Jimmy Clausen: Failure to Launch

Lisa Horne@LisaHornePac-12 and Big 12 Lead WriterJuly 1, 2008

We have followed them since their high school years and crossed our fingers in hopes our team would be the one these uber-quarterbacks chose to bless with their presence.

But how did they fare once they embarked on the collegiate gridiron? Were the expectations met? Exceeded? Or did they fail to meet the hype that has surrounded them since high school?

Now, a look at one of the most highly-hyped quarterbacks to come out of high school and what his future holds.

Jimmy Clausen, Notre Dame

Clausen was the first feather in head coach Charlie Weis' cap. A five star recruit, Clausen was pretty much set on committing to Notre Dame despite hailing from California.

Though the press hyped-up Clausen's much-anticipated signing announcement, Clausen decided to take it to the next level. He had a rented a white stretch Hummer limo that drove up to the College Football Hall of Fame in South Bend, Indiana to announce Notre Dame as his final choice.

Over the top? Completely.

In fact, the press derided his flamboyant entrance as a mockery of college athletics. Clausen, of course, had only to continue Notre Dame's "Return to Glory" mission of the previous two years to have all criticism of his announcement day show forgotten.

Clausen, unfortunately, failed miserably in his first year. Was it his fault? The coach's fault? Or was he overrated? You be the judge.

While Clausen did have a horrible 2007 season, coach Charlie Weis failed to inform the public of Clausen's secret elbow surgery (bone spur) prior to the start of the 2007 season.

To make matters worse, Georgia Tech—in Notre Dame's first game of the season—saw Demetrius Jones as the starter, even though he had complained of shoulder pain. According to Jones, the Irish ignored the injury so as to encourage competition between the Irish quarterbacks.

Jones was pulled at halftime, and eventually, enter Jimmy Clausen, who Jones maintained was the "chosen one" despite alleged reassurances from Weis that there would be competition for the quarterback position. Jones, as it turned out, left the team and had his shoulder surgically repaired.

Clausen, of course, began his nightmarish freshman season. Was it too early for him to start playing after having surgery? Perhaps, but Weis didn't have a lot of options after Jones left the team.

The fact that the Irish had one of the worst offensive lines in the NCAA also didn't help Clausen's campaign. In 10 games he had a -187 yards in rushing, ostensibly due to 34 sacks. He had a 56.3 passing completion percentage and a 103.85 quarterback rating.

Cue the deflating balloon sound.

The Irish were ranked 116th in scoring offense, 115th in rushing offense, 112th in third down conversions, and 110th in passing offense. How bad was the O-line? The Irish were ranked dead last in sacks allowed and tackles for loss allowed.

So how much of it was Clausen's fault?

His 6-7 (INT-TD) pass ratio doesn't help his case, but his sore elbow does. The fact that Clausen spent more time on his back than Paris Hilton furthers the argument that his horrendous stats weren't entirely his fault.

But most good quarterbacks know when to throw the ball away, how to make reads on the defense, and recognize blitz packages—Clausen failed to really make any headway in those three departments. Sure the O-line was a giant sieve, but Evan Sharpley, who played in eight games, had better stats. And less hype.

Sharpley had a 106.65 quarterback rating, completed 55 percent of his passes, and had a 3-5 pass ratio. With the same offensive line that Clausen did. So now what?

Is it Weis' fault? This writer believes some of the fault lies squarely on the shoulders of the head coach. Weis, the offensive guru, was exposed as one with too much hype, much like his young quarterback.

The reverberations of Spygate and his possible involvement only add fuel to the fire as to how qualified he was to be a head coach. It's easy to look like an offensive genius if you know the defensive play signals in advance, isn't it?

Weis, whether he participated or not, didn't have the benefit of videotapes to help him call the right offensive plays at Notre Dame.

He couldn't adjust his offense to counter the blitzes (Why weren't more rollouts and draw plays used?) and quite possibly jeopardized Clausen's future by starting him when he wasn't healed completely.

But while Clausen was young and inexperienced, so were Tim Tebow and Colt McCoy. They both had better records. The biggest problem for Clausen, however, was escaping pressure from the D.

Amazingly, Clausen's resume had some superlative qualities from scouts that somehow just didn't seem to materialize last season.

His Oaks Christian High School coach is quoted as saying, "I've seen a lot of them and I've coached a lot of them, and I've never seen a finer high school quarterback anywhere.

"He has all the throws. The long ball. The short ball. He can put the steam on. He can take it off. He can move around the pocket. He gets rid of the ball extremely fast. And he's a good leader. If there's a freshman who could ever start at a four-year school like Notre Dame, it would be Jimmy Clausen."

He can move around the pocket?

According to Scout.com, Clausen's "speed would be the only question, though he has good mobility."

The irony is there. Clausen simply didn't move well around the pocket last season and was sacked. A lot. 

Did Clausen's stock get too much press?

While you can blame Notre Dame's porous O-line, it's hard to believe that Oaks Christian High School had a better O-line than one of the most elite football programs in the nation. You also can't help but put some of the blame on the quarterback when it takes him four games to score his first touchdown.

While Weis may have put Clausen in the starting position prematurely, and possibly to quell the inevitable "put in the best quarterback recruit in the nation" chants from boosters, the bottom line is that Clausen had a failure to launch.

He was a complete dud.

And despite glimmers of optimism from the Irish faithful, the O-line returns four starters.

Despite visions of 2008 BCS bowl bids dancing in leprechaun's heads, Clausen showed little sign of having made a lot of progress—except for lack of soreness on his throwing arm—during Spring Game, according to some Irish's fans on Internet message boards.

His over-the-top announcement day arrival at the Hall of Fame now is the fodder for Internet photo satires, and is a solemn reminder to all those recruits who think they are the end-all to college football.

Ryan Perrilloux, Stephen Garcia, and others have all learned their lessons the hard way. High school is a world apart from college.

And Jimmy Clausen is now about to find out if the previous year was just a fluke, or a sign of things to come.

I'm betting on the latter. I'm a realist.


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