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Clausen looks on top of his game

Jared Jedick | Monday, October 6, 2008

What a difference a year makes.

Sophomore quarterback Jimmy Clausen seems to finally be coming into his own after surviving the woes of last year’s 3-9 season.

“We are starting to see, especially in the last couple of weeks, his evolution and how things are heading in the right direction,” coach Charlie Weis said. “He has come a long way from that kid we were playing last year in the Penn State game.”

Clausen threw 29 completions in 40 attempts for 347 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. The 28-21 win over Stanford was the first time in Clausen’s collegiate career that he has passed for more than 300 yards, bettering his previous career best of 275 yards from last week against Purdue.

“I feel good. This team feels good. The offensive line did a great job once again today, and the playmakers outside did a good job of making plays,” Clausen said. “I am very confident in my ability to make every throw that needs to be made on the football field. I am not done yet.”

The Irish passing game dominated a Stanford team that was stacked to stop the run.

“They pretty much felt like they could do what they wanted throwing the ball today,” Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh said.

Clausen and the Irish offense were able to carry their momentum from last week’s game against Purdue, a sign of maturity for a young team and an indicator that last week was not a fluke. Clausen and his receivers have connected for 622 yards and six touchdowns without an interception over the last two games.

“We played a great half of football in the second half against Purdue,” Clausen said. “Coach Weis stressed the importance this week of being consistent. That’s how we have to play each and every quarter to win games.”

Weis saw a player who could face down the pressure generated from a relentless opposing rush and still shine.

“He makes a lot of big plays and he is very accurate,” Weis said. “He came through with another big game with three touchdowns without an interception on a day when Stanford was just bringing it. He really stood tall.”

An important component to his ability to stand up to the rush was the play of the Irish offensive line, which allowed only one sack.

“We were really getting Jimmy [Clausen] a lot of time and keeping him off the ground, and it just got going,” junior offensive tackle Sam Young said. “Our receivers made great plays. I thought the line did a pretty good job keeping Jimmy up and keeping him clean.”

The step that Clausen is taking to the next level of quarterbacks, according to Weis, is his newfound ability to go to his check-down receivers. This means dumping the ball off to players who are on short routes when the opposing defensive backs drop deep.

“I can’t tell you how many times I have met with him at the beginning of the week and the end of the week and I just keep on saying: check downs, check downs, check downs, check downs,” Weis said. “The first touchdown to Armando was a check-down, and I could not wait for him to get to the sideline to tell him about it.”

The importance of check downs for a quarterback is something that Weis learned a long time ago during his years with the New York Giants.

“When I was a very young coach in the NFL Phil Simms said to me, ‘The difference in the NFL between throwing for 3,000 yards and 4,000 yards is fire control,'” Weis said. “I think it is a major step when a quarterback doesn’t force balls down the field and is willing to throw it to his fire control.”

Sophomore running back Armando Allen appreciates this change in Clausen, as it gets him more involved in the action on the field. Allen had a breakout performance last week against Purdue when he rushed for 136 yards and a touchdown. Allen pitched in this week in the passing game by catching the ball a team-high seven times for 66 yards and a touchdown.

“Check downs are always the last read, kind of an outlet,” Allen said. “So once he started looking at it and noticed that there’s nothing there, then you always throw it to your back. He did that today and everything worked out smooth.”

Harbaugh has noticed a huge difference in Clausen’s play from last year, believing that he is seeing a much improved quarterback.

“He is very good getting to his second and third reads, throwing the ball accurately, and I am impressed how he is driving the ball,” Harbaugh said. “He is getting his legs underneath him and is getting set to make those throws. And he is putting them on the money.”