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QB battle will have a little of everything

Feb 17, 2011, 5:46 PM EDT

Getty Images - Nick Laham Getty Images

Ah, the benefits of a fully stocked roster.

For the first time since Tyrone Willingham struggled to fill a roster with D-I recruits, the Irish will have a full 85-man allotment of scholarships on their roster. And of all the positions where battles will be fought for playing time, no spot on the depth chart will have as many eyes on it as the quarterback spot.

With Nate Montana’s exit to the Grizzlies of Montana and Luke Massa spending the spring at wide receiver, four quarterbacks will take snaps for the Irish. Two, Dayne Crist and Tommy Rees, we’ve seen. Two, Andrew Hendrix and early-entrant Everett Golson, we haven’t.

Helping to kick start this discussion, our friends at Her Loyal Sons pontificated on what quarterback had the better season last year: Dayne Crist or Tommy Rees.

Without completing hijacking their column, The Biscuit (who is on a mission to attend ND’s Annual Fantasy Camp, which I can attest is a once-in-a-lifetime experience) looked at five different criteria for judging the two players:

1) Stats
2) ND’s running attack
3) ND’s defensive performance
4) The competition
5) The competition’s defense

Here’s where he came out:

Overall, these two players had pretty similar performances stats-wise. Rees edges out Crist in a few key categories, and played against an overall more difficult schedule. But Crist was more productive against a tougher set of defenses, and wasn’t helped out by the Irish Running Game or Defense the way that Rees was.

Obviously, one statistical area where Rees trumps Crist was in the W/L column, with Rees piloting the Irish through most of a 4-1 stretch while Dayne went 4-4 before getting injured early against Tulsa. But as we discussed back in December, setting an appropriate bar for Crist was one area where most fans/analysts/bloggers failed.

Even with a five-star pedigree, Crist was walking into a new offensive system after spending two seasons immersed in Charlie Weis’ way of playing quarterback. He was a first-time starting quarterback playing his first year in a new system and doing it after rehabbing from a major knee injury that added another hurdle to his development process.

Comparing Crist’s physical tools to those of Tommy Rees isn’t going to come out in favor of Rees. In fact, Rees won’t come out in front of any of the six quarterbacks that were on the roster at the New Year. But Kelly made it clear that he’s got a clear vision on how he’s offense will adapt during year two of his tenure.

“Suffice to say that I’m pretty clear on the styles that we have and how to utilize those styles within our offense,” Kelly said. “Not everybody can run the style of offense that I would want us to be running, so we’re going to utilize our quarterbacks to best help us win football games.”

What style offense Kelly will run in 2011 might be an evolutionary question befitting Darwin. During his state of the program remarks before Signing Day, Kelly talked about the changes that come with coaching Notre Dame.

“In 21 years of being a head coach, most of the jobs I’ve had revolved around not just winning, but being exciting, being relevant, putting fans in the seats,” Kelly said, comparing work under the Golden Dome to that at Cincinnati, Central Michigan and Grand Valley State. “None of those things matter at Notre Dame. I don’t have to create an exciting offense, I just have to win football games, and defense goes hand in hand with winning.”

Those comments might mean that the hurry-up, no-huddle, time-of-possession-is-an-overrated-philosophy that dominated the opening days of the Kelly era are over. With the Irish’s defense resurgence coming much sooner than anybody ever expected, it’s clear that Kelly’s way of winning football games won’t get in the way of simply winning games, style points be damned.

All that being said, don’t expect Kelly to simply trade in an offensive philosophy 20 years in the making for a slug-it-out, just win the game mentality. It could simply mean he hasn’t found his signature quarterback yet.

‘‘It’s a guaranteed Heisman Trophy to whoever that guy is,’’ former Cincinnati quarterback Ben Mauk to the Chicago Sun-Times a few weeks ago. ‘‘Once he gets a guy in there he can trust — they’re on the same page and they go through those meetings where he knows he’s on the same page — then you’ll see a whole new dimension to the offense.’’

(As the Irish pursue Mauk’s younger brother, highly-touted prep quarterback Maty Mauk, it’s clear that Kelly and company can certainly rely on big brother’s endorsement.)

In the one season that we’ve seen of both Crist and Tommy Rees, it’s hard to determine that either of those guys is purely that quarterback, but it’s also clear looking at Kelly’s track record that he’s won plenty of football games with quarterbacks of all shapes and sizes.

The days continue to tick down to March 23, the official start to Irish spring practice. Those fifteen sessions will give all of us our first look at Golson, a pure spread quarterback, and Hendrix, a player whose toolbox might contain attributes unparalleled amongst the rest of the competition.

