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Crist vs. Rees: Breaking down all of Dayne’s throws

Sep 5, 2011, 11:46 PM EDT

South Florida v Notre Dame Getty Images

One week into the season, if you looked at the NCAA leaderboard, you’d say Brian Kelly‘s team is making the strides you’d expect from a program expecting big things this year.

— Fifth in passing offense  with 391 yards
— 15th in total offense, with 508 yards.
— 25th in total defense, allowing only 254 yards
— 21st in passing defense, allowing only 128 yards

But if you scroll way down to the bottom of the official NCAA stats for turnover margin, you’ll find Notre Dame occupying 116th place — dead last — all by itself. (Crazily enough, one spot ahead of Alabama, who was minus-four in its opening win over Kent State.)

Kelly gave senior quarterback Dayne Crist the quick hook Saturday afternoon, after a first half that saw Crist put up modest numbers: 7 of 15 for 95 yards, with a critical red zone interception. On paper, Crist’s performance didn’t look bad enough to blow up the depth chart after 30 minutes. But when Tommy Rees threw for 296 yards and two touchdowns in the second half, it exposed Crist’s inability to make big plays in Kelly’s offense.

Kelly said he needed to go back to the tape to truly evaluate both quarterbacks. We’ll hear who Kelly picks during Tuesday’s noon press conference. But before we get there, here’s a look at each throw Crist made, with a breakdown of his thought process on every throw.


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Throw 1: 1st and 10 at ND 20

Crist pass complete to Cierre Wood for a 31 yard gain. 

The opening play of the 2011 season looks like a designed dump off to Wood. Crist did a nice job buying time, then Cierre did the rest.

Throw 2: 2nd and 9 at USF 48

Crist pass complete to Michael Floyd for 26 yards. 

An interesting play. It looks like the USF corner actually jumped the slant, but Crist waited for Floyd to clear and then put a good throw on him anyway. A high percentage toss and a nice catch and run by Floyd.

Throw 3: 3rd and 9 at ND 46

Crist pass complete to Tyler Eifert for 4 yards. 

Bad decision number one. A third down with an empty set, five wide receivers. Jonas Gray and TJ Jones, both split left, clear half the field. Floyd drags low across the middle with his corner chasing him, letting Crist know early its man coverage. With no pass rush in sight, Crist simply needs to wait for Theo Riddickto flash open after Floyd clears the middle. But instead of showing patience and letting the play develop, Crist takes the early throw, even though the pass rush isn’t on him, as he dumps it off to Eifert, who is tackled well short of the first down.

Riddick’s reaction tells it all, as the play was set up perfectly for a big gainer. Riddick was isolated with a linebacker and was just clearing open, a perfectly designed play. Even though it goes down in the stat sheet for a completion, it’s a huge missed opportunity and it forced the Irish to punt.

Throw 4: 2nd and 1 at ND 42

Crist pass incomplete to Theo Riddick.

From the angle we have, it doesn’t look like Crist had much to work with, though on the TV broadcast Mike Mayock seemed to think if Crist pulled the trigger sooner he’d have had someone on the intermediate crossing route, which looked to be Floyd. On 2nd and 1, I’ve got no problem taking a shot down the field, but it wasn’t a particularly accurate throw.

Third and short wouldn’t have been a terrible situation, but Crist then went on to take a delay of game call. Whether it was Crist’s fault for not keeping an eye on the clock, the Irish sideline for not getting the play in on time, or the Notre Dame PA team for the timing of the announcement, it doesn’t really matter anymore.

Throw 5: 3rd and 6 at ND 37

Crist pass incomplete to Michael Floyd.

Just a really bad miss. Floyd was wide open on a slant route, the defensive back had all but conceded the first down, but Crist sailed a throw high. It happens sometimes, but it’s a crucial throw with the Irish already down ten points.

Throw 6: 1st and 10 at ND 32

Crist pass complete to TJ Jones for 13 yards. 

Both outside receivers, Jones and Floyd, were running hooks, while inside receivers, Eifert and Riddick, ran stutter moves. With the inside receivers covered pretty well, Crist checks down and hits a wide open Jones, who runs for the first down. A good read.

Throw 7: 1st and 10 at USF 37

Crist pass complete to Michael Floyd for 11 yards. 

