Commentary

Jones, Sharpley get bum's rush in favor of Clausen

Originally Published: September 6, 2007
By Adam Rittenberg | Special to ESPN.com

For all the stupid secrecy, senseless comparisons and drawn-out "competition," Notre Dame's quarterback situation came down to one word: when.

As in, when would Jimmy Clausen be ready to start?

The answer came Tuesday as third-year Fighting Irish coach Charlie Weis announced Clausen would start Saturday at No. 14 Penn State (ESPN, 6 p.m. ET). Clausen finished spring practice as the team's top quarterback, but surgery to remove a bone spur in his throwing elbow prevented him from being adequately prepared to start the opener against Georgia Tech.

After a cameo in mop-up time (4-for-6 passing, 34 yards), the heralded true freshman will make his first career start on the road before 108,000 at Beaver Stadium.

No Notre Dame freshman quarterback in the modern era has ever started a game this early in a season. Then again, it'd be hard to find a Fighting Irish offense more adrift than the one that stumbled through last Saturday's loss, the worst opening performance in the school's 119-year football history.

"If I didn't think he was ready, I wouldn't do this," Weis said. "He was always ready mentally. It's just that his arm wasn't a full-go until the end of last week. He had been getting reps all along. We just had been keeping him from overexerting himself."

So this was the plan the whole time. Play the best quarterback. Sounds fair enough.

What didn't seem fair was how Notre Dame treated its other two quarterback candidates.

As poorly as Demetrius Jones played in the opener, he was running a spread-option offense that didn't suit Weis or, evidently, the offensive line. In principle, the system did fit Jones' skill set, but the execution was so poor that it didn't matter.

By not evaluating Jones in a traditional offense -- one that Notre Dame has actually run under Weis -- the Irish might never see what they actually have in the sophomore. He attempted only three passes against Georgia Tech.

Junior Evan Sharpley might have potential, but it was impossible to see, given the swarm of Yellow Jackets who took up residence in Notre Dame's offensive backfield. Sharpley didn't have a chance.

Weis didn't name a backup quarterback and said neither Jones nor Sharpley would get much work with the first team. Barring an injury to Clausen -- a scary possibility given Notre Dame's shoddy pocket protection last week -- Jones and Sharpley will fade into the background.

"I'm not looking to play musical quarterbacks," Weis said.

If Clausen is the savior, nothing else will mater and Weis will be praised for his snappy decision-making. But it's hard not to think of Jones and Sharpley as sacrificial lambs in a predetermined plan.

• Aside from the big announcement at quarterback, Charlie Weis' depth chart didn't show many changes after Notre Dame's disastrous opener. But the third-year coach said the gap between starters and second-stringers has narrowed at several positions, namely running back. Although no Fighting Irish ball carrier could feel good about last Saturday's performance, reserve James Aldridge had 19 rushing yards on six carries. Starter Travis Thomas finished with minus-7 net rush yards. "He's almost slash one; he just doesn't go in first," Weis said of Aldridge. "James and Travis are very close. They are both very strong physical running. Hopefully we'll give [Aldridge] a little more opportunity for success this week than we did last week."

Around the non-automatic BCS conferences
Wyoming Cowboys: You almost expected Wyoming coach and accomplished musician "Cowboy" Joe Glenn to break out into song when describing his team's sparkling season debut. Wyoming didn't just beat a BCS-conference team last Saturday. It humiliated one. The Cowboys had more than four times as many yards (471-110) and more than five times as many first downs (27-5) as Virginia, holding the ball for 40 minutes, 19 seconds. If not for Cavaliers punter Ryan Weigand, who averaged 51.6 yards on nine punts, the result would have been even uglier. "It was a dominant day, as a good a performance on an opening day as any team I've ever coached," Glenn said. "I thought we would win at home. Our defense stoned 'em." Although the win was Wyoming's sixth in its last eight games, stretching back to 2006, Glenn isn't quite ready to roll out the piano and start partying. Wyoming plays host to Utah State on Saturday. "It's the mark of a good team to focus on the here and now," he said. "This will be a test for us to see, are we for real? Did we beat a good football team or is Virginia not so good?"

