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Football Commentary: Clausen’s progress promising

Sam Werner | Tuesday, September 15, 2009

While Irish fans stew after Saturday’s 38-34 loss to Michigan – and there are plenty of reasons to be upset – there is one slight silver lining that should at the very least linger in the back of their minds.

Jimmy Clausen is finally becoming the quarterback everyone thought (hoped?) he’d be when he pulled up to the College Football Hall of Fame in a stretch Hummer almost three and a half years ago.

No, I’m not talking about the absolutely absurd stats he put up against Hawaii and Nevada, even though throwing more touchdown passes than incompletions in two straight games is pretty impressive.

No one ever doubted Clausen’s physical abilities, though. It was the intangibles that people questioned. Would he be able to follow in the footsteps of the much-loved Brady Quinn?

Saturday, in front of a national television audience and 110,00 maize-clad fans in attendance, Clausen, for the first time in his Notre Dame career, showed the leadership any good team needs from its quarterback.

Facing a 31-20 deficit early in the fourth quarter, Clausen had his work cut out for him. Last year, there’s a good chance the offense would have folded up shop, gone three-and-out and Michigan would have punched in another touchdown or two for the big win. Against North Carolina, Pittsburgh and Syracuse the Irish failed to respond to opponent scores.

This year, though, Clausen led the Irish on two touchdown drives and gave the Irish a 34-31 lead. Clausen almost cemented the victory on the next drive on a fade to Golden Tate that probably should have drawn pass interference, or on an out route when freshman Shaq Evans just couldn’t get his head around in time.

As for Michigan’s last drive, well, it’s not like Clausen could come off the bench and stop Tate Forcier.

Clausen’s newfound leadership continued even after the game was over.

“I just told the team that this feeling right here is not going to happen again,” he said after the game. “We’ve just got to work that much harder in practice and get ready for next Saturday.”

Irish coach Charlie Weis said he liked the way Clausen, and the team, responded to the loss.

“I was very pleased at the way they handled it internally,” Weis said. “There was obviously a lot of good things that were trying to be relayed to the players from other players. No finger pointing. I think that boded well for us righting the ship in a hurry.”

On the season, Clausen is 40-of-60 for 651 yards, seven touchdowns and – knock on wood – no interceptions. Just for comparison’s sake, Heisman Trophy favorite Colt McCoy is 51-of-76 for 654 yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions. Now, no one’s saying Clausen should start doing the trophy pose after touchdowns any time soon, but a win on Saturday would have put him squarely in the discussion.

If Clausen keeps it up, though, he could easily find himself rubbing elbows with McCoy and Tim Tebow in New York this December. The only possible knock on Clausen’s eventual Heisman candidacy will likely be the win-loss record, but even that should be good enough to warrant an invitation.

And, of course, if Clausen keeps showing the leadership and moxie he demonstrated on Saturday, that win-loss record could be better than people anticipate.

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

Contact Sam Werner at swerner@nd.edu