Through four games this year, Jimmy Clausen has completed 75 of his 131 pass attempts for 901 yards, nine touchdowns and six interceptions. The sophomore quarterback's pass efficiency rating is 128.54 and it is evident that the promise that everyone saw in him coming out of high school is starting to play out in college.
Clausen did not throw an interception against Purdue last week and the thing that stood out the most to some of his veteran teammates had nothing to do with passes. Both senior David Grimes and junior Sam Young said that Clausen made some audibles at the line of scrimmage that reminded them of their previous signal-caller.
"Jimmy made a few checks at the line that we didn't go over and he made them. It was the correct call to make, and he did it," said Grimes. "It was something that I remember my sophomore and freshman year Brady (Quinn) used to do as a senior, and Jimmy is doing it as sophomore."
Charlie Weis is also starting to pick up on the similarities between Clausen and Quinn.
"It's actually getting closer to that relationship now, where you're starting to push him more and more. You have to get it to a point where he understands what you're pushing," Weis said. "Sometimes they look at you like, ‘What are you talking about?' But he's starting to get to that point where now he goes and practices, and he's starting to get to the point like Brady where if he throws an incomplete pass in practice that he feels is his fault, he gets mad, and that's a good thing. Where if he doesn't throw it to the right guy, and if you look at him you don't have to say anything to him, you've got that non-verbal, ‘I get it, I get it.' I think that he's moving along nicely."
Clausen likes being pushed, but nobody is going to push him harder than he will push himself.
"Coach Weis and Coach Powlus and the rest of the offense coaching staff trying to not only just push me but push the whole offense and trying to just keep getting better each and every day, each and every week," he said. "I'm definitely not going to be lax in my preparation in trying to make myself better. I'm going to work as hard as I can each and every day to try to get better."
One of Clausen's favorite pastimes is breaking down film.
"I love watching tape," he said. "Whether it's watching our offense or watching myself trying to get myself better or watching the defense that we're going to be playing the upcoming week. I take DVD's home, come to the Gug on Sunday nights and before practices, during the week, and try to watch as much film as I can."
Clausen spends hours after practice each week watching film.
"My big night is Sunday. I come in and watch about an hour, and then Tuesday night I watch probably an hour," he said. "Then Wednesday night's a big night, I watch probably two or three games after practice at my house."
So between school, practice and evaluating film, what else does Clausen have time for?
"I like to sleep," he said. "We've got school and football and we don't have a lot of down time, but when we do I like to lay down and take a nap."
Clausen's arm strength was never 100% last year after offseason elbow surgery, which is one of the reasons, along with not understanding the offense completely, that he struggled. Now, over a year removed from that procedure, Clausen's arm is back.
"I really didn't have anything on the ball because I had the surgery," he said. "But once I got back in the weight room after the season I started getting that zip back on the ball and I feel good right now."
Grimes has been impressed with how quickly Clausen has caught on and sees his potential as limitless.
"I'm not surprised that he's doing as well as he is, but he's only a sophomore," said Grimes. "The sky's the limit for this kid and I'm just happy to have the opportunity to play with him."
SACKS NOT THE STAT: Despite implementing a new aggressive, blitzing style, the Irish rank 118th out of 119 FCS teams in sacks with just one. Defensive coordinator Corwin Brown has never said that sacks are not important, but the entire staff has pointed out that third down conversion rates truly measure the effectiveness of a defense.
"We aren't getting the sacks, but we're getting off the field when we want to and that's the most important thing," Brown said. "What we want to do is we want to come, we want to make sure we have all of our bases covered and then if he throws it to one of his outlets, then we get the guy tackled."
Still, Brown thinks that the Irish are closer to adding to that number by making their own adjustments.
"Hey guys, look if you just do this different, he's going to be on the ground," Brown said. "If we do this different, he's going to have to hold the ball a second longer and this guy is going to make the play. There are things that we have done on our part that have kept us from getting the sack, but at the same time we're getting the end result. We just want to do it a little bit better."
Brown said that even opponent completion percentage can be misleading against his defense. The Irish don't even have a target number for opponent completion percentage.
"Our target number is wherever the sticks (are). If it's 3rd-and-9, our target is like the 8 or less. So you could actually come out with a quarterback like 70%," he said. "But at the end of the day, he's 70% and he's walking to the sidelines because it's 4th-and-1, it's 4th-and-2."
FADES NOT FADING AWAY: Both Weis and offensive coordinator Mike Haywood have said that they will continue to call fade passes in the red zone until the defense proves that it can stop it. Clausen talked about what he looks for before throwing a fade.
"I'm looking for a match-up, first off, and a look at the line of scrimmage," he said. "Whether the corners press or he's bailing or he's inside leverage or outside leverage. So I'm looking at that first. It's easy for a quarterback to make a good throw to a receiver when the receiver gives you some space on the sideline because all you've got to do is throw it to their outside shoulder and let them fade to the ball."
Despite their differences in size, Clausen has hit all four of his top wideouts for touchdowns on fades."We've got a lot of guys with explosion and they make plays on the ball," Grimes said. "Golden (Tate) and Duval (Kamara) and Michael (Floyd). Me and Golden are not the biggest guys, but we got some guys who like to the climb the ladder. Me and Golden may only be about 5'10" but we like to play up high."
CLAUSEN TO GO UP AGAINST BEST BUD: This week will be different for Clausen as he faces his best friend in Stanford safety Sean Wiser.
"We're best friends and stuff like that," said Clausen. "We've been best friends for a long time. I've known him pretty much my whole life. I went to elementary school, middle school, high school together so we're real close."
Clausen said that he talked with Wiser earlier in the week and plans to get back in touch with him soon.
"I talked to him on Sunday. I was going to call him (Tuesday) night but I fell asleep so I'll give him a call (Wednesday) and see how things are going down there in Palo Alto," Clausen said.
Clausen is not worried about Wiser knowing any of his tendencies.
"He might know those things, but I don't think it changes anything. He's still got to go out there and play football on Saturday," he said. "It's going to be fun playing against him for the first time. I've never played against him unless I was throwing for the scout team in high school."
BROWN SEES DIFFERENCES IN CARDINAL: Brown and Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh both graduated from Michigan and both spent time in the NFL. Brown has seen Stanford improve since Harbaugh's arrival and some evidence of the Cardinal taking on the personality of their fiery leader.
"You expect that with Jimmy," Brown said. "I've watched that team grow from the beginning of last year to the end of last year until now."
CLAUSEN, KUNTZ TO SPEAK AT PEP RALLY: Clausen will be addressing students and fans for the first time at this Friday's pep rally. Clausen said that he is not sure exactly what he is going to say yet, but that he is getting some input from Grimes.
"David is helping me out a little bit," Clausen laughed. "I'll be speaking Friday. I don't know, me and David are putting something together."
The always entertaining Pat Kuntz will also speak at the pep rally and seems a little more prepared.
"I've got a little something, something for you guys," Kuntz laughed.