Football: Clausen learns to lose
Jay Fitzpatrick | Sunday, September 30, 2007
One of Notre Dame’s strengths in Charlie Weis’ first two seasons was the team’s experience. Notre Dame had an experienced starting quarterback in Brady Quinn and a returning starter at tailback in Darius Walker.
That’s not the case anymore.
Notre Dame has started freshmen at both positions – Jimmy Clausen at quarterback and running back Armando Allen.
“It’s been fun. It’s been a different experience,” Clausen said Thursday, in his second meeting with reporters since coming to Notre Dame. “We obviously don’t have the wins we expected but we just go out there every day just trying to get better, trying to get our first win.”
Clausen entered Notre Dame as a highly touted prospect and the top quarterback on most recruiting lists. He led Oaks Christian (Calif.) High School to a 42-0 record but has started this season 0-3 as the starter.
“It’s real different, to say the least. In high school I didn’t lose a game, but that was high school,” Clausen said. “In college, it’s a way different game. It’s helped me and not only me, but the rest of the team realized that this is a hard game and you have to come out every week and get better.”
Even though Clausen was known in high school for his ability to throw the ball down field, he said, he has no plan on forcing a change to the team’s current conservative offensive approach.
“I’m a freshman and I’m just trying to help the team win,” Clausen said. “Anything I can do to help the team win, I’m going to do.”
Clausen said that one of the biggest adjustments he must make this season is adjusting to the speed of the college game.
“It’s obviously faster than high school,” Clausen said. “But once you get used it, it’s not that bad, it slows down for you a little bit. Obviously it’s slowed down for me, and not only me but the rest of the freshmen are making that transition too.”
Clausen is also throwing behind an offensive line that has allowed a nation-high 27 sacks – with Clausen taking 18 of those. But the freshman said that all the hits are not taking a mental toll on him.
“Football is a physical sport. If I didn’t want to get hit, I should have played golf or something like that,” Clausen said.
Clausen’s entry to Notre Dame was one of the most well-analyzed in school history. Fortunately for the freshman, his position coach was a well-known quarterback prospect in his own right – Ron Powlus.
“[Powlus and Weis have] helped me balance all the football and all the things off the field and in the classroom, so it’s been pretty tough,” Clausen said. “Coach Powlus has been great with me because he’s been in this situation that both me and Evan [Sharpley] are in right now.”
Allen’s has been a different story.
He missed his senior season in high school with a broken leg but was still listed as the 52nd best high school player and the second rated all-purpose back.
Allen said that missing his senior season has made the transition to college football even more drastic.
“For me, it’s pretty overwhelming because I missed out on my senior year of high school and so jumping straight from my junior football season to the college game, it’s like ‘Wow. I can’t believe it,'” Allen said.
Allen did not start against Georgia Tech in the season opener, but he made his first collegiate start at Penn State on Sept. 8. Allen carried the ball eight times for only 12 yards but had a team-high six catches for 36 yards – most of which came on the game’s opening drive.
“The Penn State game and first couple of plays were pretty overwhelming for me, but I liked it,” he said.
Allen said going into that game he did not know he would be getting as many touches as he did because of the way Irish offensive coordinator Mike Haywood runs the substitutions.
“Going into the game we really don’t know what’s going to happen. In practice, everybody practices the same plays,” Allen said. “Going out on the field, you basically wait until you’re number is called and whenever you’re number’s called, you first to go out on the field and do it and do whatever you can to fulfill your task.”
Allen credited his development to both Haywood – who Allen called “by far the best running backs coach I’ve ever had” – and senior running backs Travis Thomas and Junior Jabbie.
“[Thomas and Jabbie] pretty much helped me with everything,” Allen said. “Maybe if it’s a problem that I want to ask him and not ask a coach because I don’t want to seem like I don’t know anything, they’re there for me at all times. I look at them like another member of the coaching staff off the field.”
Irish sophomore offensive lineman Chris Stewart was excused from practice Thursday for personal reasons, director of football media relations Brian Hardin said.