Monday, August 31, 2009

Hunting for Red Numbers | by George

Everything offensively for Notre Dame begins at the quarterback position. That's been true from the moment Charlie Weis stepped on campus all the way thru the highs of the Brady Quinn Era and the perilous depths of 2007. One of the more intriguing elements for 2009, from my perspective, will be seeing if the actions and deeds of the current Irish signal-caller match with the offseason praise that's been coming his way. We're into the top five and the home stretch, so...

#5 - Hey, Remember the 60s?

Jimmy Clausen may have rolled into town with a spiked, over-gelled hairdo, a stretch Hummer, and lots of high school bling, but a couple of years at the school of hard knocks (well done on that by the way, offensive line) humbled him at first, then steeled his resolve. As a result, his teammates voted him captain, a year after his own stop-start-kinda start-dead stop-start up once again performance under center mirrored the Irish's tease of a 2008 campaign. You think a quarterback's not important (and if so, what game have you been watching?), take a look at Clausen in Notre Dame's wins and losses:

Hate to stir bad memories for you Bears fans, but Notre Dame in '08 often got acquainted with a Good Jimmy and a Bad Jimmy. More or less, Good Jimmy = a win. Take a look at the six regular season wins:

9/6 San Diego State W 21-13 21 34 237 61.8 6.97 38 3 2 0 87.5
9/13 Michigan W 35-17 10 21 147 47.6 7.00 60 2 2 0 63.1
9/27 Purdue W 38-21 20 35 275 57.1 7.86 38 3 0 1 111.0
10/4 Stanford W 28-21 29 40 347 72.5 8.68 48 3 0 1 123.6
10/25 @Washington W 33-7 14 26 201 53.8 7.73 51 1 1 2 76.0
11/15 @Navy W 27-21 15 18 110 83.3 6.11 14 0 2 1 52.5

Which brings us to Bad Jimmy. 2008's losses...

9/20 @Michigan State L 23-7 24 41 242 58.5 5.90 30 1 2 363.3
10/11 @North Carolina L 29-24 31 48 383 64.6 7.98 47 2 2 485.7
11/1 Pittsburgh L 36-33 (OT)23 44 271 52.3 6.16 47 3 0 194.0
11/8 @Boston College L 17-0 26 46 226 56.5 4.91 32 0 4 133.3
11/22 Syracuse L 24-23 22 39 291 56.4 7.46 40 2 0 297
11/29 @USC L 38-3 11 22 41 50.0 1.86 11 0 2 418.4

Now the most intriguing thing is that Good Jimmy and Bad Jimmy seemingly can surface at any time. Two of his strongest performances as a passer were in defeat (Pittsburgh & North Carolina). He was also struggling to be merely pedestrian in wins over Michigan & Navy. Note an underlying trend as well: in six victories he was sacked a total of five times; in six losses, 15 times.

The role of the offensive line is going to come up before this countdown is over with, to be sure. But let's keep the focus on #7 for the time being. His statline from 2008's 12 regular season games confirms that numbers don't lie and that numbers don't tell the whole story. Sometimes a mediocre Clausen was still enough for Notre Dame to win, other times he played quite well in defeat. If I were to boil it down to one hard-and-fast statistic though, here it is: think of the above chart like a golf board - red numbers are good. You see only four of them though - in five of the six losses in '08, Clausen failed to reach a 60% completion rate. Further more, if we take 60% completion as the magic number, Clausen reached it overall just 4 times in 12 games. To compare with recent history: from 2005-06, Brady Quinn hit 60% or better 18 times in 23 games. The Irish were 17-1 in those contests.

Coming out of high school Clausen was heralded as a quarterback who could make all the throws. The stories of his work ethic and competitiveness were almost mythic in status, and there was the (unsolicited) but still highly-touted moniker of "The LeBron James of High School Football". He's now more than halfway through his eligibility at Notre Dame and that crucial confidence and decision-making expected out of an elite quarterback has to shine through now. That's what got everybody buzzing at the Hawai'i Bowl, even if the opponent was an overwhelmed 6-6 WAC team. Jimmy looks different, people kept saying, and it's hard not to notice when a guy who flirted with 50% passing all season uncorks a near "perfect game", to use his coach's words. What's he done in the offseason to follow up on that and make sure it wasn't simply a mirage? Tune in Saturday as we begin to find out.

Clausen's almost done with the red practice jersey, but starting Saturday he needs to post a few more of our version of the red number.


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