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FOOTBALL COMMENTARY: Clausen won’t be a great QB – yet

Jay Fitzpatrick | Friday, September 7, 2007

So it’s Jimmy.

To paraphrase Irish head coach Charlie Weis regarding last week’s starter, you would have to be brain-dead at this point not to know freshman Jimmy Clausen will be the starting quarterback for Notre Dame against Penn State.

Stories about the decision ran on the front pages of the Web sites for ESPN and Sports Illustrated and in most newspapers that cover college football. Most Irish fans felt a titter of excitement when they read the news and felt that the season could be saved.

But don’t get too excited just yet.

Clausen still has a lot of work to do, regardless of how great a practice player he is or how much upside analysts think he has. Clausen looked impressive in his limited time last Saturday against Georgia Tech – completing 4-of-6 passes for 34 yards – but in a mop-up situation.

Clausen entered the game when any forward progress would have been an improvement over the first three quarters of play. But Clausen will be in for a rude awakening when he heads to State College this weekend.

For starters, he will have to trade in the re-born Sea of Green for a Whiteout in Happy Valley – more than 100,000 strong, all wanting vengeance for last year.

Instead of facing a second-string defense that still found gaping holes in Notre Dame’s offensive line, he will go against the newest class at Linebacker U – a defense that recovered five fumbles and allowed only 114 yards of total offense in a 59-0 shutout of Florida International Saturday.

But most importantly, Clausen’s real potential is still very much a mystery.

Clausen already had surgery on his throwing arm before ever playing a down in college football. His long list of impressive high school records and statistics are meaningless now as he enters an entirely different brand of football.

Jimmy Clausen is the most highly touted recruit in South Bend in a long time, on par with current Irish quarterbacks coach Ron Powlus. Powlus, after throwing four touchdowns in his Notre Dame debut, was projected to win two Heisman Trophies by the time he left college. Powlus never quite panned out to be a dominant quarterback, but he did leave as the Notre Dame record holder in most passing categories.

But fans may not be as forgiving if Clausen doesn’t lead Notre Dame to glory – starting on Saturday. With his senior season in high school followed closely by Irish fans nationwide – including nationally-televised games – Clausen was already seen as the next great Irish quarterback before he ever donned the golden helmet.

So the real question is, how will he respond to pressure?

Weis said that Clausen got the starting job because he was impressed with the freshman’s ability to manage the team and the fact that his arm is “full-go.”

“I think he gives us the best chance of winning,” Weis said.

And Clausen will likely win a lot of games in the blue and gold – just not yet.

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

Contact Jay Fitzpatrick at [email protected]