There’ll be plenty of time to read between the lines as each quarterback states their case for playing time come autumn. But it’s clear that whoever Kelly trusts to lead the offense, they’ll be one of the largest factors determining the fate of the 2011 Irish.

  1. 1notredamefan - Feb 17, 2011 at 8:46 PM

    I feel as though we will see Kelly flirting with Crist as the starter early on, but only to satisfy the people who would raise holy hell if he out-rite lost the starting position in spring ball. Crist showed very little confidence in the system throughout his whole tenure last year, there are those who butter him up and say he improved from game to game but I think we all need to look at this realistically! The second someone with some moxy walked into that huddle (Reece) the whole team changed and we never looked back!!!

    The writing’s on the wall people, Crist is a great QB, just not the right fit for what’s going on in Kelly’s system! It would be a travesty to name him the starter for the sole purpose of seniority or experience over a flat out BALLER! I think Weis showed us all how not to treat players like pre-Madonnas when they have accomplished 000000000000000000!!

    Quick question…..Are we afraid to state the facts of matter about the Crist we all saw wide-eyed, (deer in headlights) last year or what?? and if so, why?

  2. 1notredamefan - Feb 17, 2011 at 8:50 PM

    To sum it up….When Crist was starting: Never comfortable, always thought we would or could lose another one…

    When Reece: Overwhelming feeling of comfort and always felt we were in it (and we always were)

    • notredamegrad - Feb 17, 2011 at 10:30 PM

      When Crist was starting, the reason I was always uncomfortable was because of the defense and the shaky offensive line. When Rees was starting, I was comfortable because our defense had figured out how to pound the other team into the ground – it didn’t matter if he threw touchdown passes because the opposing teams weren’t able to put up significant points.

      I don’t care about the look on Dayne Crist’s face when he’s taking a snap. His numbers compete with Rees’s all day long and he managed it while the whole team was gaining confidence in Kelly’s system and while carrying more of the offense than Kelly ever put on Rees’s shoulders.

      When you look at the final game scores from this season, it’s striking that the points put up by the offense from game to game don’t correlate well with wins and losses – we won against USC with 20 points (3 TDs); we lost against Mich. St. with 31 (4 TDs); we won against Army with 27 points (but only 2 Rees-led TDs). Both Crist and Rees led about 3 TDs per game (Crist had 3.33, Rees an even 3). There is, however, a remarkable correlation between wins and losses and the opponent’s score – in every ND win, our defense limited the opponent to 17 points or less (except Western Mich., which managed 20 to Crist’s 6-TD-led 44).

      I’ll take Crist at the helm in the fall. He ran in touchdowns himself in four games – three of them were from 7 or more yards away. I don’t see Rees running in TDs. Re-watch that 50-yard pass from the endzone to Rudolph in the Michigan game again. I’ll take a little inconsistency for a QB who has the guts – the patience and accuracy – and the athleticism to throw like that.

  3. krups06 - Feb 17, 2011 at 10:17 PM

    I think both of you are being a little harsh towards Crist. The season just so happened to play out where Crist got injured exactly before the season decided to complete its epic turn around. If the defense plays the same and Crist doesn’t get hurt, we still finish the season 4-0. I am NOT taking anything away from the incredible job Rees did filling in, it’s just unfair to call Crist inconsistent and uncomfortable when the defense was playing much much worse than it did while Rees was in control.

    • tedlinko - Feb 18, 2011 at 3:24 AM

      I agree with you. I’d be the first to acknowledge that Crist was inconsistent at times — the offense would click for a while and then get out of sync. Part of that was Crist learning the system. Part was inconsistency among the rest of the offense — which was hit with a number of injuries at the skill positions.

      But the interesting thing is that nobody talks about, quite frankly, how inconsistent Tommy Rees was at times — likely because his record as a starter was 4-0. I don’t take anything away from him — heck we’re talking about a true freshman taking the helm at ND in mid season. But re-watch the USC game. Aside from the final minute of the first half, Rees was actually not very good. Frankly, the only reason we won that game was the defense, and one very underrated senior named Robert Hughes.

      Others have written it already, so I won’t belabor the point. It was the defensive resurgence much moreso than the QB play, that was the difference between the first 8 games and the last 5.

  4. jtsel81 - Feb 18, 2011 at 1:13 AM

    It seems that BK has what it takes to choose and develop the right Quarterbacks to handle his offense, his record speaks to that fact. I want to see what comes of this Spring and go from there. Wether it’s a Freshman or not it seems the ND offense is in more than competent hands and the defense is showing more promise than in the last two decades!!! The O-line vastly improved as the year progressed, and is returning mostly intact. Our targets are more than solid. Everything needed to have a highly potent Offense is there & I have every faith in BK to see it running at it’s full potential this Fall!!! Go Irish Baby!!!!!!!

