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Football Commentary: Sullivan needs to be offense’s leader

Jay Fitzpatrick | Friday, October 12, 2007

Saturday at the Rose Bowl, Irish center John Sullivan snapped the ball to the side of quarterback Jimmy Clausen’s head. Clausen dove on the ball for a loss of nine yards.

The real problem with this play wasn’t the loss of yards.

It wasn’t the bad snap – we’ve seen plenty of those this season.

The real problem was what happened on the sidelines after the play.

Sullivan could be seen berating Clausen on the sideline, as if the snap were somehow the freshman’s fault.

Clausen has started only five games in college. Sullivan is a four-year starter. There is no reason why he should be calling out a freshman so publicly.

Even worse, this wasn’t the first time that Sullivan has called Clausen out on the sidelines after a bad snap this season. Sullivan did the same thing after a bad snap against Purdue on Sept. 29.

Sullivan needs to step up and be a leader on offense. There’s a reason he is a captain.

Sullivan entered the 2007 season as one of the top-rated centers in the nation. He was listed on the Outland Trophy watch list over the summer and even made Mel Kiper, Jr.’s “big board” for offensive linemen for the NFL Draft.

And when Irish coach Charlie Weis announced that Sullivan would be one of the team’s captains, he said it was because of his leadership on offense.

“I’d say more than anyone, one of the reasons why we made Sully a captain, why the coaches added a fifth captain to the team, is because Sully really has been the heart and soul of our whole offense this whole training camp,” Weis said at the time. “A lot of the responsibilities we had on the quarterback in the past, we’ve taken off the quarterback and we put it on Sully.”

So Weis knows that Sullivan has the potential to be a leader. The fifth-year center took over a lot of duties traditionally ascribed to the quarterback – like picking out the middle linebacker before the snap – because Weis trusted that Sullivan would be the best person to lead the Irish in the huddle and on the field.

But now Sullivan needs to re-earn that trust.

Sullivan has had at least one bad shotgun snap in most of the team’s games this season – something that he rarely did last year. Instead of gelling an inexperienced offensive line, it has become the worst in college football, allowing the most sacks and aiding the fewest rushing yards.

It’s gotten so bad that Sullivan is one of the top 10 most disappointing players in college football – and the only offensive lineman – this season, according to Sports Illustrated’s Web site.

Right now, Sullivan’s co-captains on offense have become almost non-factors. Running back Travis Thomas has been relegated to the goal-line back, and tight end John Carlson has not produced as much in the passing game as he did last season.

That means that Sullivan needs to show some leadership. He is the only captain who can make a major impact on his own. He needs to take charge of the huddle in a positive manner, bringing Clausen and the rest of the team along to where they need to be.

Sullivan’s leadership is by no means the only problem this season. Far from it. But his problem is both noticeable and unnecessary.

On Saturday, don’t blame other people for mistakes. Don’t worry about anything in the past or anything you can’t control.

Just lead.

The offense has plenty of problems. It just needs a leader.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Contact Jay Fitzpatrick at jfitzpa5@nd.edu