With the corner showing blitz too early, Crist switched plays, calling for a quick hitch to Floyd, which he completed on time. Floyd did the rest and put a nice move on the safety to get a first down to end the first quarter.

Throw 8: 1st and 10 at USF 26

Crist complete to Mike Ragone for 10 yards. 

A half field read for Crist, who had Tyler Eifert running to the flag before Crist dumped the pass off to Ragone. Riddick and Floyd were on the field side, but Crist never looked left. A productive play and a first down into the Bulls’ red zone.

Throw 9: 2nd and Goal at USF 7

Crist pass incomplete to TJ Jones. 

A ball that should’ve been a touchdown pass, but the USF defensive back hit Jones perfectly, and the ball fell out of his arms on the slant. You could argue that Crist should’ve thrown the ball down and in instead of a bit behind Jones, but it’s a ball that TJ needs to catch for the touchdown.

Throw 10: 3rd and Goal at USF 7

Crist pass intercepted by DeDe Lattimore in the end zone, returned for no gain and a touchback.

A real head-scratcher. It looks like the primary read on this play should be Michael Floyd, who was coming underneath a Tyler Eifert out route (also known as a pick). If Crist hits the throw immediately, Floyd would’ve had to slide around a linebacker and dive for the end zone, a match-up I’d call Floyd the winner of every time. But Crist was locked on Riddick from the start of the play. (If you watch the broadcast, they give you a reverse angle that tracks Crist’s eyes the entire time.) Riddick was ridden — you could argue held — by Lattimore, but either way it was a bad ball, on top of a bad read, in a really bad place on the field to make that decision.

As Mayock said at the time, “You can’t make a worse throw than that.” Agreed.

Throw 11: 2nd and 5 at ND 40

Crist pass incomplete to Tyler Eifert.

A designed roll to Crist’s left, he had Jones running a smash, Riddick running a flag, and Eifert running an out. Jones was wide open early, but Crist waited to throw, and was forced to go to Eifert, who had the ball broken up on a nice play by the linebacker. Riddick was well covered and not an option, but Jones was open early and throughout, and even Eifert would’ve been available had Crist pulled the trigger early enough. This is a play you need your starting quarterback to make.

Throw 12: 3rd and 5 at ND 40

Crist pass incomplete to Theo Riddick.

The beginning of Theo Riddick’s very bad day. There’s nothing to blame on Crist here, who waited for Riddick to get open as he streaked across the middle and put a bullet on him over the middle. Theo dropped it, and proceeded to muff the next ball that came his way, misplaying a punt that gave USF the ball on the Irish twenty. Crist got on Riddick after the play with some tough love, a good display of leadership.

Throw 13: 3rd and 11 at ND 25

Crist pass incomplete to Tyler Eifert.

This ball should’ve been caught by Eifert too, but Crist’s throw was a little behind him. With Michael Floyd running the square in beneath him, Eifert was open for the first down but just didn’t make the catch. It’s an easy throw that Crist didn’t quite make, but his teammate needs to pick him up here, too.

Throw 14: 1st and 10 at ND 14

Crist pass complete to Theo Riddick. 

As the Irish begin the two-minute drill, Crist dumps the ball off to Riddick on a shallow crossing pattern for no gain. It’s hard to tell from this angle, but it looks as if Floyd was wide open on a hitch route on the outside, but Crist chose the safe underneath throw, not a particularly good decision when you need to keep the clock from running and move the ball down the field.

Throw 15: 2nd and 10 at ND 14

Crist pass incomplete to Tyler Eifert

A designed roll left, Crist misses a short but throw to Eifert, putting the Irish in a 3rd and long from deep in their own territory. Instead of putting the ball in Crist’s hand in the rain after missing the throw to Eifert, Kelly opts for a draw play, forcing USF to use a timeout before Ben Turk’s punt.


