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Football Commentary: More questions than answers in QB derby

Chris Khorey | Sunday, April 22, 2007

Saturday’s Blue-Gold Game was going be the unveiling of the four quarterbacks competing to replace Brady Quinn. Or so most Notre Dame fans though.But Irish coach Charlie Weis had other ideas.As part of instilling “a toughness on offense I think we’ve been missing the last couple years,” Weis heavily skewed the play calling of both the Blue and Gold squads toward the running game.In fact, with Ara Parseghian and Lou Holtz roaming the sidelines, the game resembled a three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust contest that either of those two may have called.The Gold and Blue squads combined for 54 run plays and 24 pass plays. Rising senior Junior Jabbie’s 87 yards on 13 carries made it clear that he should get some action next season, but what is more unclear than before is who should be handing off to him, fifth-year Travis Thomas, rising sophomore James Aldridge and early-entry freshman Armando Allen.With all the rushing attempts Saturday, it was hard to get a bead on where the four quarterbacks stand. Weis said that no one played himself “out of competition,” but none of them was truly spectacular either.The best quarterback Saturday was rising junior Evan Sharpley. He went 5-for-7 for 31 yards through the air and oversaw the most complete drive of the day by either team – the Gold squad’s 15-play, 59-yard field-goal march in the fourth quarter. He also had a swing pass to Jabbie for 16 yards that wasn’t counted in his stats because it was tossed backward.On the other hand, Sharpley did take a sack that cost his team a chance at a field goal at the end of the first half and fumbled once.Early-entry freshman Jimmy Clausen avoided those types of mistakes. His numbers were not as solid as Sharpley’s (3-for-7 for 23 yards), but some of those incompletions were throw-aways that seemed mature beyond his years. He also had the best single throw of the day, a 12-yard out route to wide receiver Robby Parris.Clausen had an opportunity to bring the Blue back from behind, trotting onto the field with two minutes left and down by four, but the drive stalled quickly due to a penalty on tight end John Carlson. Rising sophomore Demetrius Jones had an up and down game, looking nervous early on and throwing an ugly interception on his first pass attempt that safety David Bruton returned for the Gold squad’s only touchdown.Jones was basically unable to use his running ability since he was more or less playing touch football, but he did take advantage of a defensive breakdown to pick up a third-and-long on a 31-yard scamper. He also threw the game’s only touchdown pass, but Parris had to make a great play on the ball to catch it.Fans barely saw rising sophomore Zach Frazer. He attempted just four passes and didn’t complete any to his own team. This performance is no reason to write him off, however. While his interception to safety Ray Herring was a poor decision, his other three passes were solid throws that got dropped.Obviously, none of these guys are Brady Quinn, at least not yet. But judging by other elements of Saturday’s scrimmage, they may not have to be.Weis wants to focus on the running game offensively and, if the line gels, that could be huge in taking some of the weight off of whoever wins the starting job.Corwin Brown appears to have instilled a ferocity in the defense that has been missing since at least 2002, if not since the Holtz Era.And the entire team seems more relaxed without last year’s incredible expectations on their shoulders.Because of all that, so long as whoever wins the quarterback derby feels comfortable running the offense and doesn’t make mistakes, Notre Dame will be just fine next year.And since Weis will narrow down the race from four to two at the end of May, he will have all summer to prepare the starter and first backup for game action.Even after that, however, Irish fans will have to wait and wonder, and maybe bust out the rosary beads a few times, before a starting quarterback finally takes the field against Georgia Tech.And then whoever it is can begin the four-year long odyssey of trying to replace Brady Quinn.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.Contact Chris Khorey at [email protected]