Saturday, Oct. 17, 2009. That will define Jimmy Clausen's career. Will he be mentioned in the names of greats like Joe Montana, Paul Hornung, Tony Rice, and countless others? Or will he go down like Ron Paulus...the hyped recruit who turned out to be more style than substance?
For one day to mean so much is unfair to a man who's got much of his life left to come, but alas, these are the days and time that we live in. When you think about it, college football is pretty much boiled down to three questions...Did you beat the teams you were supposed to beat? Did you take a game away from a team that you shouldn't? And last but most important...when your name comes up, what can be said about you?
For the last, there is much to be said about Jimmy Clausen. He came in as one of if not the most highly touted freshman in the history of Notre Dame. Read that last sentence again, the greatest school in college football history and they wanted James Richard Clausen over everybody else. WOW. That praise is good enough to solidify most legacies, but for this kid...it was just the beginning.
Unfortunately Clausen's career hasn't gone the way it was supposed to. He led Notre Dame to the worst record of any quarterback ever in his first two seasons. While the record doesn't reflect the level of play that Clausen's contributed...the losses are put on the quarterback and the coach.
Clausen's legacy goes hand in hand with Charlie Weis. For the most part of the Weis era, Jimmy Cluasen has been the leader of the Notre Dame program. When Jimmy loses, Charlie is looked down upon. Charlie's losses are intertwined with the image and legacy of Jimmy Clausen. Both of those will be on the line Saturday afternoon in South Bend.
With the rest of the country watching, Jimmy Clausen has the chance to write his own story. There has never been a more perfect storm for a star to be born. They face off against a wounded Juggernaut. USC is not the same team that's been dominating the college football landscape for almost a decade.
Gone is the feared defense that would win games by just showing up. USC has only played one game against stiff competition (Ohio State) and looked anything but world beaters. Terrelle Pryor was able to make throws and hit targets and at points in the game had USC on their heels ready to break.
And for all the talent and athleticism that Pryor posses at this time in his life he is no Jimmy Clausen. Add to that a freshman quarterback who still hasn't been given the keys to the Trojan car and USC will not be looking for their offense to win the game...but Notre Dame will surely be looking for the offense to.
More than anything, USC brings respect. If Jimmy Clausen is able to knock down the Trojans this weekend, everything in his life will change. Take away a victory from the most dominant team this decade and everybody remembers you. To put it bluntly, his name is on the line.
Think of Roethlissberger...you immediately think of the drive against the Cardinals to win the Super Bowl. Think of Eli Manning...you immediately think of "That Miracle Catch."
Everything anybody has ever wanted from Jimmy is on the line...from the hype, to the talent can make for instant stardom and a Heisman Trophy. No seriously...Jimmy Clausen can win the Heisman Trophy in one night.
Nobody has really separated themselves in the pack this year. Jimmy Clausen is in the mix with a number of other prospects, but nobody has really separated themselves. With one good performance against USC, Jimmy can start picking out suits for the Nokia Theatre.
You don't think one game can win you a Heisman? Go ask Eddie George. The 1995 Buckeye took the Heisman from Tommy Frazier in one of the closest votes in the history of the award by rushing for 314 yards and three touchdowns against Penn State.
What carries the weight in this game is that nobody thinks Notre Dame has a snowball's chance in hell of going up against USC. Well not everybody, Beano Cook and Lou Holtz think Notre Dame will beat USC. And for once they are to be spot on.
Notre Dame matches up with Notre Dame better than they have in 10 years. They have the horses on offense to go at the "Vaunted" SC defense. I wish to God that Floyd was playing, but they still will have two of the better offensive talents in Clausen and Tate.
USC's offense matches up against Notre Dame because they play straight up and they don't look for the big plays with Barkley, and look to win games by putting up 20 points and smothering the other team's defense.
The key is that Notre Dame can put up 30 points on any team in the country. Clausen, right now, is playing the best ball of any QB...period.
The year Clausen is having has the possibility to go down as one for the fairy tales. Many late game comebacks and superb passing is starting to get even the most jaded Notre Dame detractors (including me) ready to stand up and take notice.
If Clausen is able to bring this team back, you can't say ANYTHING about Notre Dame. Just 60 minutes can erase all the negativity of the past couple years. Charlie Weis can't beat any team that is better than him. Jimmy Clausen is all hype...this decade's Ron Paulus. Notre Dame is a washed up program like Nebraska.
But this game is even so much more than this. Let Clausen take Notre Dame down the field for a game winning drive...see what that does to South Bend. People will walk down the street with their heads held high. They've taken all this criticism for the past eight years about their program and it will all be worth it.
The 3-9 season is worth it...if it means beating USC at home.
I am getting giddy just thinking about the scenario....
