Jimmy Clausen had his worst game as a college quarterback with four interceptions while leading the Notre Dame offense to zero points against Boston College last week. Clausen and head coach Charlie Weis say that the problem was that the quarterback forced too many passes downfield looking for plays that were not there.
"I think we have guys that are just trying to make a play and they're trying to do too much," Weis said. "It goes away from my premise that you're supposed to just do your job. Then when you start trying to do too much then you start forcing it and bad things happen."
Although just a sophomore, many thought that Clausen had proven that he was past forcing balls into traffic, but Weis said that he has had great quarterbacks do that, especially when things are not going well in a game.
"I think he's past that in a normal football game. I think that when you get down in a game, that's when quarterbacks do things that they regret or wish they wouldn't do. I mean, I've had, like I said, not to give an analogy to Tommy (Brady), but we played a game against the Miami Dolphins where he threw four interceptions and we ended up losing on a year when they were really terrible," Weis said. "This is a guy going to the Hall of Fame, winning Super Bowls. So I think what he would tell you, which is the same thing that Jimmy would tell you, is that he was just trying to make a play."
Clausen did say exactly that.
"The nature of football of playing football, you want to make a play on every single play, but sometimes there's not a play there to be made," Clausen said. "You've just got to drop the ball down, run the ball or even take a sack. I think the more you play, the more you get comfortable, when there's no play downfield just drop the ball down get a five-yard gain or a 10-yard gain. A sack is better than an interception."
As head coach, Weis said that it his responsibility to make sure that his quarterback understands that.
"What you have to do as a coach is explain to him sometimes taking a sack is a good thing. Sometimes throwing the ball away is a good thing. Sometimes you can throw the ball away and taking a sack is better than the end result where you throw the ball into traffic," Weis said. "So I think that having coached one of the best players that's ever played the position and had these similar problems with him, I mean, I've had four-interception games with Tommy. I've had four interception games with Brady (Quinn). And Jimmy's joined the trifecta."
"After the first half of the North Carolina game, teams have been trying to take the two outside guys away in Golden and Mike and dropping more guys into coverage and making me take the underneath stuff," Clausen said. "It just gets frustrating that sometimes you want to throw the ball downfield, you want to make a play down the field. But ever since the first half of that game, a lot of teams are taking away a lot of the downfield stuff."
There is no doubt that Navy will play the same type of defense and force the Irish to drive the length of the field, especially with an offense that places a premium on controlling the ball and the clock.
"They play like a lot of teams we played in the last few games, drop a lot of guys into coverage, don't let anyone get deeper than you are and make the quarterback and the team throw the ball underneath and not give up big plays," he said. "You're only going to get a certain amount of possessions in a game when you play a team like Navy that runs the ball 85% of the time. We've just got to execute the game plan, take what they give us and just march the ball down the field and every opportunity that we have to score, we have to score."
Clausen understands that if he proves that he can be effective throwing the ball to the open receivers, eventually the defenses will have to make other adjustments and the deep balls will be available once again.
"Once you throw the ball underneath, dink and dunk teams and move the ball and make teams come up and guard the underneath stuff, make them stop the run," he said. "Then they'll come up and shots down the field will be open for big plays."
But for right now, Clausen will try to prove that while Saturday was a terrible game, he has learned from his mistakes and it will make him better in the future.
"It was a good teaching tool for me," he said. "Going back watching the tape, just take what the defense gives me instead of trying to make a play or force the ball down the field."