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Football: Status unknown

Chris Khorey | Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Freshman quarterback Jimmy Clausen will start Saturday against UCLA if he is healthy enough, Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis said in his press conference Tuesday.

Clausen was in full pads for Tuesday’s practice and is cleared to play. But whether he will be recovered enough from the undisclosed injury he suffered against Purdue to take the field ahead of junior Evan Sharpley is up in the air.

“I’m not 100 percent sure what Jimmy’s going to look like,” Weis said. “I’m going to have to see on the field [at practice] how it goes.”

Clausen played most of the first three quarters against the Boilermakers Saturday, completing 18-of-26 passes for 169 yards, with a touchdown and an interception. He was spelled by Sharpley after taking a big hit during the third quarter. Sharpley came in and completed 16-of-26 throws for 208 yards with two touchdowns and one interception in slightly more than a quarter of action.

“Last week, both quarterbacks did a lot of good things, but neither was perfect,” Weis said.

When Sharpley entered the game, the Irish trailed 26-6, but two touchdown passes by the junior brought the score to 26-19 before a game-clinching touchdown by Purdue.

Weis said that while Clausen is still going to be the starter if he’s healthy enough, Notre Dame is fortunate to have two quarterbacks with game experience.

“They both have done a very good job progressing and running the team,” he said.

Combined, Sharpley and Clausen threw for 377 yards against the Boilermakers, over 200 more yards than the Irish had passed for in any other game this year.

Weis said the improvement was partially because he made the quarterbacks practice without play calling wristbands all last week.

“Last week was a turning point with both of them going from calling plays to running plays,” Weis said. “They did a lot better job of running the offense in practice.”

Weis said without the wristbands, Sharpley and Clausen had to focus on the play being called.

“It put a lot of pressure on them,” he said. “They didn’t have the security blanket where you say, ‘number three’ and they just read it. They’re not calling a play, they’re just reading the play.”

Getting rid of the wristbands also took away a distraction for the signal callers as the team approached the line of scrimmage.

“Sometimes you’ll see them go to the line of scrimmage and they’re looking at the wristband again,” Weis said. “It’s like, ‘wait, what was that play again?'”

Both quarterbacks wore wristbands during the game against the Boilermakers.

Injured players may return

Weis said junior wide receiver David Grimes and sophomore offensive guard Dan Wenger are both “50/50” for the UCLA game. Grimes was injured against Purdue, while Wenger has not played since the Michigan game Sept. 15.

Maust takes over punting

Sophomore Eric Maust handled Notre Dame’s punting Saturday against Purdue instead of fifth-year senior Geoff Price, and Weis said Maust will start again against UCLA.

Maust kicked three times against the Boilermakers, averaging 44 yards per punt.

Changing depth chart

In addition to Maust, several other players moved up on the official Irish depth chart. Sophomore James Aldridge was moved to first string running back, with fifth-year senior Travis Thomas, senior Junior Jabbie, and freshman Armando Allen all sharing the No. 2 spot.

Offensive guard Matt Carufel and defensive end Dwight Stephenson were also officially moved into starting roles. The original starters in those positions, Wenger and senior Justin Brown, are injured.

Kickers get live practice

After missing one extra point, botching another and having a field goal blocked, placekickers Brandon Walker and Nate Whitaker practiced against a live rush Tuesday. Both were solid inside 30 yards, but both also had ugly misses from beyond that distance.

The Irish also worked on other areas of special teams at full speed and in full pads Tuesday, including field goal blocking and punt coverage.

Stewart back on the field

After missing last Thursday’s practice and not making the trip to West Lafayette Saturday amid rumors that he was thinking of transferring, sophomore offensive lineman Chris Stewart was back on the practice field Tuesday.