Clausen was 16-of-32 on the day for 194 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions. The freshman signal caller was replaced by Evan Sharpley after a shaky performance in the loss to Boston College. Head coach Charlie Weis said Clausen was banged up and a healthy Sharpley was a better option than a sore Clausen. Notre Dame is last in the nation in sacks allowed and the pounding took its toll.
The freshman got to sit on the sidelines and watch Sharpley in the defeats to USC and Navy. As Clausen was learning on the sideline and watching the game slow down, he was also getting healthy. Since reclaiming the starting duties, the freshman quarterback has thrown 72 straight passes without an interception and led Notre Dame to its second and third highest scoring outputs of the year.
"I think before that he was just playing, he was out there playing," Weis said on Sunday about Clausen. "I think when he got to sit back, and now you read the scouting report and you study the scouting report and you're watching it happen, you actually can see, ‘Hey, it's blitz zone three, here is the Sam, Mike and blitz zone drop' and you can see it happen; or just watching rotations of the safeties and configurations of the linebackers. That's easy for me to do when I'm standing on the sideline because I don't have to worry about running the play. But I think since he's gone back in, after his time off, he's showing a much clearer understanding of where the ball is supposed to go."
Weis hopes Clausen can deliver one more solid performance before the 2007 Notre Dame football season concludes. The Irish go on the road this upcoming weekend to face Stanford. Kickoff is scheduled for 3:30 PM and ESPN2 will have the national television. After the Cardinal's game conclusion will be a critical time for Clausen, according to Weis.
"I think the off-season strength and conditioning program, and especially size and strength and bulk, are going to be as critical a factor as he could possibly have," Clausen said. "This is probably going to be his biggest concern in the off-season is going from 195 to 210. I think that that's the direction we want to head. He says he wants to get to 215. I said that would take too many In-N-Out Burgers when he's back in California."
***Robert Hughes had the breakout performance in Saturday's win over Duke, notching 110 yards on 17 carries, including a 13-yard touchdown run in the third quarter that extended the Notre Dame from 14-0 to 21-0. The freshman had only seen 18 carries on the season heading into the Blue Devils contest but Weis decided to keep feeding Hughes the ball and it paid off.
On the year, Hughes is third on the team in rushing yards with 158 yards on the ground but tops on the Irish with a 4.5 yards per carry average. Sophomore James Aldridge leads the team with 463 rushing yards while freshman Armando Allen has 344. Weis has a lot of talented options to choose from in the backfield, not only for the Stanford game but for a few more years.
"Actually from how it went, James rolled his ankle and gave Robert an opportunity to get in the mix," Weis said about the Duke contest. "When James was back ready to go, and this time Robert had it rolling, and once you have something going, the hot hand, I think with the situation, you just want to go ahead and play it because he's running with power and running with power inside.
"I think that we're going to have to let that sort out. But I do know that going into the off-season, the combination of James and Robert and Armando will give you a huge reason to be optimistic in the running game."
***It's well known that Weis made a trip to West Virginia in the off-season to talk to Mountaineers head coach Rich Rodriquez about the spread option offense. Parts of that scheme were used by quarterback Demetrius Jones in Notre Dame's 33-3 loss to Georgia Tech.
While a return trip to Morgantown won't be in the cards for Weis, the Irish head coach told NBC in an interview that aired during Saturday's game that he'll be making a trip to meet with the New England Patriots staff in February. Weis explained the move on Sunday.
"I think that I've probably made several mistakes this year and in my system," Weis said. "The ones who know my system the best are New England, and I think that those guys would have no problem telling me what things I did right and what things I did wrong. And the problem sometimes, you go to different coaches for some help, and they don't want to tell you what you did wrong. But I want to know, ‘Hey, what would you have done different?'
"And I think those resources, those people, because we're close enough and have a very close relationship won't be afraid of saying to me, ‘What the heck are you doing?‘ and that's what I want. I want somebody to be able to tell me, to say it like that, and I know that those guys would do that."
Weis will also do his own self analysis of the season. Starting on December 17th, after the Notre Dame head coach gets off the recruiting trail, Weis will spend an entire week going through the season and try to figure out the problems that have plagued the Irish in 2007.
"Unless you hold yourself accountable, it isn't like one thing; it might be a plethora of things," Weis said. "I really don't know yet at this point until after I've gone ahead and did a full analysis. But once I've identified what the problems are, then you can go about fixing them and some of them can be schematics. Some of them will be X's and O's and some of them might be methodologies of teaching, and there's a lot of different things that could be involved.
"But I know one thing: We have to find out what they are before we can move forward and try to share the blame with other factions. I think you'd better first identify what they are."