It is a cold day for football in South Bend Indiana...some say that football was born here, but that's just an urban myth. One thing for certain is that for the Legends in football...the birthplace is Notre Dame.
Trojans got off the the scoring early, with Matt Barkley hitting Joe McKnight on a 20-yard screen for a score...running through the Golden Domers like butter for a 13 play 80-yard drive. Announcers illustrate how this might be one of those games for the Irish and begin to play up the dominance of the rivalry as we hit the new millennium.
It doesn't help that the first Irish drive is a three and out. Kick off to the Trojans and Joe McKnight returns a punt for 57 yards to the house...yeah, one of those games. But wait, there was a holding flag back at the 47 yard line. That would prove to be costly because the Trojans are only able to come up with a field goal.
The next Irish possession turns out to be disastrous ad Taylor Mays comes on a blitz and catches Clausen from his blindside. Knocks the QB down where he would stay for the next ten minutes. Backup Crist comes in and the Trojans have a field day against the backup.
The rest of the half the Trojans dominate but are unable to put up points because of the flukiest of plays. Joe McKnight fumbles on the 18 on a drive that the Trojans were steam-rolling trough. Matt Barkley's pass to Damian Williams on a 3rd-and-eight was picked off in the end zone by No. 28 in the second quarter with three minutes left.
Then it happens...Clausen comes back in the game leads the Irish on a eight play, 70-yard drive with a highlight reel throw to Golden Tate while being leveled by the USC pass rush. Fans hold their breath...but the QB gets up...slowly and the game goes into the half tied 7-7.
The Trojans start with the ball back and go three and out. The announcers make an offhand comment about the Trojans not able to put the Irish away even though they dominate the statistics. Irish get the ball back and the drive looks good moving the chains into USC territory.
Then it happens...Clausen finds a wide open Kyle Rudolph on a corner route to the end zone. Perfect ball perfect route, nice touch and...HE DROPS THE BALL!!! You can hear the audible gasp in the air. That would have busted the game wide open.
Next play, Clausen drops back throws it up...jump ball...and Tate comes down with it!!! 12 yards later and the place just Explodes!!!! Somewhere in Bristol Connecticut Lou Holtz screams at Mary May "I told you so". Mark May looks at the coach and smiles "game is not over...they'll blow it in the fourth" with that smug "Mark May" look.
Trojans come back and Barkley throws a pick to Teo and the crowd ramps back up. Clausen is back out...hits Rudolph for a 20 yard gain down the sideline. The are about to put this game away go up 21-7 in the fourth quarter...But Clausen throws a pick as time expires in the third. Trojans open up the fourth on a scary drive...but only gets three points.
Irish get the ball back steady drive that's stalled by holding penalties in key times...punt to USC.
The Irish and Trojans have battled all day. The Irish were up late in the fourth quarter until the Trojans finally got it going and engineered a 75 yard 12 play scoring drive putting the Trojans up 17-13 on a Joe McKnight touchdown run from the five yard line. The camera pans to James Richard Clausen as he looks on in disbelief.
The Trojan line has battered and bruised Clausen all day, but he's ground out 12-21 passing with 217 yards and two touchdowns to one interception. He picks up his helmet and goes to take the field for one last time...one minute and 45 seconds left on the clock. As he trots on the field, coach Weis stops him...The world quiets for a second.
They look at each other and they both know what the other is thinking...this is it. If we were ever gonna make a difference this is the time. Coach Weis just taps him on the head and the quarterback goes to write his legacy....
That's ultimately what you want. You aren't defined by the Purdue's and Washingtons's of the world. Definitely not against Hawaii in a meaningless bowl game. If you are a Notre Dame QB you are defined in moments of crisis.
No matter what anybody tells you, you are not measured in anything other than big game moments. Peyton Manning's legcacy was tarnished by whispers of not being able to win the big game. Never beat Florida...can't win the big game. Can't spell Citrus Bowl without UT.
That all changed in the dome down 21-3 to the wounded juggernaut Patriots. There was no way he was going to win that game...not against Belichick and Brady, modern day Walsh and Montana. But he did. He exorcised his demons against the team that his legacy was intertwined with.
For Clausen...USC are his Patriots. Carroll is his Belichick. They represent where Notre Dame and Clausen want to ascend to. If he is able to do this...everything else will fall into place, Heisman Trophy...BCS bowl game...National Championship run in 2010. All starts with one game. This game.
Sure, Clausen can lose this game and the sun will come up, but so will the questions... so will the rumors of who will be the next coach of the Irish. Closed will be the Jimmy Clausen chapter in Notre Dame.
A man's legacy is normally carved over a lifetime, it takes years to define who you are. For one James Richard Clausen his destiny will be defined in one game. In one night. It's a lot to take on as a young man...most men would falter at the thought. But most men aren't the best quarterback in the country. Most men aren't Jimmy Clausen