Irish look to rebound from last year's 3-9 record Print
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Monday, 11 August 2008 11:25
NCAAF Headline News

 SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) -Jimmy Clausen figures he got hit a total of five times while his teams went 42-0 in high school. At Notre Dame, he was sacked six times in his first start and was so beat up after seven games he missed the next two.
Clausen, who announced his commitment to Notre Dame at the nearby College Football Hall of Fame and talked about winning four national championships, learned the hard way as a freshman that being a quarterback in college is a lot tougher than in high school.
``It was good for me to go out there and get banged around a little bit,'' Clausen said.
Clausen was banged around a lot. He was sacked 34 times as the Irish gave up a school-record 58 sacks. Clausen and the rest of the Irish are hoping the lumps they took last year in going 3-9, setting a school record for losses, will lead to better play this season.
But the Irish still have some of the same problems they faced when they finished last season with five freshmen starting. They will be young again this year. They have just 15 seniors, one fewer than last year, and just three fifth-year seniors - by far the fewest they've had the past decade.
Offensive coordinator Mike Haywood said the youth of the Irish struck him the night before practice started, when players went around the room introducing themselves.
``This is a junior, sophomore, freshmen dominated team,'' he said. ``So when you talk to guys, you explain to them this is how important it is for you guys to step up and assume responsibilities and be leaders.''
Coach Charlie Weis believes the biggest improvement comes between a player's first season of playing and his second. The Irish have eight sophomores listed as starters and four others listed as starters coming off their first significant playing times.
``It's just a question of how many of them can make that significant jump at the same time,'' Weis said.
Weis is hoping Clausen will be among those making a significant jump. Clausen has a different look returning for his second season. His hair, cut short last year, is long now and bleached by the summer sun. After a winter of hitting the weights, Clausen has bulked up from 194 to 217 pounds to better withstand the physical play.
``We're talking about a night and day difference physically,'' Weis said.
Clausen, though, thinks the biggest difference is his understanding of Weis' complex offense.
``My knowledge of the system has gotten a lot better since last year,'' Clausen said. ``I'm still trying to work on getting everything down in the playbook, the little nuances.''
The Irish desperately need to make a significant improvement in offense after finishing dead last in the NCAA last year at 242 yards a game. That was nearly 28 fewer than the next-worst team, Florida International. The Irish averaged just 75 yards rushing. That's 60 yards worse then the previous low in school history, when the 1959 Irish rushed for 135 yards a game.
The biggest improvement needs to come along the offensive line, where the Irish appeared lost last year. Weis is encouraged that every offensive linemen on the two-deep arrived at camp weighing at least 300 pounds and each player came in stronger.
``I think the first thing is they're much bigger and they're much stronger, which allows you to play much more physical at the point of attack,'' he said. ``The one thing you have to do is let them play physical at the point of attack. So I think that we have to make sure that we're not passive, and we let them do that.''
The more physical attack will come under a new play-caller. Weis, who helped guide the New England Patriots to three Super Bowls, has turned the play-calling duties over to Haywood.
The defense last year gave up 357 yards a game - 17 yards more than a year earlier - although it improved from 65th in total defense in 2006 to 39th last year. The Irish look to be more aggressive this year after adding blitz expert Jon Tenuta, a former defensive coordinator at Georgia Tech, North Carolina and Ohio State, as assistant head coach for defense.
``We intend to bring a whole bunch of pressure,'' Weis said.
The biggest thing the Irish may have going for them is their schedule.
Last year the Irish played three teams that finished with losing records, beating all three. This year they play six teams that had losing records last season: San Diego State (4-8), Stanford (4-8), North Carolina (4-8), Washington (4-9), Pittsburgh (5-7) and Syracuse (2-10). Pittsburgh hasn't had a winning record in three seasons, Washington hasn't had a winning season since 2002, Stanford, North Carolina and Syracuse since 2001 and San Diego State since 1998.
Several other opponents, such as Michigan and Boston College, aren't expected to be as strong as last year.
Clausen was asked how improved the Irish, who lost their first five games last season, can be.
``We'll see Sept. 6,'' he said.
 

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