It was clear that Jimmy Clausen was the most indispensable player on the field during Notre Dame's 28-21 victory over Stanford on Saturday. Clausen equaled his career-high with three scoring passes while setting personal marks for completions (29) and passing yards (347), the first time he surpassed 300 in 14 starts at Notre Dame.
For all of the new career standards that he established against Stanford, the one that best tells the tale of Clausen's performance is his 170.12 pass efficiency rating. The efficiency rating is determined through an intricate formula that multiplies and divides completion percentage, yardage per attempts, touchdowns and interceptions by seemingly arbitrary constants. The NFL formula has a cap that does not allow a rating higher than 158.3, but the NCAA has no such limit. However complicated or arbitrary it may seem, the rating does provide an accurate measure of the effectiveness of a quarterback and that was certainly the case on Saturday.
For all his yards and touchdowns, what was truly impressive about the sophomore's performance on Saturday was the way he controlled the action. Without a running game to provide any true threat, the burden was placed on Clausen and he delivered.
Clausen showcased the accuracy to make all of the throws and although he had some tipped passes, for the second straight week he avoided any turnovers. But the kid's arm was never really a question and what Saturday showed more than anything else was that his insistence that he understands the offense much more this year is spot on. The other attribute that he displayed against Stanford was an increased sense of confidence in the pocket.
Clausen was able to negate the pressure that Stanford sent with a varied cadence although the one time he was sacked came when safety Bo McNally was able to time it perfectly and come through untouched for a 12-yard loss. But Clausen looked at ease sliding in the pocket, avoiding defenders and buying more time while keeping his head downfield.
In the first five games of the season sophomore receiver Golden Tate proved his playmaking abilities with 20 catches for 367 yards and three touchdowns. It seemed that the Irish might need to lean on Tate to spark the offense, but in the last couple of contests the quarterback established himself as an even more imposing weapon, allowing the staff to build its game plan around the pitcher rather than the catcher.
"I think that until your quarterback can get you to that point, you can't think like that," Charlie Weis said of his quarterback's ability to read defenses making it unnecessary to focus on a single target. "But now you're finally at a point where we don't have to create a star, just call a play and throw it to the weakness of the coverage."
Weis is not at the point yet where he'd say that the sophomore has surpassed Brady Quinn, but it is obvious that he has the potential to virtually erase Quinn's name from the Notre Dame record book if he stays for four years.
"It's too early for me to say that. Remember now, I came in Brady's third year, Jimmy came here as a freshman. I think maybe next year," Weis said. "I mean, all I do know is he's getting better in a hurry and it's in a hurry, too. I think that just watching his accuracy, his decision making, him getting us out of some trouble."
Clausen completed his first five passes of the game, including three for 65 yards and a touchdown on Notre Dame's opening drive. The scoring march also featured an 8-yard run by Clausen to set up a 3rd-and-manageable, which was converted, rather than a 3rd-and-long. The 21-yard scoring pass to Armando Allen to cap the drive was a simple 7-yard toss to a wide open back that was able to do the rest. That play, as much as any other, pleased his head coach.
"It's a miracle, to be honest with you," Weis said after the game. "I've met with him at the beginning of the week and the end of the week, with Jimmy and Ron (Powlus) and myself, and I kept on saying ‘Checkdowns, checkdowns, checkdowns, checkdowns.' So he throws the first touchdown to Armando, that's a checkdown. I couldn't wait until he got to the sideline. I just couldn't wait until he got there."
In the second quarter, the second-year QB connected on 10 of 13 passes for 128 yards and another score, giving him 221 yards and two touchdowns in the half. The 48-yard touchdown pass to Michael Floyd highlighted that period, but the most convincing element of the stanza happened seconds before he unleashed the scoring pass.
Clausen came to the line of scrimmage and got a good read on the Cardinal defense with his hard count. What he saw was that childhood friend and Stanford free safety Sean Wiser would be bailing to the middle of the field, leaving Floyd one-on-one on the outside. Clausen adjusted the freshman's route and made the throw.
Notre Dame's final score of the game also came on a pass that was changed at the line of scrimmage. After a holding penalty in the third quarter the Irish were set up with a 1st-and-goal at the Stanford 16-yard line. Clausen modified Kyle Rudolph's route and used a nifty pump fake to give himself even more space before zinging it to Rudolph for the touchdown.
For the season the sophomore is 104 of 171 (60.8%) for 1,248 yards, 12 touchdowns and six interceptions. Projected over a full year, Clausen's stats would be 250-410 for 2,995 yards, 29 scores and 12 picks. His passer rating stands at 138.26, but if he continues to progress as he has over the last few weeks, there is no telling how high that number or any of his other stats could go.