Tuesday, October 02, 2007

QB Irish? | by Jay

Towards the end of the Purdue broadcast, the hyperbolic Andre Ware "climbed the ladder" to make this observation:

"We've got an interesting situation developing at quarterback for ND. Sharpley has come in and he looks tremendous. And the players are responding to him."

Setting aside the silly notion that the other Irish players played harder for Evan Sharpley, Ware's comments still didn't jibe with what I was watching. Sharpley was definitely solid in relief, but was he a stark improvement from Jimmy? Up until Clausen came out of the game (for the last time), my impression was that he hadn't been playing so poorly.

Sure enough, the two quarterbacks turned in an almost identical statistical performance:

Passing              Att-Cmp-Int Yds TD Long Sack
Clausen, Jimmy 26-18-1 169 1 36 0
Sharpley, Evan 26-16-1 208 2 43 2
Later on, the old Houston Heisman claimed it would be an "injustice" if Sharpley didn't get the start against UCLA. But is it so clear cut? Absolutely not. I think both guys have their pluses and minuses, but either would give us a chance to win. Charlie's got some appraising to do, and as he said after the game, he wouldn't comment on next week's QB starter just yet. He didn't want to commit to Clausen -- in so many words -- even if he was healthy.

• The first question, of course: is Clausen healthy? He took a nasty shot on the side/hip on Saturday and hobbled around for a while before being pulled off the field. If that's lingering, and hindering his ability to throw, then the rest of this conversation is moot.

• Two reasons why I like Sharpley: his arm strength, and his mobility. Given what we saw on the bombs downfield (or the "Golden Gos" -- thanks, HLS), Sharpley may be able to connect on long bombs better than Clausen. Even before the hip injury, Clausen underthrew Tate when he was wide open. And Sharpley moves around a little better than Jimmy, who even without the bum wheel couldn't outrun a defensive lineman to the sideline.

• One reason I like Clausen: he seems to handle (or at least recognize) the blitz better than Evan. While Purdue stacked the box with 7 and 8 players most of the day, they didn't blitz all that much. Purdue ran 7 zone blitzes against us, the same kind that our OL struggled with against Georgia Tech, and they gave Sharpley some trouble.
3 zone blitzes vs Clausen:
• found West for 5 yds
• bad snap by Sullivan
• Found Kamara on skinny post for 18 yds (hurt on play)

4 zone blitzes vs Sharpley:
• Sacked
• Evades the rush, steps out, but overthrows West on the sideline
• Tried to hit Tate deep, but ball drifted out of bounds
• Interception on the last play in the end zone
Look at the last play. There was no one defending the slot receiver because the safety and the corner both blitz from that side. Sharpley just didn't see it. On the sack, Sharpley was oblivious to two men coming around the left side, felt no pressure, and simply stood there and went down.

Now, Sharpley had a couple nice plays against the non-zone blitzes, but one of them was one of those "drawn in the dirt" go plays for Tate. Not much for the QB to do there but hang in the pocket and throw deep. On the other one he made a nice read but threw the ball behind Carlson, who ended up dropping it.

It looked like Clausen faced only two other blitzes of a different variety, both inside the red zone. Each time the pressure forced him out of the pocket. One pass was batted down, another thrown away.

• Two reasons I don't like either of 'em: sloppy, preventable interceptions. Clausen's pick was out of desperation, throwing across the field one way while scrambling the other; a classic novice blunder. Sharpley's interception was the product of a jittery reaction to a blitz and a poor read. Sharpley's was more costly, with four minutes left in the game and a chance to get some more points on the board, but both were preventable.

• One final reason I like Clausen: he seems to be a more accurate passer. When the Irish started running slants to Kamara, Clausen had excellent placement on every one of his slant passes, hitting Duval right in the breadbasket. I thought he looked even better than Quinn throwing the slant, who had a tendency to throw behind guys on the quick pass. And I don't think it's a coincidence that Kamara's first dropped slant was from Sharpley, which, while it was a catchable ball, was thrown behind him.

Apart from the slants, two other examples of Clausen's accuracy caught my eye. With about 11:00 to go in the first half, on 1st & 10, Clausen lofts a ball over two DL and a covering linebacker's outstretched hand, and dropped it right in to David Grimes, who was on a sideline comeback (and who made a nice grab). TV showed a revealing replay of this one from the end zone camera; the ball looks like it's on a parabola that's drawn just over the linebacker, and right into Grimes' hands. The other example was on Carlson's touchdown, where 89 was double covered in the end zone but Clausen stuck the ball right between the defenders, where only his tight end could reach it.

In the postgame, you heard Charlie saying that he went with Clausen originally because Clausen (paraphrasing) "is more accurate, and when you're evaluating quarterbacks, accuracy is the first thing you're looking for." I can see why.

Postscript. There was one play that I rewound a bunch on the Tivo. It wasn't a touchdown, or a great catch, or a brilliant tackle. It was an incompletion thrown by Clausen in the end zone.

As the first half ticked down, ND found itself on the Purdue 18 after Tate's first great catch of the afternoon. It's 1st & 10 Irish, down 23 points with a chance to punch one in before the half. West is split wide left, and Ragone's at the left tight end. At the snap, Ragone runs to the back of the end zone, while West goes about 10 yards and comes back.

Clausen, unfortunately, is locked onto Ragone the whole time. The CB covering West, Terrell Vinson, sees this, and even as Clausen's arm is coming back, he's already left West and goes to blanket Ragone. Clausen fires it to his fellow freshman tight end, but it's easily broken up.

I wish Clausen had been able to read Vinson and look off, or maybe pump fake. If Clausen keeps his eyes on West before switching to Ragone, Vinson stays home and Ragone catches the TD. If Clausen spies Vinson coming off West, he pump fakes to Ragone and throws it to West on the sideline, who has a first down at least and a fighting chance for a touchdown. Either way, it's an easy completion as long as you don't get locked into one receiver.

On the bright side, this is a good teaching moment for the young quarterback, and the play has great potential for us as a red zone option.