Jimmy Clausen was a perfect 42-0 as a high school quarterback in California. As a college quarterback, Clausen has been victorious in his first two trips back to his home state, winning at UCLA and at Stanford as a freshman, but his trip to Southern Cal this weekend will be by far his toughest homecoming yet.
Clausen and USC reserve running back Marc Tyler played together in high school, leading the Oaks Christian High School backfield. Tyler is not the only Trojan that Clausen knows.
"I probably know probably half the team," he said. "I know probably a dozen or more real close on the team."
Tyler almost followed Clausen to South Bend for college and there was also a time when Clausen could have ended up at Heritage Hall.
"My final decision came down to Notre Dame and SC," said Clausen. "I just wanted to get away from California, just grow up in a different place. I just wanted to be away for a few years and I'll probably go live in California in the future. But just to get away and come to Notre Dame and be here, be coached by Coach Weis, and just have something special here at Notre Dame."
As a California native, Clausen has a unique perspective on the Notre Dame-USC rivalry.
"To be honest, they really don't like Notre Dame. They just think that it's a little Catholic school in Indiana. No one knows where it is, ‘Where is South Bend, Indiana?'" Clausen said. "To be honest, they really don't like Notre Dame and don't really respect Notre Dame. I think Notre Dame respects USC like they should any team. But it's a great rivalry."
Clausen sat out the 2007 USC game in South Bend, so that makes this one that much more special to him.
"Being from California and being recruited by SC, it's just a big rivalry," he said. "It's USC-Notre Dame and there's no bigger game than that right there, especially going back it's my hometown and playing."
Clausen got the chance to catch up with Tyler on Sunday night and reminded his high school teammate of his California success.
"He said he's still undefeated in California," Tyler told the Los Angeles Times. "Hopefully, he'll leave here walking. I hope he makes it out of the Coliseum alive."
Clausen laughed off Tyler's comments and it is clear that the two probably imagined days like these before they ever left high school.
"It's pretty funny. He said that to me last night when we were talking. But it's just like a friendship relationship. We are best friends," said Clausen. "When we go down there it will be good to see him and all the guys that I know down there, but come game time we've got to be ready to go and that's pretty much what it comes down to."
Clausen is not worried about Tyler threatening his health either.
"He doesn't play defense so he's not going to knock me out or anything like that," he laughed.
But that does not mean that the guys who do play defense for USC can't. The Trojans are ranked first in scoring defense, first in pass efficiency defense, first in pass defense and second in total defense.
"First off, they're an athletic, fast, talented defense," Clausen said. "They've got great coaches over there that put those guys in the right positions at the right time to be able to make plays. And when you have great coaching and great athleticism on top of that, it's something perfect to be a great defense."
Clausen had a great start to the season, but defenses started showing him more cover-2 to take away the deep ball. Charlie Weis does not expect the Trojans to give him the same look.
"USC's going to almost bait you into the deep pass in this game now because they'll play a lot of cover-1," he said. "There will be a safety in the middle of the field. They'll go press up on you, say, ‘Go ahead, try to beat us.' The reason why they do that is because they can have an extra guy in the running game and just stuff you, almost dare you into going ahead and do that. If Jimmy would like the opportunity to throw the ball deep this weekend, he should have plenty of them."
Clausen explained what Weis meant by ‘bait.'
"They like to man up against every team. They think that they can run with every team. And like I said earlier, they are a fast defense," he said. "They have good corners on the outside and safeties that can run. And I think when (Weis is) talking about baiting, I think he's talking about just challenging their corners and their safeties to throw deep."
Notre Dame will need Clausen to make plays, but also needs to make sure that the quarterback does not try to prove too much in his first game against USC. Clausen seems to understand the balance that is needed.
"You obviously want to make plays every single game. You've just got to be cognizant of the fact you've got to play within the system," he said. "That's how you win games is play within the system and you can't do everything yourself. And I know that and the guys on the offense know that, the defense knows that. You've just got to play within the system and just come out with a victory in the end."
And if he does not quite understand it, he will as Weis and quarterbacks coach Ron Powlus will use a bunch of time on Wednesday to sit down with him since there is no school.
"(Wednesday) now becomes an unlimited day hours-wise instead of being on the clock," Weis said. "I think more than any week we've had since the bye week, it gives us an opportunity to make sure mentally we can guard against things like that happening."
But it sounds like Weis is going to be relying heavily on his sophomore quarterback stepping up and having a huge day in the biggest California game of his career.
"That's what I'm counting on. He's going to have the ball in his hands on every play. That's what I'm counting on," he said. "I think the point is a valid point that you have to guard against him trying not to do too much, but at the same time you have to give him an opportunity to make plays in the game. You've got to count on that guy stepping up big because this game means even more to him."