Here’s a receiver-by-receiver breakdown of Crist’s targets:

Passes to Cierre Wood: 1 of 1 for 31 yards
Passes to Michael Floyd: 2 of 3 for 37 yards
Passes to  Tyler Eifert: 1 of 4 for 4 yards
Passes to Theo Riddick: 1 of 4 for 0 yards, 1 interception
Passes to TJ Jones: 1 of 2 for 13 yards
Passes to Mike Ragone: 1 of 1 for 10 yards

If you want an easy way for Crist to be more productive, simply throw the ball to Floyd more. He’s by far the Irish’s best offensive player, yet in breaking down the tape, there were multiple times when Crist simply didn’t look to Floyd, a baffling thought process that I put more on Crist than the coaching staff, especially after watching the first half almost a dozen times. If you’re looking for a reason to give the starting job to Tommy Rees, look at this damning stat line:

Michael Floyd with Crist: 2 catches, 37 yards
Michael Floyd with Tommy Rees: 10 catches, 117 yards, 2 touchdowns

There isn’t much of a question that Rees outplayed Crist on Saturday. We can break down every one of Rees’ throws (and I will), but all it’ll tell you is that Rees did a much better job taking advantage of the opportunities the Irish offense offered. That’s what a starting quarterback should do.

But when Kelly pulled Crist in favor of Rees after seeing only one half of the quarterback he anointed his starter for the season, he kicked a beehive that won’t stop swarming unless the Irish defeat Michigan next Saturday night in Ann Arbor. If the season depends on it, Kelly might have to concede he made the wrong decision two weeks ago.

  1. jerseyshorendfan1 - Sep 6, 2011 at 1:37 AM

    Keith….good analysis. I was starting to feel bad for Crist until I read your article, which coincided with watching a replay of the game on the YES network. When Rees gets the ball on the first series of the second half, I think 3 out of 6 passes went to MMF. They were moving the ball well by utilizing their best play maker, which Crist didn’t seem to want to do, although there were opportunities with Floyd as you point out. That first series ended with the pick that bounced off of TJ’s helmet on that crossing route, a pick that can’t be attributed to Rees. In fact, I think that Jones could have easily scored if he caught that ball (had he been looking at his QB). Incidentally, the very next series was Rees’s TD throw to MMF when Rees sensed the movement in the USF secondary which caused MMF to be in man coverage on the edge and to score. That was a great read by Rees and I guess some guys just have that ability to make the decision in the heat of battle better than others. Mayock, who is a pretty astute observer also makes mention of how the timing of the throws had greatly improved since Rees had entered the game. All the technical QB functioning aside, the team came out with a different energy with Rees as well, but maybe that was attributable to the weird circumstances of the delay, etc. In any case, I would be interested in your opinion as to where this leaves the QB depth chart at this point. Rees, Golson, Hendrix, then Crist or some other ranking? I don’t know why everybody says that Golson shouldn’t play and that he should spend a year learning the system. Even a coach like Rich Rod knows that when you have a talented freshman, you get him in the game. DRob was a true freshman when he laid 400+ yards on us last year, so why the reluctance to get Golson involved….It isn’t really rocket science after all. From all accounts Golson has a rocket arm and the added dimension of a mobile QB in Kelly’s spread offense might just be the right recipe for success. Maybe Everett can put 400+ yds on the skunk bears next week??

    • 1notredamefan - Sep 6, 2011 at 6:13 AM

      D Rob was a sophomore just didn’t see much of him his freshman season…

    • tlndma - Sep 6, 2011 at 8:43 AM

      On the Rees interception on the throw to Jones, if Tommy had waited a split second longer, Floyd crossing with Jones came wide open and was anticipating the throw. I only point this out to show that not every decision Rees made was correct either. Not taking the blame from Jones for not looking for the ball.

      • flandersst1 - Sep 6, 2011 at 11:49 AM

        It’s also the case that Cierre Wood could have done the electric slide into the end zone he was so wide open at the the top of the screen. However, all this goes to show that poor execution by one player can destroy a play no matter how well it is drawn up!

    • nudeman - Sep 6, 2011 at 12:24 PM

      This is a tremendous post and analysis Keith.

      Crist’s inability to find Floyd is damning. I have seen QBs lose their confidence due to injuries or too many hits, and all they do is check down every play. Jim McMahon after his time with the Bears NEVER threw downfield and would always throw to the TE who was posted up in the middle for a 3 yard gain.

      Could it be possible that Crist is tentative due to his surgeries? If so, it’s a bigger problem than just a few poor reads.

