Zoomed through this to watch Clausen on offense. Not that my opinion means anything, but here's what I got out of it:
(warning: massive wall of text. also, I put in the headings after the fact so they may not make complete sense)
- We've all heard that Notre Dame runs a pro-style offense, but Clausen sure as hell spends a lot of time in the shotgun. He didn't throw a pass from under center until 2:37 left in the 1st quarter and didn't complete one until the 2nd half. ND also does a good job of setting up quick, easy passes that any competent quarterback could complete. That 68% completion percentage and 28 TD/4 INT ratio sure looks shiny, but it's somewhat artificially inflated. I wouldn't put the farce at LSU level (where Russell seemed to throw like 70% screens and dump offs) but this isn't Matt Ryan at BC where he's constantly throwing downfield attempting difficult passes. I will give him some points for recognition of the easy passes in pre-snap reads, as it seems he has some autonomy in running the offense. Provided he plays, I wouldn't expect it to take long for him to be throwing our favored smoke routes with as much frequency as Jake did.
Getting back to the pro-style issue, ND wasn't lacking for gimmicks in this game. They ran a decent amount of wildcat in the first half, and Clausen in fact had very little to do with their first score. Most of the drive was out of the wildcat, and about 30 yards were picked up on a fake field goal. The announcers kept talking about how Weis was pulling out all stops against USC, so maybe this isn't typical of their offense.
- To be fair to Clausen, this wasn't a typical college defense he was playing against. NBC threw up a stat that coming into this game the USC d had given up 0 TD passes, 170 yards/gm and a 5.4 ypa to opposing quarterbacks. I'm not wasting more time to look up who they had played to this point, but this was a Week 7 game and we all know they're talented - as close to an NFL defense as you'll see in college. Everson Griffin in particular was very active in this game.
At one point, I was growing critical of how Clausen continually ate sacks, threw the ball away and constantly found people short of the first down marker. Then I realized that playing a team like this, you're better off taking what you can get than forcing the issue. This wasn't David Carr battered wife syndrome where every pass was to an RB or underneath TE, it was a quarterback going through his reads and finding open receivers. I think he's going to have to cut down the throw aways just a tad in the NFL, but I'd rather have a guy who's overly cautious than overly stupid. He got hit a lot in this game but managed to take it in stride and not be affected by it. He also seems to have solid ball security while taking sacks, a welcome change from Delhomme. He's got good mobility for a quarterback. Not fast enough where he's going to try to do things he shouldn't with his feet, but fast enough to make plays when necessary and get out of the pocket when it's falling apart. Speaking of the pocket, he seems to have an above average feel for it. He can feel blindside pressure and get out when he has to and he steps up when it's collapsing around him (though this didn't do him any good in this game as the interior guys were getting around his OLine as well). I would rate him as a very good thrower on the move, similar and possibly better than Moore.
- He does have some throwing issues. I'm not sure how this was ignored in the evaluation process, maybe because he has less than anyone else that came out, but he's not a finished product mechanically. His release point is a little lower than you would like, especially when you consider that he's 6'2ish and not 6'4ish, but overall this is a non-issue. What is, is that when he is rushed to get the ball out he'll drop down to almost a sidearm pass. You'd think this would disrupt his accuracy but he was actually very effective with it in the limited sample of this game. As long as he only uses it as sparingly as he did here, it may be an asset as the release is extremely quick.
The only thing he does that really aggravates me is the jump ball. He just launches it a mile into the air and seems to lack touch with it. I've seen others describe it as a missile, and I think that's fair. To clarify, I'm not talking about his deep pass...this is more of the fade route, though his pass is anything but a fade. He has a pre-snap read with Golden Tate where anytime Tate is in single coverage on the sideline he'll take 1 step then throw up this pass.
- On the subject of the deep ball, the first ND score (and first pass TD USC gave up all year) that he had a hand in was this beautiful pass that I'm sure you've seen on the highlight reels: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y9wfwpr2SEI#t=4m20s
We've all seen this catch before with Steve Smith, just usually he's fighting off two defenders because the ball is underthrown. This was nearly as good as you can get for a pass that far in the air. Not perfect, but closer to it than any deep ball a Panthers QB has thrown in years.