    • tedlinko - Feb 18, 2011 at 3:27 AM

      My prediction is that Crist will emerge as the starter, but Hendrix may slot in as the primary backup. Either way, Golson will have a package of plays designed for him.

      That said, I think BK has shown that he’ll reward those who perform, so what happens in March/April could totally skew my prediction.

  5. oldestguard - Feb 18, 2011 at 11:03 AM

    Nothing like a QB battle to keep the interest level peaked .

    I’d say even BK wouldn’t speculate on his QB choice yet, without seeing what develops over the Spring.

    I hope the final decision is very hard to make – that will bode well for the program.

  6. ndgamer17 - Feb 18, 2011 at 11:43 AM

    Love all the analysis… Bottom line is Wins as Kelly stated. It comes down to who has the IT FACTOR and who doesn’t. Rees has proven he has what it takes to win. Crist is in question. If the OVERALL skills are the same which I believe they are, then you have to go with the guy that pulls out the Wins and that is Rees. Rees is the Gamer. We’ll see… GO IRISH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • bradwins - Feb 18, 2011 at 5:18 PM

      Overall skills are the same? Yikes.

      Look, Rees did a commendable job managing the games he was asked to play in, but he is not a big-time, BCS caliber QB. Yes, he went 4-0 as a starter, but not because he set the world on fire. He was the beneficiary of the defense finding itself and carrying ND to wins.

      Crist comes in as the favorite, but Hendrix has a legit chance to win the job. Rees is a nice safety blanket as the 3rd string QB. We know that if something crazy happens and Crist and Hendrix are both hurt Rees can be trusted to come in the game and not melt.

      My guess is that Golson will get a ton of reps this spring, but will not see the field in the fall. Using him in some specialty packages would just waste a year of his eligibility.

  7. martyrun - Feb 18, 2011 at 12:55 PM

    Crist will be 3rd string behing Rees and/or Hendrix. Golson will be seeing the field as well.

    • martyrun - Feb 18, 2011 at 1:52 PM

      Why all the thumbs down over an honest assessment of the QB situation. Kelly has already stated that Golson will see the field. He loves all the Hendrixs has done up to this point and Rees is 4-0 as a starter. Those facts don’t bode well for Crist.

  8. 1historian - Feb 18, 2011 at 5:14 PM

    I enjoy the comments except the snarky ones, of course, and I will continue so.

    Then the COMPETITION starts and it gets even better.

  9. bostonira - Feb 19, 2011 at 8:08 AM

    Two knee operations and very little experience with the new offensive system. I think Dayne Crist is not the answer.

  10. ndgamer17 - Feb 19, 2011 at 9:50 AM

    My point is Crist can’t seem to stay healthy and if you watched his games this year and ESPECIALLY that last hit, he has a problem with field awareness. He had NO idea he was about to get hit and that was not the first time. He runs scared. You can’t play college ball scared. I have always had hi hopes for Crist. In fact, I wanted him in there over Clausen. However, he hasn’t materialized and I don’t believe he will. Therefore, move on and ND must prepare the QB that’s going to give them the best chance to win. Period! ND belongs back at the top and that is the #1 priority. GO IRISH!!!!!!!!

    By the way, BBall team is doing great!! Big game against WV!!

    • mannyboy8386 - Feb 19, 2011 at 11:33 AM

      I agree with many of your points regarding Crist, gamer. That said, I think we all need to state that we need the Spring head-to-head result to results to make better informed opinions. We have a tendency to overemphasis the new. As they used to say: the most popular quarterback at Notre Dame is the backup.

      I to have noticed a frustrating lake of awareness on the part of Crist. As you point out, this contributes to his getting hit and injured. In the Kelly system you have multiple options of receiver and back routes as well as pitch options. The quarterback must look around and find the best option in that specific moment. To do this correctly, the quarterback has to have his head rotating to survey the entire field. I often saw Crist locking his gaze on one receiver the entire route and then throwing the ball to him or the play blew up. I think this was the genesis for many of the sideline tongue lashings from Coach Kelly.

      I feel the perhaps the most important thing the coaching staff will use in evaluating these quarterbacks this spring is how well they demonstrate field awareness. On this yardstick, perhaps Gohlson has the upper hand?

  11. ndnut - Feb 19, 2011 at 3:55 PM

    Crist and Rees are the only options in my eyes. ND needs a game tested QB in order to win. Which is what matters most, WINNING!!!!!! BTW, while I’m out here in South Dakota, watching South Dakota State play the Grizzlies in the playoffs (hopefully) defending Nate Montana should be fun. Watch Montana if you get a chance, he’ll have less pressure, which should help his performance. GO IRISH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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