QB Clausen, Irish thrive in no-huddle
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Notre Dame's offense was one of the worst in NCAA Division I last season and didn't get off to a great start this season.
The Irish needed a late rally to beat San Diego State, 21-13, in their opener, and scored only seven points in a loss to Michigan State. Even though they had scored 35 points in a win against Michigan in their second game, they still had only 260 total yards. The Irish benefited from six Wolverines turnovers.
But an interesting thing has happened since that rough start: The Irish (5-2) have become a good offensive team that continues to show improvement almost every week.
- Game: Pitt (5-2) at Notre Dame (5-2), 2:30 p.m. Saturday.
- TV: WPXI.
One reason for the recent success is that Notre Dame has relied more on a wide open, no-huddle offense and taken advantage of the mismatches their athletic receivers create.
That success coincides with the steady improvement of sophomore quarterback Jimmy Clausen, who is showing signs that the hype that preceded his arrival at Notre Dame was justified. Clausen was ranked by many scouting services as the No. 1 player in the class of 2007.
Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said it always has been easy to see Clausen's talent. Now it is clear he is developing into a big-time quarterback. The Panthers (5-2) will try to stop Clausen and the Irish Saturday when the teams meet at Notre Dame Stadium.
"He's getting better," Wannstedt said. "I think you can see the talent. He's a better athlete than what I first thought. By that, I mean that when he gets under pressure he can move around and make all the throws. I've seen him throw the deep outs across the field. They'll throw deep balls up. I guarantee we're going to get half a dozen on Saturday."
Clausen had set career highs in passing three weeks in a row leading up to Notre Dame's 33-7 blowout of winless Washington and likely would have again in that game had the Irish not jumped to such a big lead and spent much of the second half running out the clock.
A large part of Clausen's success is a matter of gaining experience and maturing. But beyond that Clausen and the Irish have greatly benefited from the no-huddle offense, which they began using late in the Michigan State game.
Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis said the no-huddle has been effective for the Irish. It is a bad matchup for certain defenses because of how quickly the Irish can get in and out of plays.
"I've been very pleased that ever since midway through the Michigan State game, when we started going to a more up-tempo game as far as no huddle goes, we really haven't been truly stagnant at any time."
Clausen likes that the no-huddle has given the Irish some energy because it has enabled them to dictate the tempo of the game.
"I think all of us have been executing well and it allows a faster pace for us," Clausen said. "Once we get the play from the sideline we're ready to go and that allows us to dictate how the speed of the game is going to go."
Wannstedt said yesterday that it won't have the same affect on Pitt as it might have on other teams because the Panthers don't do much substituting on defense between plays and handle most formations out of their base defense.
The Irish used the no-huddle, empty sets a lot in their 29-24 loss Oct. 11 at North Carolina. Even though they didn't win, it was clear the offense benefited. Clausen, who has completed 149 of 245 passes for 1,631 yards and 15 touchdowns, set career highs in completions (31) and passing yards (383). He had two touchdown passes in that game.
That game was on the heels of wins against Stanford and Purdue when Clausen threw for a combined 623 yards and six touchdown passes.
Weis said Clausen has to become more consistent to take the next step in his development. He said that in the win against Washington Clausen "left too many points on the field" in the second quarter and needs to understand the importance of cashing in on every scoring opportunity.
Pitt's defense was torched for 54 points, 371 passing yards and 6 touchdown passes by Rutgers in its last game, which would seem to indicate that the Irish and Clausen's hot hand are going to present major problems for the Panthers.
Clausen, however, isn't going to be fooled into thinking that last weekend's debacle was anything more than just a bad day.
"Pitt has one of the better defenses in the country," Clausen said. "If you watched the tape, [Rutgers] hit a few long passes on them but that hadn't happened in the other games before that. So that defense is really good, it was just an odd week for them."
NOTE -- Quarterback Bill Stull was in full pads yesterday and worked out for the first time this week. His status for Saturday's game still is day to day.By the numbers
First Published October 30, 2008 12:00 am