      Rees performance was extremely compelling, but I say Crist gets another chance. If he makes the same mistakes this Saturday after a week of practice and watching film, then he’s done.

      I found it unbelievably interesting that you reported it was Golson looking for his helmet when Rees went down briefly. If that’s true, then:

      1. It tells me the depth of Kelly’s support for Crist is nonexistent and Rees will start Saturday
      2. Golson must be pretty special, but it seems WAY early to toss him into the lion’s den
      3. Hendrix might want to think about where he’s going to transfer

      • nudeman - Sep 6, 2011 at 12:50 PM

        So much for Crist getting another chance

  2. brandonthinks - Sep 6, 2011 at 1:47 AM

    Another great read!

    I know I do and I’m sure most ND fans, really appreciate you re-watching that game and getting us the breakdown of that info. Because none of us EVER want to watch that game again. The data is great info to know because trying to remember who did what or what was who’s fault in that one, has been giving me a headache.

    My personal opinion is that Rees earned the starting job, especially if the two truly were neck n’ neck like we were all told. In order for a starting QB at Notre Dame to be successful this season, there are only 2 things you have to know:

    1)You have to trust your instincts, your teammates and what your coaches have taught you……and pull the trigger!

    2)Most importantly………KNOW WHERE MICHAEL FLOYD IS. AT *ALL* TIMES!

    Whatever coach Kelly decides to do with this, I’m sure will be the right choice. You all saw him on your HD big screens, his red face, cursing and screaming. He wants to win as much as we do!!! Notre Dame 37 , Michigan 24 – GO IRISH!!! –

  3. fitzp - Sep 6, 2011 at 4:57 AM

    Great indept analysis Keith, super run down – really informative of what actually happened.

    I thought Dayne was going to have a big break out season and show why he was a 5 star recruit and one of the most sought after players coming out of high school. I felt it was the correct decision to give him the starters job as he was the more senior player. He started great but once USF scored it seemed all his confidence just disappeared.

    Tommy Rees came in and the whole flow changed, he seems to do things at a quicker pace and is more decisive. I think it was a good decision by Coach Kelly and feel he has to give Tommy the starter job for Saturday. I feel really sorry for Dayne (he looked like a lost soul on the sideline) as he seems like a really good kid that wants to do well for ND but even he has to recognise that Tommy made a big difference when he came in.

    I just hope if he does get called up again that he can show why he was so sought after coming out of high school. Tommy is an example that that sometimes its not about the number of stars they have coming out of high school!

    Can I also thank ‘a68domer’ for giving me the link to that website last week, you are a lifesaver!! I got to see the whole game live with NBC commentary (a lot better than Eurosport) when it wasn’t on TV over here – really helped me out – thanks again.

  4. notredamegrad - Sep 6, 2011 at 9:23 AM

    Kicking a beehive is right. Thanks for the really helpful breakdown, Keith. For me, the complication is in the small sample size – yes, Crist didn’t look super sharp on Saturday, yes, he made some bad reads, but we’re looking at 15 attempts. When you hold whatever weight those 15 attempts have against Crist’s play last year, his development over the spring and summer, his work in camp and practice, it is difficult for me to see what rational thinking gets you from “we have full confidence in Dayne to play championship football for us” and “Dayne is a much better quarterback than he was last year” to benching your declared starter for the season. Pull him for the second half of that exhausting, bizarre, mistake-riddled game – sure. But benching “your guy” for the season for something like four to six poor decisions?

    Two weeks ago, everybody was cheering rabidly for Crist and forecasting a magnificent increase in his production and accuracy (including his own coaches). Half of a rough game later, everybody despises him and is certain that he never could have been worthwhile because he’s some sort of head case.

    I’m sure I’m in the minority here, but I sincerely hope Kelly stands by his word and shows a little more faith in his team, his coaches, and his own decision making by giving Crist another chance to start Saturday. If he doesn’t show he can get it done, put Rees back in. Does nobody else remember the energy and coherence that suddenly inspired the offense when Crist took the field for the second half against Michigan a year ago? The beautiful opening drive? Then the brilliant return from a 14-point deficit?

