Moving Forward

An alarming trend has manifested itself in Notre Dame's recent games. Including turnovers on downs, the Irish have given the ball away a total of 14 times in the past three games. Simply put, a squad cannot expect to win contests when ball protection is this haphazard and opportunities are lost.

Against Boston College, the Irish had seven giveaways directly prohibiting the offense to get in any rhythm whatsoever. Even when one travels past to the loss at North Carolina, Quan Sturdivants's 32-yard interception return for a touchdown in the first play of the second half was a pivotal turnover that shaped the outcome of the game. Over the past two contests, quarterback Jimmy Clausen has struggled, throwing for six interceptions and fumbling the ball once. Against Navy, quarterbacks coach Ron Powlus noticed that Clausen tried to do too much early on, but later settled in, according to what the defense showed the sophomore quarterback.

"It's continuing to stay within what we're asking him to do," Powlus said. "The one ball goes up and him getting hit, and the other one's a poor decision. At one point they got to him early on but beyond that, he started getting a lot better. And it wasn't a lot of down-the-field throws, they were playing soft and leaving him stuff to throw underneath and they wanted him to complete the 15-of-18 and that's how you do that, by taking what the defense gives you. He's getting better. He's getting better and he'll continue to grow."

When asked what Clausen needed to do to prevent turnovers, the answer came easy to Powlus.

"Yeah, it's just part of staying corralled in the offense and taking what the defense gives you, and making good decisions with the football." he said.

Part of the process of taking what the defense gave Clausen against Navy involved the Irish offense taking more of a rushing approach against the Midshipmen. Having been in the same situation as his player some years ago, Powlus offered Clausen some encouraging words.

"During the game, I said to him, ‘now you know how I felt like playing Navy. Just do what you've got to do. Just hand the ball off,'" coach Powlus said. "They were dropping a lot of guys into coverage and they were playing soft and you've got to run the ball and that's what our offense did. He played the role he had to play."

Even though Clausen's first pass attempt was picked off against the Midshipmen, and he fumbled the ball early on, his coach saw some promising signs that allowed the sophomore to complete 83-percent of his passes last Saturday.

"It says he's a heck of a competitor," Powlus said of Clausen. "That's part of being a quarterback and having to lead the team and being a leader, not letting anything faze you. You have to have a thick skin and a short memory to play quarterback and I think that's the way he approaches it."

Although it may seem as though the sophomore is in a slump, coach Charlie Weis attributes some of the turnovers to his teammates as well.

"On two of the three turnovers, it would have been nice if we would have blocked the guy that hit the quarterback," Weis said. "And on the other one, the quarterback it was cover-two and he shouldn't have thrown the ball where he threw it. Jonas [Gray], the one at the end of the game, even though he's getting hit inside the 5 yard line, that's just being careless with the football. But the first three earlier in the game, the quarterback gets hit twice and you have to take care of the ball. But I think he was surprised on both of those hits. The first interception, that's on him."

During the play that Weis is referring to, Midshipmen defensive end Corey Johnson was working on left tackle Michael Turkovich. Once Johnson saw that the Irish senior was unbalanced, he faked a move to the inside, and then burst past Turkovich on the outside with Clausen in his sights. The rest was history, as Johnson forced the effortless fumble and eventual turnover. According to runningback James Aldridge, all the Irish can do as players to limit these giveaways and mental errors is to worry about individual responsibilities. However, once a player commits a turnover, this squad knows not to point the finger and begin with the blame game, but instead allow the coaches to take care of that matter.

"All you can really do as a player, is worry about your own job and don't try to worry about everybody else," Aldridge said. "If somebody doesn't make a correct play, or does something wrong, it's not your job to criticize, it's the coaches job to coach him up so he can get right back and do it all over again."

For Aldridge, the main aspect in the reduction of mental errors and loose ball protection comes down to instinctual football. Having been through practices since the Pop Warner level, emphasizing the limitation of giveaways, it is now instilled into the minds of the entire squad.

"Oh yeah, you're always conscious of not committing turnovers," Aldridge said. "You don't want to fumble the ball or anything like that. Turnovers are going to lead to points for the opposing team. The turnover ratio has a lot to do with the outcome of the game, so you try and keep that in the back of your head. With us getting coached so well, it's kind of, you're not supposed to fumble the ball; it's something you don't do. You don't really think about it, it's just instinctual after a while. You've got to make sure you cover up the ball, that's because you have, pretty much the hopes and dreams of the team in your hands at the time, so you've got to understand that we want to move forward and often."

After its recent struggles, Notre Dame now sits at 97th nationally in the turnover ratio, at negative-seven. Committing 14 giveaways over the past three contests will certainly contribute in the lowering of this ranking. Although this theme has been stressed with this developing Irish squad, the players must learn from their mistakes. The past is the past and there is nothing they can do to alter that. Echoing James Aldridge, now it's time to move forward. Top Stories