We are one week away from Jimmy-palooza

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For all those people who are worried that Jimmy Clausen isn’t getting the national respect that he deserves, fear not: It’s coming.

Clausen’s weekly heroics during this Saturday’s game against Washington earned Jimmy the Davey O’Brien Foundation’s Quarterback of the Week award. His 422 yards passing and almost 75 percent accuracy pushed Clausen’s passer rating to an NCAA best 179.3

It also got many members of the media looking at Clausen, a habit that will no doubt only escalate with next weekend’s high-profile match-up with USC on the horizon.

Here are just a few of the things written about JC this week:

Stewart Mandel
at SI.com:

And then there’s the increasingly intriguing case of Jimmy Clausen, whose make-or-break date with stiff-arm destiny comes that same day against No. 7 USC.

Notre Dame junior put on yet another spectacular and dramatic
performance Saturday against Washington, throwing for 422 yards and two
touchdowns, including a go-ahead score to Kyle Rudolph with 1:20 remaining. After Washington came back to tie, Clausen threw a 22-yard completion to Golden Tate
(who himself had a staggering 244 yards on nine catches) on the first
play of overtime to set up the Irish’s eventual game-winning TD. He
constantly avoided pressure to make long throws downfield.

Clausen now leads the nation in pass efficiency, completing 67.6
percent of his passes for 1,544 yards, 12 touchdowns and two
interceptions. However, it’s been hard to take the Irish too seriously
what with their weekly habit of needing a furious last-second rally to
fend off an inferior foe. AP voters clearly have little respect for
Notre Dame’s competition; the 4-1 Irish received just nine poll votes
this week.

Nonetheless, it’s hard to find fault with Clausen, who is posting
all those big numbers despite getting almost no help. He lost his most
dangerous receiver, Michael Floyd, early in the Michigan State game. Running back Armando Allen
has been hobbled by an ankle injury, contributing to the Irish’s
red-zone woes (settling for four field goals from inside the 20)
against Washington. And with the notable exception of those three
goal-line stands Saturday, the Irish defense has been porous.

gone are the days when a Notre Dame player could win the Heisman
without beating anyone of merit, which is why Clausen’s next game (the
Irish have a bye this week) will serve as his defining opportunity.
Thus far the Irish have offered little sign they can play with a team
that’s throttled them seven of the past eight years. The Trojans’
defense suffocated Cal on Saturday and is sitting in their customary
spot among the nation’s top-five teams in total defense (238.6 yards
per game).

“We don’t have to underestimate that we have a
top opponent on deck,” said Weis. “But the way this quarterback is
playing and the way he’s acting and the way he’s leading the team, the
confidence the team has in him, you’ve got a chance to win every time
you play.”

The one time this rivalry was competitive any time recently was 2005, the famous “Bush Push” game. Even in defeat, Brady Quinn emerged from that game as a Heisman contender (he finished fourth).
Clausen will need to do something similar — but he’s going to need a
whole lot more help than he’s currently getting.

Evaluating VanGorder’s scheme against the option

ANNAPOLIS, MD - SEPTEMBER 19:  Keenan Reynolds #19 of the Navy Midshipmen rushes for his fifth touchdown in the fourth quarter against the East Carolina Pirates during their 45-21 win on September 19, 2015 in Annapolis, Maryland.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Notre Dame’s ability to slow down Georgia Tech’s vaunted option attack served as one of the high points to the Irish’s early season success. After spending a considerable amount of offseason energy towards attacking the option and learning more, watching the Irish hold the Yellow Jackets in check was a huge victory for Brian VanGorder, Bob Elliott and the rest of Notre Dame’s staff.

But it was only half the battle.

This weekend, Keenan Reynolds and Navy’s veteran offense come to town looking to wreak some havoc on a defense that’s struggled to slow it down. And after getting a look at some of the new tricks the Irish had in store for Paul Johnson, Ken Niumatalolo and his offensive coaches have likely started plotting their counterpunches days in advance.

How did Notre Dame’s defense slow down Georgia Tech? Brian Kelly credited an aggressive game plan and continually changing looks. So while some were quick to wonder whether Notre Dame’s scheme changes were the biggest piece of the puzzle, it’s interesting to see how the Irish’s strategic decisions looked from the perspective of an option expert.

