Thursday, September 11, 2008

Jimmah! and the Aztecs: Part One

One of the greatest variables for Saturday's Michigan/Notre Dame matchup is the maturation of Notre Dame quarterback/savior Jimmy Clausen. Last season, playing behind perhaps the worst offensive line in the history of organized football, Clausen stuggled mightily. His season line: 138-245 (56.3 completion percentage) for 1254 yards, seven touchdowns and six interceptions in ten games. It is hard to take anything away from last season, however, considering the aforementioned abomination of a line and the fact he was playing as a true freshman.

How will he play on Saturday? I took at look at every pass he threw in Notre Dame's first game of the 2008 season, a 21-13 victory over a crappy San Diego State team that lost in week one to Cal Poly. Is this a new Jimmah(!)? Let's take a look at the first half:

First Drive (Score remains 0-0 until otherwise noted):

3rd and 2: Slant intended for Duval Kamara broken up. Pass thrown into double coverage, though it didn't look like he had much there.

Second Drive:

1st and 10: Rolls out and completes 5-yard out route to David Grimes.
3rd and 3: Overthrows a fade route intended for Kamara.

Third Drive:

1st and 10: Play action streak to Grimes; play is well-covered, but a (highly) questionable pass interference call gives ND a first down.
1st and 10: Play action; rolls out and hits wide open tight end Kyle Rudolph in the flat for five yards.
3rd and 3: Fade route; complete to Kamara for 28 yard gain.

Can't say he really could have thrown that pass any better. This is Good Jimmah(!), who is absolutely money when given time.

1st and 10: Another fade; receiver Kamara pulls up with apparent injury; pass goes out of bounds. Nothing Clausen could do there, since you can't really expect your receiver to pull up lame on a timing route.
3rd and 10: Chased backwards by pressure from blitz up the gut; should have been intentional grounding after he runs around like an idiot and then throws the ball out of bounds a good 5-10 yards behind the line of scrimmage.

This is Bad Jimmah (!), the young kid who never got hit in high school and has no idea how to handle a rush.

Drive ends in a missed FG.

Fourth Drive:

1st and 10: PA out; corner plays way off Grimes, allowing Clausen to hit him for an easy 16 yard gain.
1st and 10: Rolls out; drills Tate on sideline comeback route for 10 yards. Clausen's arm is definitely stronger than it looked last year.
1st and 8 (following downfield holding on run): Screen to RB Robert Hughes for 15 yards.
1st and 10: PA; throws a laser to Tate for 9 yards.

This is the Clausen we never really saw last year. There's a reason he was regarded as the most fundamentally sound quarterback recruit in a generation: he has a gun.

2nd and 9: Crossing route to Hughes; no pressure, and nobody covering the guy out of the backfield; play goes for 10 yards.

Drive ends with Hughes fumble on four-yard line.

Fifth Drive:

1st and 10: PA; Corner blitz ends up right in his face, so he throws the ball away.
3rd and Eleven: Shotgun; Slant for Kamara deflected and picked; ball hit Kamara right in the chest, so it's tough to blame Clausen for that one.

Sixth Drive (score now 7-0 Aztecs):

2nd and 7: Quick WR screen to Grimes; nothing there; gain of two.
3rd and 5: PA; Chased from pocket and throws the ball away, which is the right move.

Drive ends in punt.

Seventh Drive:

1st and 10: Screen pass; incomplete because of heavy pressure from unblocked DT.
3rd and 6: PA; Had Tate wide open on smash route in back of end zone; threw too far ahead. That should absolutely have been a touchdown.

Drive ends the next play on a fumbled snap on a FG attempt. Major blown opportunity for Jimmah(!) and the Irish.

Eighth Drive:

1st and Ten: Shotgun; pressure; throws the ball in general direction of Tate, who was double covered, but out of bounds.
2nd and Ten: Swing pass to Allen, stuffed for 2 yard loss.
3rd and Twelve: Shotgun; streak/fade to Floyd for a touchdown. Again, when given time, Clausen can make every throw.

That's all for Clausen's first half. I'll have the second half and my conclusions up shortly.

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