    • cameronemclaughlin - Sep 6, 2011 at 10:03 AM

      I’m listening to Kelly’s Sunday Teleconference on When asked about Ben Turk’s punting difficulties, Kelly offers this:
      “I think it still goes back to how you respond when 81,000 people are out there. Ben’s got to get through that. He’s out best guy. We see that every day in practice.”

      Dayne may very well have won the QB battle in practice, but perhaps his mind can’t reproduce the focus required to succeed with the 81,000 watching.

      While Turk might blow the competition away in practice, Rees and Christ was a tossup, more or less. So Turk is given a long leash and multiple opportunities to bounce back from failure, while Christ is pulled because Rees is right on his heels. And because the competition between the quarterbacks is so close, it doesn’t take abject failure from Christ and perfection from Rees to precipitate the change–all it takes is for Rees to outplay Christ to a noticeable degree, which he’s done.

  5. notredamegrad - Sep 6, 2011 at 9:53 AM

    Here’s an interesting look at a possible illegal hand on Riddick’s back prior to his slip and the interception by DeDe Lattimore in the end zone:

    (Also regarding refs not making calls, should they have blown the whistle on Gray’s run at the end of the first drive for forward progress prior to the strip? Others have mentioned this, but I haven’t seen any responses.)

    • bostonjan - Sep 6, 2011 at 9:23 PM

      I agree. After the play was reviewed, not even a word from the announcers questioning the call, not mentioning that not only was Gray’s forward motion stopped – he was being driven backwards. When the hell are the referees SUPPOSED to call the play dead….and can the review booth correct a late whistle if the on field official either couldn’t find his instrument or perhaps swallowed it?

      Also, as I replay the tape of Wood’s run before the fateful fumble, I see his head getting whipped around as he’s going down – facemask non-call? Perhaps too far away from the key point of play action to be noticed by the officials??????

      If/when ND fans complain about the calls, we’re whining. Granted we don’t have a monopoly on getting bad calls – evidenced by the website link that you have provided above, and the amount of material that they obviously have readily available to populate their site. I just believe that ND gets more than it’s fair share of bad (aka biased) calls by conference officials acting in the best interest of their conferences’ teams. Unless ND joins a conference, I fear this will happen more often than not. Michigan games seems about the worst – be ready….

      I’m surprised that no one (aka Keith) hasn’t commented on this. Maybe it’s just nothing new and not worth the key strokes.

  6. twebb2 - Sep 6, 2011 at 10:18 AM


    Thanks for your great, great work on this blog. I’m still upset about Saturday, but I really appreciate your posts reviewing the game, and heck, the whole off season too. I bleed blue & gold, and while I’m worried, I know only a year ago Kelly and these players were able to turn around a situation much worse than this. Go Irish!!!

  7. 4irish - Sep 6, 2011 at 10:36 AM

    Great insight Keith. Nice having the video accompanying the comments to follow along.
    I noticed on Dayne’s interception in the endzone, it seemed that Riddick has a step on his man, takes a half cut to the right (maybe bumped and slips a little)and then totally flattens out his route, straight back. Looking like a timing throw to me, it looks as if Dayne is expecting him to continue across after he has a step on his man. The move by Riddick back to a flat (straight back) route, leaves no room to throw the ball anyway, which is why after looking at his route over an over, I have to believe that the route was supposed to come across. I doubt Kelly would design a route for Riddick to out run his man into the stands. I think Dayne was expecting him to come across, and I think Riddick would have been open had he continued his cut. Anyone else notice this? I think the read at the line may have been that the initial play is to Floyd…unless you get a linebacker on Riddick 1 on 1…I just think Riddick didn’t finish his route.

    All of that being said, as much as I like Crist, his arm strength, his ability to run (amazing after two knee surgeries in 2 years having one myself), the way he carry’s himself and represents Notre Dame…I think Rees just has IT, and will get the nod.

    Either way, I think this team will still have a very good year. There is a ton of talent on this team and I see BK getting every one on the same page, and getting the most out of everyone as he seems to do every year.

    It was a very good sign to see the defense pick up right where they left off last year. One question on the Defensive side though, since Calabrese is still completely lost out in coverage, and our defensive line is very stout against the run, shouldn’t they just play Fox every down (other than for a blow)? I mean, having Carlo play on what “might” be a run down, and then having him completely beat every time he is in coverage, doesn’t make sense to me to have him in there. The other teams are going to start scouting this and making a read for a wheel route out of the backfield, or TE block and slip every time he is on the field.

