Three QBs struggle to find groove
Issue date: 9/3/07 Section: Irish Insider
Would it be the sophomore playmaker Demetrius Jones? Perhaps the junior with actual game experience in Evan Sharpley? Or could the unproven, but highly regarded freshman Jimmy Clausen take control of Notre Dame's quarterback position?
During the worst home opening loss in the program's history Saturday against Georgia Tech, Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis gave all three a chance to prove themselves at the position. Even though each player was able to get some experience, not much was answered and a great deal regarding the stability of the position remains ambiguous.
It was obvious when Jones led the Irish out of the locker room onto the field that he would get his first collegiate start. With the crowd behind him, he took the field attempting to make a statement.
Just a minute into the game, Jones' first drive was over after Georgia Tech's pressure forced a fumble. The following two offensive drives gained only 13 total yards and resulted in two punts.
As the second quarter began, Jones was able to lead the offense down the field, but another Georgia Tech strip forced Jones' second fumble of the day, ending the surge.
I knew that they have a very sound defensive scheme and they have good players," Weis said.
"So we figured they were going to be getting after us pretty good and one of the ways we felt we could try and slow down and neutralize them is try to run the football and try not to have negative plays."
After the next two offensive possessions resulted in a net gain of zero yards, Weis decided to give Sharpley a shot.
Jones finished with 12 rushes for 28 yards and only completed one pass on three attempts for four yards. He showed the ability to avoid the rush, but couldn't protect the ball well enough to sustain drives.
"It's disappointing," Jones said. "But everything happens for a reason and now we have to respond. It's part of football."
While Jones was under center, Weis used the spread offense as the base scheme, employing shotgun sets with three and four wide receivers for over half of his plays. The rest of the plays consisted of either singleback or I-formation sets, with Jones using his athleticism to try and make plays.
Jones seemed to be more comfortable out of the shotgun thanks to his ability to see the field better and pick up the blitz, but the offensive line could not give him much help.
"I think that we didn't do a very good job of being ready for the speed of the game," Weis said.
Still, the offensive unit could not muster any effective drives to score points.
Sharpley's first drive, which spanned seven plays for 17 yards, stalled, although he completed two of his three passes for nine yards. Sharpley was sacked seven times on the day and Weis said he would have to look at the tape to see who was at fault on those sacks.
"I just have to make sure that when I'm identifying problems, I know who is at fault. I mean, you know, too many times you sit there and blame the quarterback. Now there's certain things that you can't shun, certain things that are your responsibility. You turn, you fumble the ball; there's no one else you can blame," Weis said. "But as far as sacks or reads and all those other things, I think that is something that you have to make sure you watch the tape so you don't make the wrong deduction.
Notre Dame's first drive of the second half proved to be the longest and most sustained of the game. Sharpley took control of the reigns once again and led the team down the field to score the first and only points of the game, a field goal from freshman Brandon Walker.
In the drive, Sharpley went 5-of-6 for 42 yards, completing several key passes, one of which was fumbled during the snap. He adeptly recovered the ball and threw it to senior tight end John Carlson to create a gain out of a broken play.
However, the scoring drive was largely sustained by two defensive penalties that resulted in first downs.
Most of Sharpley's plays were from both singleback and shotgun sets. However, the main difference between Jones and Sharpley's time under center was the fact that the sophomore only attempted three passes, whereas the junior relied on his arm to make plays.
"They had a great defensive scheme," Sharpley said. "Now we have to watch film, make our adjustments and make them pay off."
With the game somewhat out of hand, Weis gave Clausen a chance to display his talent to the nation. The freshman looked poised and confident while showcasing his decision-making.
On one play, he stayed in the pocket until he had to escape. Once he was flushed out, he attempted to signal sophomore wide out George West to alter his route and make a play. Although West did not see the signal, Clausen simply ran out of bounds instead of forcing a throw.
Clausen went 4-of-6 for 34 yards, showing composure and accuracy in the huddle. However, it is worth noting that Georgia Tech had largely backed off their blitz schemes and was going with a conservative coverage plan that gave the freshman more time in the pocket. Additionally, some of the substitute defensive backs for Georgia Tech saw time while Clausen was under center.
So as the Irish go into Happy Valley to face No. 17 Penn State, Weis must go back to the drawing board and figure out who gives the team the best chance to win.
The quarterbacks were mixed as to who would start next week.
"That decision is not up to me, it's up to the coaches," Sharpley said.
Jones had another, and much more confident, take on the situation.
"Yes. I do anticipate starting next week," Jones said.
As the week progresses, and the hype of the upcoming game builds, Weis will have to answer questions about the position and make his decision. Let the speculation begin.