Over at “The Birddog” blog, Michael James utilizes his spread option expertise and takes a look at how the Irish defended Georgia Tech. His conclusion:

Did the Irish finally figure out the magic formula that will kill this gimmick high school offense for good?

Not exactly.

The Irish played a fairly standard 4-3 for a large chunk of the game. James thought Notre Dame’s move to a 3-5-3 was unique, though certainly not the first time anybody’s used that alignment.

But what stood out wasn’t necessarily the Xs and Os, but rather how much better Notre Dame’s personnel reacted to what they were facing.

Again, from the Birddog Blog:

The real story here, and what stood out to me when watching Notre Dame play Georgia Tech, was how much faster the Irish played compared to past years. I don’t mean that they are more athletic, although this is considered to be the best Notre Dame team in years. I mean that they reacted far more quickly to what they saw compared to what they’ve done in the past.

Usually, when a team plays a spread option offense, one of the biggest challenges that defensive coordinators talk about is replicating the offense’s speed and precision. It’s common to hear them say that it takes a series or two to adjust. That was most certainly not the case here.

James referenced our Media Day observations and seemed impressed by the decision to bring in walk-on Rob Regan to captain what’s now known as the SWAG team. And while VanGorder’s reputation as a mad scientist had many Irish fans wondering if the veteran coordinator cooked something up that hadn’t been seen, it was more a trait usually associated with Kelly that seems to have made the biggest difference.

“It wasn’t that the game plan was so amazing (although it was admittedly more complex and aggressive than we’ve seen out of other Notre Dame teams),” James wrote. “It was plain ol’ coachin’ ’em up.

“Notre Dame’s players were individually more prepared for what they’d see. Notre Dame is already extremely talented, but talented and prepared? You can’t adjust for that. That’s more challenging for Navy than any game plan.”

Irish prepared to take on the best Navy team in years


Brian Kelly opens every Tuesday press conference with compliments for an opponent. But this week, it was easy to see that his kind words for Navy were hardly lip service.

Ken Niumatalolo will bring his most veteran—and probably his most talented—group of Midshipmen into Notre Dame Stadium, looking to hand the Irish their first loss in the series since Kelly’s debut season in South Bend.

“Ken Niumatalolo has done an incredible job in developing his program and currently carrying an eight-game winning streak,” Kelly said. “I voted for them in USA Today Top 25 as a top-25 team. I think they’ve earned that. But their defense as well has developed. It’s played the kind of defense that I think a top 25 team plays.”

With nine months of option preparation, Notre Dame needs to feel confident about their efforts against Georgia Tech. Then again, the Midshipmen saw that game plan and likely have a few tricks in store.

As much as the Irish have focused their efforts on stopping Keenan Reynolds and the triple-option, Navy’s much-improved defense is still looking for a way to slow down a team that’s averaged a shade over 48 points a game against them the last four seasons.

Niumatalolo talked about that when asked about slowing down Will Fuller and Notre Dame’s skill players, an offense that’s averaged over 48 points a game during this four-game win streak.

“We’ve got to try our best to keep [Fuller] in front of us, that’s easier said than done,” Niumatalolo said. “We’ve got to play as close as we can without their guys running past us. I’ve been here a long time and we’re still trying to figure out how to do that.”


Navy heads to South Bend unbeaten, defeating former Irish defensive coordinator Bob Diaco‘s team just two Saturdays ago. And while Diaco raised a few eyebrows when he said Navy would be the team’s toughest test of the year (they already played a ranked Missouri team), the head of the UConn program couldn’t have been more effusive in his praise.

“I have been competing against Navy for some time and this is the best Navy team I have seen for, let’s say the last half-dozen years,” UConn coach Bob Diaco told the New Haven Register. “I could click on footage from three years ago and see a lion’s share of players who are playing right now in the game as freshmen and sophomores. They have a veteran group, a strong group, a talented group and they look like the stiffest competition among our first four opponents.”

As usual, there will be those who look at this game as the breather between Clemson and USC. That won’t be anybody inside The Gug. So as the Irish try to get back to their winning ways in front of a home crowd, a complete team effort is needed.

“I’ll take a win by one,” Kelly said Tuesday. “That would be fine with me.”