    Other than Jonas’ fumble, the running game looked very good. Obviously C ran well, but even Jonas came back after the fumble and ran the ball well. Good to see he didn’t just crumble after a play like that.
    Unless I missed it…I did not see any of the following….Divaris Daniels or George Atkinson iii, Lo Wood (i guess they didn’t need a nickle package with S. FL inept passing attack), Ishaq Williams.

  8. mattnef - Sep 6, 2011 at 10:59 AM

    I’m very disturbed by the QB switch at half time. Kelly had a year to pick from four QBs and he chose Crist, and he doesnt’ have enough faith in him to come back in the second half? Every QB has a bad half now and again. It blows my mind.
    Really, Crist didn’t play all that bad. I counted 4 drops in the clip above, the bad interception, and a couple misses. If you count the 4 drops Crist is 11 of 15 (73%) 1 TD (that was dropped) 1 INT (that is never thrown if Jones catches the TD). Rees looks like he had 3 drops (2 by Riddick … shocker) so that gives him 27 of 34 (79%) 2 TDs 1 INT (if you don’t count Jones again).
    It was pretty obvious the offense looked much better in the second half, but can we say definitively it is because of Rees versus a game plan adjustment (ie throw it to Floyd) or an embarrassed team?
    If Rees remains the starter doesn’t the beehive become a hornet’s nest for the two other underclassmen? What do they do?

    Will you be doing a breakdown about how the freshman played? Between averting my eyes from the level of play and trying to teach my little girls about football, I wasn’t able to concentrate on when they were in the game.

    • flandersst1 - Sep 6, 2011 at 11:51 AM

      I think we can. Rees made decisions much faster and allowed the receivers to run with the ball. Count the number of times Rees throws the quick fade down the middle to Eifert, Jones and Riddick and how many times Dayne tries it. Dayne only throws over the middle on crossing routes, never makes an intermediate seem pass.

    • cameronemclaughlin - Sep 6, 2011 at 12:22 PM

      Keith mentions that throwing to Floyd is not so much a game plan adjustment as it is Rees making the good decision to get the ball in our best player’s hands more often than Christ. And it wasn’t just that game. If you compare Floyd’s 2010 and 2011 receptions, TDs and yards when Christ and Rees are at QB you get these per-game averages and extrapolated 13-game season numbers:

      With Christ:
      6.88 Rec per game — 89.4 Rec over 13 games
      1.125 TDs per game — 14.6 TDs over 13 games
      87.25 Yds per game — 1134.25 Yds over 13 games

      With Rees:
      9.17 Rec per game — 119 Rec over 13 games
      1.67 TDs per game — 21.71 Tds over 13 games
      105.83 Yds per game — 1375.8 Yds over 13 games

      With Christ, Floyd’s numbers are really good. With Tommy, he wins the Biletnikoff.
      (I didn’t double check the math, so please forgive any errors).

      • mattnef - Sep 6, 2011 at 12:48 PM

        I get your point, but there is a lot that goes into those numbers (strength of defense, etc…). It is hard for me to believe that Crist is actively avoiding Floyd. He can only run the plays that are called, Crist doesn’t determine who is the first read, second read, etc…

  9. ndfan4ever - Sep 6, 2011 at 11:54 AM

    Why is that Crist was pulled? It was only 16 nothing and we had been inside the red zone 3 times? 1st drive is great until we fumble. Why did we not pass to floyd then instead of running? Next possesion we run twice for nothing leaving Crist in 3rd and 9 and he completes a 5 yard pass we punt. Defense did a good job but we are still very weak at corner. When it is 3rd and 9 or 10 we give a 10 or 11 yard cushion and they complete the pass right in fornt of us for a first down. Defense needs to steep it up next week. Gray and Calbresse not turning around on their coverage is unexcusable. Should have been 2 picks right there but the didn’t. A truely ugly game that got away starting with the fumble recovey for a TD all down hill after that. Even that being said the kids were right there to get a win just didn’t get the bounces. So there is light at the end of the tunnel. Can’t afford a lose this weekend at Michigan. Go Irish.

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