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Football: Sharpley struggles in start

Chris Hine | Monday, October 22, 2007

Over the past few weeks, Notre Dame quarterback Evan Sharpley entered games and injected life into a stagnant Irish offense.

But until Saturday, the junior did not have to play and entire game against a defense – let alone, a defense like USC’s.

“They’re a great defense, they have a lot of great players,” Sharpley said. “And when they have great players all across the board, it’s difficult to make plays, and unfortunately we didn’t get any.”

Sharpley, who made his first start in place of freshman Jimmy Clausen, couldn’t lead the Irish down the field as well as he had in his previous appearances. Behind Sharpley’s lead the Irish failed to score. The junior was 17-for-33 passing for 117 yards – and 41 yards coming on Notre Dame’s final three plays before halftime.

“We thought we had a great game plan going into the game,” Sharpley said. “And we have to make plays, and we take what the defense gives us. I’m going through my reads and the throws that I was throwing were based on what the defense gave us. So they did a great job. I’m going to tip my hat to them. They’re a great team.”

Sharpley had shown an ability to throw the ball downfield when he would relieve Clausen in the second half. But against the Trojans, Sharpley had just three completions for more than 10 yards.

Irish coach Charlie Weis said Sharpley took fewer chances deep because didn’t have enough time to throw. Southern California defenders sacked Sharpley five times and hurried him most of the game.

“We tried to throw some shots down the field,” Weis said. “He was under duress, sometimes we were gap protecting, which should have given us a better shot. There was a couple times we just got beat one on one and it wasn’t man protection because we were gapping everything. So I was a little disappointed with that. …

“I think when he had an opportunity to step and throw, the kid made some decent throws.”

But not nearly enough.

Weis benched Clausen against USC because, Weis said, Sharpley gave the Irish their best chance to win. Still, Clausen, who was a four-year starter in high school, was learning on the sidelines, Weis said.

“This is the first time he’s got to be able to sit back and watch the offensive formation come out of the huddle because he already knows the play, instead of having to look at everything offensively,” Weis said.

“… There’s a lot of things when you’re standing on the sideline and you’re not in the center the game slows down tremendously. And what I said to him is if you ever want to be a good quarterback, how much it slows down when you’re on the sideline, that’s how slow it’s got to be when you’re playing because that’s what the great quarterbacks do.”

Notre Dame has an open date next Saturday and faces Navy on Nov. 3, but Weis said Sharpley probably will start when the Irish face the Midshipmen.

“I’m not trashing Evan now after one game,” Weis said. “I would imagine Evan would be the guy going into the next game because just like I don’t think when I go back and watch the tape, I don’t think I’m going to find enough evidence that he’s the sole responsibility for us splitting the bid on offense, and I’ve never been big on sacrificial lambs. I’ll have to wait and see. It’ll take me a little time.”

Notre Dame will practice three Monday through Wednesday, and then players will have a four-day weekend as the rest of the student body enjoys fall break. The Irish will return to practice the next Monday, which is normally an off day, to gives the team an extra day of practice in the week leading up to the contest with Navy.

Notre Dame can add the day of practice because, without a game next weekend, it has an extra practice time under NCAA rules that limit a team to 20 hours of work a week.