Since Buddy Green became Navy's defensive coordinator in 2002, the Midshipmen have faced six quarterbacks who went on to become first-round NFL draft picks, including current NFL starters Philip Rivers, Jay Cutler, Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco. But when Green is asked about Notre Dame junior Jimmy Clausen, the veteran coach thinks back to 1990, and a quarterback from Southern Mississippi. He sees Brett Favre.
Clausen "reminds me of the way Favre was playing when he was a senior," said Green, who was an assistant at North Carolina State when the Wolfpack beat Favre's Golden Eagles in the All-American Bowl. "The way he's throwing the ball, the way he's scrambling out of the pocket when he gets pressure, and hitting people on the run, his reads, picking you apart - soft corners, hard corners, deep balls - he reminds me so much of Favre."
Clausen's polished, confident play is just one of the reasons Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo - whose 6-3 team has faced No. 14 Pittsburgh and No. 15 Ohio State - says the 19th-ranked Fighting Irish possess "by far the best offense we've seen so far."
Notre Dame (6-2) had many of the same weapons last season when it escaped with a 27-21 victory over Navy in Baltimore. But those skill players weren't playing at the high level that they are now. "Last year, you kind of knew that they didn't really have it all together," Navy junior cornerback Kevin Edwards said. "Watching film, you can see they pretty much got it now. Everything is working together, everything is glued together, the quarterbacks and receivers are on the same page, and the offense is looking real tight."
Golden Tate, a junior, is one of the leading receivers in the country and has five 100-yard games this season - more than any other Football Bowl Subdivision player. He is tied for second in the country with nine touchdown catches.
Tate "makes me look good every single weekend just with his playmaking ability," Clausen said.
"And not only Golden, but all the running backs, tight ends and the rest of the receivers. [It] just makes my job a lot easier if I can just throw them the ball and let them run for 20, 30, 50 yards."
Michael Floyd, a 6-foot-3, 220-pound receiver, was one of the most explosive players in the country during the first three weeks of the season; he caught 13 passes for 358 yards and scored five touchdowns in just 10 quarters of play before breaking his collarbone against Michigan State on Sept. 19. He resumed practicing this week and has been cleared to play against Navy.
Clausen has completed 66.9 percent of his passes and thrown 18 touchdown passes - with only two interceptions, and none in the past three games. Clausen has been especially good in the clutch; he has recorded 13 touchdowns (12 passing, one rushing) and no turnovers when Notre Dame has been tied or trailing.
"It seems like he knows exactly what he's doing," Niumatalolo said.
"Maybe at the beginning he was trying to figure out coach [Charlie] Weis' system, and their offensive line is much better. He knows exactly where to go with the ball. There's no indecisiveness in him. He's definitely taken his game to another level. He looks like a professional quarterback."
Notre Dame junior quarterback Jimmy Clausen is among the national leaders in a number of categories.
Passer rating 2 (164.25)
Total ypg 15 (282.63)
Pts. produced per game 14 (14.25)
Completions per game 14 (21.50)
Total passing yards 9 (2,318)
Passing ypg 8 (289.75)