"First of all, he was clearly the leader on their team. You could see that on tape. Second of all, he was accurate. And from all the physical skills that you can judge, more than arm strength, more than anything else, accuracy is one of the biggest things. If a quarterback has a great arm but isn't accurate, what difference does it make? He can't get the ball there. The kid was accurate," Weis said of Clausen. "Then besides having composure, he seemed to always be throwing to the open guy. So, therefore, even in high school he had a concept of how to read coverages. So it didn't take long. I mean you put his tape on, it did not take long."
Clausen struggled as a freshman in 2007, but Weis knew that it was only a matter of time before Clausen started to live up to his potential.
"I thought that he was a bit pigeon-holed by what we were doing. What we were doing was based off of how we were playing and I wouldn't say it was going very well and it was across the board," Weis said. "So it wasn't just the quarterback position. It was the offensive line and the running backs."
The Irish staff was limited in what it could do on offense in 2007, but those experiences are paying off now and Weis has no regrets about playing Clausen or any of the other freshmen that he played last year.
"I'm glad I'm not going through the growing experience right now," Weis said. "There's no way, there's not a chance in the world that we would be 4-1 if (Clausen) wouldn't have played last year. Because those things you're talking about he already experienced. And it's not just with him. There's a whole bunch of other guys that you would have liked to have not played but I'm glad they did. Because those guys right now, a whole bunch of them, are helping us."
There are plenty of areas in which Clausen has improved as a signal-caller this year. Along with a healthy arm and a better understanding of the offense, Clausen has showed an increased level of comfort in the pocket.
Notre Dame allowed 29 sacks in its first five games last year, but has surrendered just five so far in 2008. Much of the credit goes to the offensive line, but a lot of it has to go to Clausen's ability to move around and get rid of the ball when he needs to.
"He's shown an ability to shuffle in the pocket and get out of trouble and not hold the ball and throw the ball away when it's time to throw the ball away and very seldomly has he forced the ball into a situation or thrown across his body," Weis said. "It's part of the growing process. But there's a lot of positives that have come through with the experience of last year. But he's been doing that, started working on that in the offseason, spent a lot of time with that. And it's paying off and showing up in almost every game."
According to Weis, quarterbacks can study how to move around in the pocket, but in the end it comes down to feel.
"You have to learn it and you have to feel it. There's two things," said Weis. "I remember talking to (Dan) Marino about this years ago. Marino was not very athletic as you know but he very seldom got sacked because he would take that little slide step to get him out of trouble, be able to throw the ball. Not every quarterback is a 4.5 quarterback that runs the read option like everyone is doing. So I think it's important for those guys to know how to get themselves out of trouble."
POWLUS, CLAUSEN SHARE EXPERIENCES: Of all of the people on the entire planet, the one who understands best what Clausen is going through happens to be his position coach. Ron Powlus came to Notre Dame with all of the accolades of the Irish's current quarterback and is now sharing the lessons that he learned with Clausen.
Clausen was just 10 years old when Powlus started his final game for Notre Dame, but with college football in his background, Clausen can recall watching him.
"I remember him when he played," he said of Powlus. "When we go over to his house he's got this tape that some guy made for him of that has all of his touchdown passes on it. It's pretty cool to see him throwing the ball around and him being my coach and stuff like that."
Clausen said that his position coach has been there for him on and off the field.
"It's great having Coach Powlus as the quarterback coach. He's been through a lot of the same things that I'm going through. He was a highly touted recruit coming out of high school, just like myself," said Clausen. "It's been great to be able to talk to him, not about just football, but things off the field that he's been through to help me progress through my career."
While Weis is a quarterback guru, having played the position, Powlus can relate to Clausen in ways that the head coach may not.
"He's got a really good grasp of everything. Of him playing the position I play, which is quarterback, he understands some things that I do," said Clausen. "Whether it's a read, why I'm going here in a situation rather than going to another place. He can see that because he views it the same way as I do. He can see himself on the field making the same play or same mistake that I did. So me and him really relate to one another."
WALKER WILL KICK: After Brandon Walker missed two field goals against Stanford last week, it sounded as if Weis was going to give Ryan Burkhart every opportunity to win the job before North Carolina. Well, whatever happened that did not happen.
Weis promised on Tuesday that he would announce his kicker on Wednesday and director of football communications Brian Hardin relayed the decision after practice. Apparently, Walker took all of the kicks on Tuesday and Burkhart did all of the kicking on Wednesday and, just like the competition before the Purdue game, Weis told Hardin, "It wasn't close."
Burkhart will remain as the kickoff guy with Walker handling both field goals and extra points.
TAR HEELS TOUGH TASK: Weis and Clausen spoke about North Carolina possibly boasting the biggest challenge the Irish offense have faced thus far. The Tar Heels' offense will also present the most balanced and athletic offense that the Notre Dame defense has seen.
"They have a good offensive line. They have a few good running backs," defensive coordinator Corwin Brown said. "They have a quarterback that makes good decisions, and they have some talented wide receivers so it will be a really good challenge for us."
With quarterback T.J. Yates out with an ankle injury, quarterback Cam Sexton has led North Carolina to a pair of wins. After coming on in relief to lead the Tar Heels to a win over Miami, Sexton made his first start since 2006 last week in a win over UConn.
"He makes pretty good decisions. He does what they ask him to do," Brown said. "If you watch him on tape and you see where the open guy is, especially when he's like 40 or 50 yards down the field, he's getting that guy the ball. He knows where to go with it."
PUNT COVERAGE WILL BE MAJOR CONCERN: North Carolina's Brandon Tate is the NCAA career leader in combined punt return and kickoff return yardage with 4,340 career return yards. North Carolina puts fellow receiver Hakeem Nicks back there with Tate on kick returns, putting the opposition in a pick-your-poison situation.
After North Carolina's Bruce Carter blocked three punts against UConn, the Irish won't be able to focus solely on Tate when they are punting either.
"Obviously Tate, the returner, he's one of the best returners in the country," said Harrison Smith, who is Notre Dame's punt protector. "At the same time, they also get off the ball really good and pressure the punt. So you have to stay in and protect so that buys a little more time for Tate to set up his return. They've got two great things going on."
TV TIMEOUTS KILL BUZZ: Clausen admitted that there are times when commercial breaks can halt the rhythm of a game.
"It can in certain situations. Say we just have a turnover, you want to get out there and keep the momentum going. Then a guy walks out with his arms crossed and the gloves on or whatever, and he's got 30 or 15 seconds," said Clausen. "You just want to get out there and keep the rhythm going and keep the crowd going. It can be a buzzkill sometimes, but you've just got to get over it."
It was an interesting choice of words considering the minor trouble that the Irish have recently had. Reporters in attendance started to chuckle and senior David Grimes let the sophomore know why.
"The buzz in the stadium," Clausen quickly explained to the sounds of laughter.
The quarterback wisely uses the time to talk with officials.
"The white hat's always behind our huddle. So I always go over there and goof around with him get to know him a little bit," he said. "It's fun getting to know different referees."