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Football Commentary: Irish show their true colors

Chris Hine | Monday, October 1, 2007

If you were a fly on the wall of Notre Dame’s locker room during halftime of Purdue’s 33-19 win over the Irish Saturday, your eardrum – or whatever organ flies use to hear – is probably broken.

With Notre Dame down 23-0, a fed-up Charlie Weis let his team have it.

“This time, it was a little more rough at halftime because I just had about enough about going out there and being down 23-0 at halftime,” Weis said. “And it was a collective effort, it was offense, defense, special teams … but when you put yourself down 23-0, I had just enough of playing losing football and I told them they better be planning on trying to win a game.”

The Irish had two options. Notre Dame could have half-heartedly played the second half and turned Saturday’s game into Michigan, Part II. Or, the Irish could come out and show they have heart, regardless of the final outcome. The Irish chose the latter.

Yes, the Irish are 0-5, and yes, Saturday’s game again showed there are problems on both sides of the ball. People much smarter than me at analyzing football have made that painfully clear. But this game showed something that had been hiding the first four weeks of the season – Notre Dame’s character.

A team does not develop character if the quarterback does not have it, but Notre Dame has two quarterbacks who displayed they have what it takes to lead the team.

Freshman Jimmy Clausen, whose body has taken more shots this season than Sonny Corleone at the tollbooth, delivered a 15-yard strike to Duval Kamara with the rush right in his face on Notre Dame’s second drive of the third quarter. Clausen could have rolled out to avoid the rush and miss his opportunity to hit Kamara, or he could have just fallen down to avoid the big hit.

After all, the Irish were down 23-0. Who could blame him? But Clausen stood in there, took the hit and got the completion. Clausen played the next few downs before heading to the sideline with an injury. He tried to return, but it was obvious he couldn’t play anymore. Say what you will about his development as a quarterback, but Clausen showed he has the toughness and the leadership to play at the college level. While his status for next week is uncertain, Irish fans should feel secure that they have a quarterback who will do whatever it takes to win, no matter what the risk.

Junior Evan Sharpley, twice passed over for the starting job, replaced Clausen with aplomb. Sharpley could have transferred or quit football to focus on baseball, and it would be hard to blame him. He realizes he will probably be the backup the next two years, but he is still on the team, biding his time – and, most importantly, not complaining. He didn’t have to take a snap Saturday to prove his character, but he got another chance and made the most of it, throwing for 208 yards and two touchdowns in less than a half of play.

Sharpley and Clausen’s determination filtered to the rest of the team and made them play inspired football in the second half. The offensive line protected well, the receivers played their best game of the season and the defense kept the comeback alive.

Despite the abysmal first half, Notre Dame improved against Purdue and that elusive first win is going to come. Even though the Irish have lost their first five games, they finally have a winning attitude.