Jimmy Clausen and Notre Dame won the game in overtime, but Washington junior Jake Locker may have boosted his stock with NFL scouts more than the Irish passer with his strong, accurate throws down the stretch.
As I mentioned in a previous post regarding this game, neither Clausen nor Locker were consistent enough in their downfield accuracy. Each hit their man, but often forced them to alter their routes when doing so. This is one of the primary differences in the accuracy required to be successful at the NFL level compared to that of the NCAA.
Clausen relied heavily on junior wideout Golden Tate (9 catches for 244 yards and a TD) throughout the game, hitting the game-breaker on a variety of drags, screens and slants. Tate, with the second most receiving yardage of any Golden Domer in school history, was the real star, utilizing his elusiveness, quick acceleration and vision to almost literally run circles around an overmatched UW secondary.
On Clausen's most important throw -- the 12 yard fade to Kyle Rudolph into the right corner of the endzone that put the Irish in the lead late in the 4th quarter, he threw the ball with good trajectory, allowing his 6-6" receiver to make a play on the ball, but with only marginal accuracy. The pass forced Rudolph to adjust his route and a more athletic and instinctive defensive back would have made a better play on the ball than the Husky corner was able to muster.
Locker, on the other hand, demonstrated better accuracy as the game went on. One of the aspects that is so intriguing about him is that he is often a more accurate passer downfield than he is on short routes. Take the final drive he engineered to put UW in position to tie and put this game into overtime. Locker soft-tossed an underneath route to TE Kavario Middleton, but then zipped a quick-hitter to WR Jermaine Slant to get the first down. His best completed pass of the quarter was his next one -- a deep comeback to James Jones that was released long before the receiver turned back to the ball. The pass hit him precisely where it should -- on his inside shoulder away from the adjusting cornerback. Johnson either could have caught the pass or had it knock the wind out of him, as the throw came on a line.
Locker two best passes of the day may have been the drops UW receivers had on 3rd and 4th down in overtime. Demonstrating his unique ability to escape the pocket, square his shoulders and throw accurately on the move, Locker fired a perfect 20 yard deep out to WR Jermaine Kearse -- who let the ball slip right through his hands. The next pass, on 4th and 19, was thrown with impressive trajectory and zip between the linebacker and safety for Notre Dame to WR D'Andre Goodwin. The pass forced Goodwin to stretch high for the pass, putting him in a precarious position between aggressive defenders. The Irish defenders closed quickly and supplied the big hits that knocked the ball out to the ground, but the throw was as accurate as any thrown by Locker or Clausen on this rainy day.
In the end, Clausen's less than breath-taking accuracy was enough to win this game and that, of course, is what is most important. In the minds of NFL scouts, however, Locker flashed the more impressive physical ability and that is what will ultimately result in the higher draft selection whenever these two talented quarterbacks elect to make themselves eligible.