Southern Miss Golden Eagles: Freshman running back Antwain Easterling was declared academically eligible Tuesday, bringing the notorious blue-chip recruit a step closer to his collegiate debut. Easterling, a top-50 prospect who was at the center of a high school sex scandal in Miami, will travel to Tennessee this week. He's listed fourth on the Southern Miss depth chart behind starter Damion Fletcher and reserves Tory Harrison and V.J. Floyd. Easterling had been held out two weeks as the NCAA certified his high school academic records. "I'm ready to go whenever they're ready to hand that ball off," Easterling told The Clarion-Ledger. "Where I come from, I was the top guy, but now, in college, that doesn't mean anything. You have to work your way back up top."

Utah Utes: With quarterback Brian Johnson (separated shoulder) out until Sept. 22 at the earliest, Utah has had to adjust its offense for Saturday's game against Air Force. The Utes turn to 6-foot-7 senior Tommy Grady, who lacks Johnson's mobility but might have the stronger arm. Although the option attack that Johnson ran is out the window, Utah still will stress the run. Junior Darrell Mack will replace tailback Matt Asiata, who suffered a broken leg in the opener and will miss the season. "I'm not going to say we're back at square one," coach Kyle Whittingham told the Deseret Morning News. "But we're back at square one."

San Jose State Spartans: After making his first collegiate start as a safety last Saturday, freshman Dominique Hunsucker is back on offense. San Jose State moved Hunsucker to running back after reserve Patrick Perry suffered a season-ending knee injury at Arizona State. Starter Yonus Davis will miss at least another week with an ankle injury. Jacob French will start at running back Saturday against Kansas State, but Hunsucker, a standout tailback in high school, should see some action along with Cameron Island. "We'll play Dom as much as we can," coach Dick Tomey told the San Jose Mercury News. "How much he's in there depends on what he does. He was doing some good things as safety, but he is a natural offensive player."

Troy Trojans: Standout quarterback Omar Haugabook is expected to play Saturday at Florida after X-rays on his thumb showed no structural or bone damage. Haugabook suffered the injury when his hand struck the helmet of an Arkansas defender in the season opener. "I'm not used to being injured in a football game," Haugabook told the Dothan Eagle. "It shocked me. I thought I had broken it at first, because I couldn't feel anything." The Trojans will be without reserve defensive end Kenny Mainor on Saturday. Mainor, a two-year starter, was suspended indefinitely for violation of team rules on Wednesday. Senior Shawn Todd will be the team's top reserve at both defensive end spots against Florida.

Memphis Tigers: Starting running back Joseph Doss will miss the next two weeks after suffering a mild knee (MCL) sprain in the fourth quarter of a season-opening loss to Ole Miss. Doss will sit out games against Arkansas State and Jacksonville State but is expected back for the Tigers' conference opener against Central Florida. "It's a mild sprain, it's a MCL, but it's positive," coach Tommy West told The Commercial Appeal. "We have a good chance to get him back by Central Florida (Sept. 22), which I hoped would be best-case scenario, and it looks like that's what it's going to be." Sophomore T.J. Pitts will start Saturday in place of Doss, who had 910 rushing yards and seven touchdowns last season. Memphis defensive end Corey Mills (shoulder) and defensive tackle Ryan Williams (knee) also will miss the next two games.

Nevada Wolf Pack: A defense that hemorrhaged for 52 points and 412 rushing yards last Saturday against Nebraska gets its best player back this week. Senior linebacker Ezra Butler, the 2006 WAC Defensive Player of the Year, returns Saturday against Northwestern after serving a one-game suspension for an unspecified violation of team policy. "I sold my teammates short," Butler told the Reno Gazette-Journal. "I caused pain to a lot of people, my teammates, my family, my friends, my coaches, my girlfriend. What I was going through, I took it out on them. I definitely don't ever want to do that again." Butler was hampered by a shoulder injury during training camp, and Wolf Pack coach Chris Ault wasn't sure how much the star would play Saturday. "I'm looking for him to be one of those guys who gives us a lift," Ault told the Gazette-Journal. "But he hasn't played anything yet, so the cards are still out."

Adam Rittenberg covers college football for the Arlington Heights (Ill.) Daily Herald.