The ascension of Dayne Crist to the role of starting quarterback didn’t happen as many suspected. As Charlie Weis’ second five-star quarterback plucked out of Southern California, many thought a golden age of blue-chip signal-callers running Weis’ NFL offense would usher in an unprecedented revival.
The Weis era put up historical offensive numbers, but the inability to play above average football led to a scenario few thought possible. Jimmy Clausen, fresh off an All-American-type season was leaving South Bend after three seasons, ready to ply his trade in the NFL. And Charlie Weis, after going 16-21 the past three seasons, would be going with him, exiled to Kansas City as the new offensive coordinator of the Chiefs. Worst still, Crist, who was always the heir apparent to Clausen, would be thrust into the starting job with only 20 throws under his belt, and with a torn ACL that was barely five months removed from surgery.
While everybody seems to agree that Dayne Crist holds the key to the Irish offense, trying to predict how he’ll play certainly presents a lot of variables. The Irish will be breaking in three new starters along the offensive line, with both tackles and Eric Olsen gone at center. The receiving corp lost Biletnikoff winning wide receiver Golden Tate, a staggering blow for any offense. While the entire running back depth chart returns, Theo Riddick moves outside to the slot, where he’ll try to open up opportunities for Cierre Wood.
The key for Crist and the Irish offense will be its ability to absorb Brian Kelly’s offense. While philosophically divergent from that of Weis’, Kelly’s spread attack correlated nicely when it came to success in the air, as both the Irish and the Bearcats were elite last season when it came to throwing the ball. More importantly, Kelly’s system has proven to be very good for quarterbacks in general, not something you could say about Weis’ complex NFL offense. Since Kelly entered D-I football in 2004, he’s yet to have a season where quarterbacks threw more interceptions than touchdowns. Over six seasons, his quarterbacks have averaged nearly 62 percent completions while throwing an average of 27 touchdown passes against only 10 interceptions, pretty staggering numbers. The average passer rating of a Brian Kelly quarterback is 141.8, which would’ve put John Q. Average in the top 30 in the country last season.
Thanks go to the immensely talented Jay from the recently retired Blue-Gray Sky blog, who collected the statistics of every quarterback to play under Kelly at Central Michigan and Cincinnati.
Looking at the chart, we start to see what exactly the typical Kelly quarterback does, and what we can expect from Dayne Crist. For most Irish fans, the image of Tony Pike, the 6-6, pocket quarterback who excelled as a passer first, was what many expected the prototype Kelly quarterback to be at Notre Dame. But after parsing the data, we see that Pike is actually an outlier, as most of Kelly’s quarterbacks ran the ball at about a 22 percent ratio of runs to plays (runs + passes), while Pike’s ratio last year was only 8.4 percent, almost a limitation to Kelly’s offensive ideal.
Many Notre Dame fans assumed that because of their similar lineage and pedigree that Dayne Crist was a quarterback built from the same mold as Jimmy Clausen. In reality, Dayne is far better suited for Kelly’s offense than Clausen ever could’ve been. In high school, Crist was regularly used as a weapon running the ball, and athletically he’s a much stronger fit for what Kelly would like to do with his quarterbacks. With Crist still working his way back from knee surgery, we won’t know exactly how hard the coaching staff will push him until he takes his first snaps against Purdue in the fall, but if past history is any indication, expect to see a lot of Dayne on the move.
For optimistic Irish fans, it’s hard not to look at Dayne Crist and realize that Brian Kelly has never had a quarterback with as much raw ability as he does now. Crist has the size, speed, and arm strength that just jumps out at you, and his ability to return from major knee surgery and lead his teammates during spring practice make you believe he has the intangible abilities you need in a winning quarterback as well. If Kelly and offensive coordinator Charley Molnar can coax an average season out of Crist, the Irish offense should be more than capable of good things. And for those of us that have watched and followed Dayne since he arrived in South Bend, there’s a sneaky feeling that has some Irish fans smirking.
Dayne Crist is far better than average.