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Clausen takes a big step back

Dan Murphy | Monday, November 10, 2008

With just over 10 minutes left in the third quarter, Chris Crane threw his best pass of the game to put the Eagles up 17-0.

Statistically, Notre Dame was still very much in the game at that point. They had 25 minutes to make a big play and turn things around. Mentally, Weis and his boys were already in the locker room.

It looked like Crane had just shot the team puppy. The entire sideline was dead and they stayed that way for the remainder of the game.

Weis said after the game that the drive, which was prolonged by a muffed punt, was “deflating”

“You could feel like the air being punched out of the balloon at that time,” Weis said.

The drive was clearly a dagger, but the balloon was popped a long time before the second half started.

Maybe it was the tough loss to Pittsburgh, or a long week of hard practices or the memory of five straight depressing losses to the Eagles, but for whatever reason the Irish were flat from the opening kickoff.

Leading the way for the Sulkin’ Irish was quarterback Jimmy Clausen.

Clausen’s body language was negative all night long and it clearly hurt his performance.

No. 7 looked much more like the true freshman who took the field against Michigan last year than the developing field general who threw for three straight 300-plus yard games earlier this season.

Things went sour early, starting on the second drive of the game. Clausen was hit late and the penalty resulted in a first down at the 42-yard line.

The next three plays were mistakes. On first down, he fired a low bullet over the field that was tipped twice by Eagle defenders. On second down he tried to hit freshman Michael Floyd on a 10-yard comeback route. The pass was fine, but Floyd ran a fade. Then on third down, Clausen overlooked an open Kyle Rudolph and threw an incomplete deep ball.

A few minutes later, he tried twice in a row to force the ball to Rudolph despite having other open options. The first time it fell incomplete, the second time he wasn’t so lucky. The throw sailed high and Paul Anderson took it 76 yards in the opposite direction in what turned out to be the biggest play of the game.

No. 7 went on to throw three more picks, including twice when the Irish were threatening to score.

Four interceptions – a career high for the sophomore – was bad, but it didn’t stop there.

The chemistry that seemed to be building between the quarterback and his young stud receivers was non-existent in Boston. There were at least four occasions when a receiver ran one route and Clausen made a throw that looked like he was expecting something different.

Those passes are usually pre-snap reads depending on what the defense lines up in, so it’s tough to tell exactly who was at fault each time unless you can find out what was going on in the play.

In Weis’ postgame press conference he said that Boston College was running a fairly simple soft zone defense throughout most of the game.

In Clausen’s postgame press conference, he said absolutely nothing. Unfortunately, for the first time this year, Jimmy wasn’t available after the game.

At this stage Clausen has as much experience as most quarterbacks playing college football. He has had two years as a starter and is old enough to face the music.

We hear a lot about Jimmy’s maturation process and learning to take the bad with the good is as much of a part of that process as anything else.

Last year Clausen was protected after poor performances becuase of a Notre Dame rule that does not allow freshman to speak to the media. This time around there is no good excuse for his absence. The more he has to face his problems head on, the more he will be able to improve and move beyond them. It’s tough to say exactly who was behind that decision, but it was another bad one to add to the list.

Overall, this game should serve as a wake-up call that Clausen still has plenty of room to grow.

There will be plenty of fans shouting for Weis’s head on a platter. I’m sure there will be some pleas for Evan Sharpley or true freshman Dayne Crist to take over at the helm.

Clausen has earned his place as a starter on the team and is definitely the future of Notre Dame’s success as a football team, but he still has some growing to do.

Clausen has the skills to do the job , but it was very clear against the Eagles that he needs to learn to keep his emotions in check and mature mentally before he joins the ranks of Notre Dame greats.

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

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