- As I said, I won't try to evaluate his attitude based on the game footage because it simply isn't possible, but his on field demeanor did seem reminiscent of Philip Rivers at a couple points (know that I am a fan of Rivers). He got really upset about a slight graze a USC player gave him as he slid and complained to a ref about it (perhaps he's seen Delhomme talk refs into gifting him some penalties) and after he scored his rushing touchdown he got really fired up and was barking at the USC players. Fair warning, I might've been influenced by how he was limping. Rivers seems to have some sort of leg injury going on all the time in the NFL and Clausen was battling turf toe during this game - he really started to favor his leg in between plays during the second half. Didn't seem to affect his play, though
- If you've watched the interview with Gruden, then you'd know that this is the game where he wasted a bunch of timeouts for whatever reason. Can't say anything good about this but I'd need to see more games to determine if this is a real issue with him.
As you may know, ND ultimately lost the game by running out of time right on the USC goal line. Clausen did an admiral job leading his team back down two scores in the 4th quarter, but if he had played better in the first half that may have not been necessary. The final drive started on the Notre Dame 15 with about 4 minutes to go. I think Clausen managed the drive well by working for first downs rather than forcing something downfield. He milked the clock perfectly to have it expire as they scored, except they just couldn't put it in the end zone.
The final plays with goal to go were not his best. Didn't look like a matter of choking to me, he just didn't deliver with the game on the line. He did convert a 4th and 10 to put them in that situation. I think he ran the clock down a little too much on 1st and goal. They had about 30 seconds after the first down and by the time he threw the ball away it was down to 9 (of note, they still had 1 TO). After a late hit he launched one of those odd jump balls to the corner that his WR came down with after a tip...but he was out of bounds. Then he threw a crossing route in front of Tate. Tate may have been a little loose with his route but I think Jimmy still forced the pass early. They got 1 second for the final play where his WR slipped on the route. Pass wasn't bad, but he missed his other WR who was open for a bit
- Overall, I have to say his accuracy is very good. He doesn't miss many normal passes by much and typically will at least give his WR a chance to make a play even on the tough throws. Not counting the ones he purposely threw into the stands, there were less than 5 passes that he didn't give his intended receiver a chance on. From what I can remember, one was over the middle that he threw short because he was back peddling from pressure, one was a jump ball to Tate that he sailed out of bounds and the other was the crossing route I mentioned above. In general his misses seem to miss short. This is preferable to say, Delhomme, who's misses long sometimes result in INTs, however missing short can be bad too - besides (or maybe, as a result of) his poor throwing motion, Andre Woodson would throw about 4 or 5 passes in the dirt every game. McNabb is a more successful QB who carries this criticism. I wouldn't even put Jimmy at the McNabb level in terms of this being an issue.
- I think his arm strength may be a little overrated because of his ball placement and anticipation. Rivers is the king of this, in that he actually has a weak arm but you wouldn't know it because he can throw downfield as well as anyone in the NFL. If Rivers is a 10/10 in this department I'd put Clausen somewhere between 7 and 8. His arm is better than Rivers, but I think it may be closer to average in the NFL than above average like some may think. Regardless, I don't see this as a big issue because arm strength in general is overrated. All you need is to have enough arm to make all the NFL throws and you're fine (and in some cases; ie Pennington, Garcia, you're still fine w/o it).
In closing, I think Clausen can expect to develop into a solid, well above average NFL starter. He may be slightly less NFL ready than he's sold to be, but he shouldn't have to sit long. Despite spending a lot of time in shotgun, he still went through a lot of progressions and NFL reads. I question if he has the ability to become one of the greatest in the game, but his upside is still pretty high. He's also not stupid, he looked to find his playmaker at ND (Tate) so expect him to look for Steve Smith in Carolina. One thing to note, he was only responsible for putting up 20 points on the USC defense (well, I guess you can say 21 - his kicker had a PAT blocked). That's actually a damn good effort against USC, but it wasn't enough for the win. If you remember, the guy we currently have starting at QB managed to beat the Trojans in his final year of college, while playing a USC team that won a lot more games that year than they did last year. So there is that
I'll put some other (hopefully shorter) write ups of Clausen games in this topic. I don't anticipate watching more than 3 games, and I might watch one Pike game (though I think I've got a pretty good feel for him, saw more of Cincy last year). Currently I've got the ND/Pitt game downloading, since I saw Pitt live and know they also had a high rated defense, at least statistically.