to hope Evan is satisfied with his role and gets another opportunity to show what he can do on the field.
As it sits now, Charlie Weis has two five-star quarterbacks to work with. Not many teams around the country can say that. The Irish should be just fine at quarterback in the near future.
Tomorrow we'll take a look at the running back situation.