SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) -The beating Jimmy Clausen took last season is paying off.
While he's still lost more games (eight) than he's won (seven) as a starter, the most-hyped Notre Dame quarterback since Ron Powlus more than a decade ago is starting to look like the kind of passer - and leader - the Irish were hoping for.
It's taken more than a year and a rough first season to get this far. Clausen was sacked 34 times in 2007, threw just one more touchdown pass than interception and was part of one of the worst teams in Notre Dame history. The Irish went 3-9 as they struggled behind young, inexperienced players.
The baptism by fire has made this season seem easier for Clausen and his teammates. Going 4-2 hasn't hurt, either.
``The more you can play and the more times that you can face different defenses and different looks, you get more comfortable with yourself and the rest of the guys on the field,'' Clausen said.
aining that he hopes no other Irish quarterback has to endure.
``He was exposed to about every form of pressure known to mankind last year because teams saw a wounded animal and they were going for the kill,'' he said.
Clausen is still learning and makes mistakes typical of a young player. He threw two bad interceptions, had the ball stripped for a fumble and was sacked for a 15-yard loss that killed a drive in a narrow loss last week to North Carolina.
But the good plays are increasingly outnumbering the bad, and he is on pace to have not only the best sophomore season of any Irish quarterback, but one of the best years in school history.
Midway through the season, he has completed 135-of-219 passes for 1,631 yards with 14 touchdowns and eight interceptions. His 61.6 percent completion rate would tie for the third best in school history, behind Brady Quinn's 64.9 percent in 2005 and 61.9 percent in 2006. His 271.8 passing yards per game would be second only to the 326.6 yards per game Quinn averaged in 2005. He needs just six more touchdown passes to have the third-most in a season at Notre Dame.
But he's also on pace to have the third-most interceptions in school history.
He has set career passing marks in each of his last three games, throwing for 275 yards against Purdue, 347 yards against Stanford and 383 yards in the 29-24 loss to North Carolina.
hat kid we were playing last year in the Penn State game,'' Weis said. At that time, Clausen was the first Irish freshman quarterback in more than a half century to start in just his second game.
This year, Clausen has played well enough that the Irish have gone from trying to be a team that runs to set up the pass to being a team that depends on passing to set up the run.
``In this offense that we've been running the last few weeks, the burden is all on the quarterback. That's where the burden is, because you've got to make good, quick decisions, and you've got to be an accurate passer,'' Weis said.
Clausen credits Weis and Powlus, now Notre Dame's quarterbacks coach, for much of his growth. Powlus has been especially helpful because he understands the challenges Clausen faces both on and off the field.
``It's been great to be able to talk to him, not about just football, but things off the field that he's been through to help me progress through my career,'' Clausen said.
One obstacle Clausen faced was trying to be a leader as a freshman while struggling with his game.
cause of the way he plays and by his poise and confidence on the field and in the huddle.''
Weis believes Clausen began living up to his reputation after sitting out the eighth and ninth games last season against USC and Navy. He had become the starter when his throwing arm wasn't at full strength due to arthroscopic elbow surgery the previous spring. After taking repeated hard shots, he sat out those two games to allow his body to recover.
When Clausen returned against Air Force, he felt more comfortable and the game seemed to slow down for him. He had his three best passing games of the season. He only had four passes of longer than 15 yards in the first seven games. He had 12 in the final three games.
The key for Clausen is playing well more consistently. He still hasn't put together a complete game. Weis said he needs to continue to work on his entire game, such as being more patient and finding the open receiver instead of hurrying the pass. He also must be more willing to take what defenses give him, such as short passes to the tailback or tight end.
Clausen said he needs to work on everything.
``It's different from week to week, because there are different things we're doing for different teams,'' he said.
Weis reminds Clausen constantly that he has a lot to learn by asking him whether he wants to be a good quarterback or a great quarterback.
``Obviously, I want to be a great quarterback,'' he said. ``And I'm trying to do everything I can to do that.''

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