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The good, the bad, the ugly: Notre Dame vs. Pitt

Sep 25, 2011, 5:20 PM EST

Jonas Gray Pitt

A second viewing of Notre Dame’s 15-12 victory doesn’t add new perspective to Saturday’s win. The maddening inconsistencies that have plagued this football team still exist, rearing their ugly heads when you’d least expect it. Two turnovers, a missed field goal, and too many penalties all combine to give you a squad that has understandably driven Irish fans nuts.

At one moment, Notre Dame looks like a BCS-level team, capable of moving the ball by air or ground in big chunks, shut down quarterbacks and running backs with an impressive group of defensive players. At others, the offense is a turnover machine, the special teams are horrendous, and the secondary needs a trip back to Football 101, where covering receivers and looking for the football aren’t mutually exclusive exercises.

But that’s life at 2-2. And after two head-scratching losses, the Irish’s two least impressive offensive outputs are wins that Notre Dame absolutely had to have. Like it or not, that’s progress. And while it certainly hasn’t been pretty, Brian Kelly‘s job isn’t to win games with style points, it’s to win games. With a proven track record of getting his teams to improve throughout the year  — seen last year with the Irish’s November to remember — there’s every reason to believe that this team will work through the troubles that ail them.

A winning streak is a winning streak, and the Irish’s win in Pittsburgh was a must have. Let’s take a look at the good, bad and ugly of Notre Dame’s 15-12 victory.

GOOD

After struggling in short yardage situations, the Irish offensive line came up huge. In a game where the Irish needed to dominate the line of scrimmage, Ed Warinner‘s guys up front did some serious work in the trenches, winning every short-yardage battle they were presented with.

The Irish were 8 for 8 in third or fourth and short (three yards or less):

1st Quarter

3rd and 2 — Cierre Wood runs for 2 yards.
3rd and 2 — Cierre Wood runs for 2 yards.
3rd and 3 — Rees hits Michael Floyd for 5 yards (Defensive holding call accepted).

2nd Quarter

3rd and 3 — Rees hits Tyler Eifert for 6 yards.

3rd Quarter

3rd and 3 — Jonas Gray runs for 4 yards.
4th and 1 — Tommy Rees runs for 1 yard.

4th Quarter

3rd and 2 — Cierre Wood runs for 3 yards
4th and 1 — Tommy Rees sneaks for 1 yard.

While Irish fans watching on TV weren’t as confident, Kelly paid his offensive lineman the ultimate compliment when he trusted them to end the game on Tommy Rees‘ sneak. Interior linemen Braxston CaveChris Watt and Trevor Robinson came through, even if they only made it by half a football.

A few other things to file under the good category:

*Jonas Gray‘s burst around the corner, and confidence in the open field. I can’t say enough about the 79-yard touchdown, and after a tough first carry where Gray made a poor read on a well set-up run play, Gray turned the game on its head with his game-breaking touchdown.

* Punter Ben Turk also had his best ballgame of the season, putting three punts inside the Pitt 20 and launching another ball 47 yards. It’s hard to get too excited about a 37.2 yard punting average, but Turk did his job, and for the first time didn’t mis-kick any of his punts.

* While he didn’t break it for a touchdown, George Atkinson had another nice day returning kickoffs. His 36-yard return helped the Irish start with good field position in the second quarter.

* Repeating yesterday’s thoughts, Darius Fleming played a dominant football game at the line of scrimmage.

THE BAD

If you’re wondering what life looks like after Michael Floyd, it might not be all that pretty. With Pitt putting two men on Floyd, the Irish couldn’t take advantage of a defense that came into the game ranked 119th against the pass. Credit the defensive game plan put together by Todd Graham and his coaching staff, but if the Irish are going to keep winning football games, they’re going to need to get more out of Theo Riddick and TJ Jones.

Riddick had a quiet six catches yesterday and Jones was held to three catches for 31 yards. Whether it means giving Robby Toma more snaps or forcing the ball into Riddick earlier to get him involved, the Irish need to get production from somebody other than Floyd and tight end Tyler Eifert. It was a disheartening step back for the Irish offense, especially against a group that had shown serious coverage lapses when they were tested.

More importantly, the Irish have to decide what kind of offense they want to be. With Rees at the helm, they aren’t able to run zone read plays where the quarterback is a running option. But that doesn’t mean they need to be a read and react offense that assesses what the defense gives and counter-punches. The Irish have already shown that while that works in spurts, it also puts way too much pressure on a young quarterback, and taking what the defense gives you only works when you don’t have a penchant for throwing interceptions.

The Irish have one of their most potent rushing attacks in nearly a decade. They also have a wide receiving corps that goes as many as five or six deep. That sets up perfectly for a push-the-pace offense that dictates terms to the defense, not the other way around. The Irish aren’t going to be an explosive offense if they play horizontal football, dinking and dunking their way down the field. And while Rees can’t beat you with a QB keeper, he throws a great ball up the seam, showing more than enough arm strength and timing to eat up chunks of field vertically.

THE UGLY

This football team still makes too many head-scratching mistakes. This week’s culprits were on special teams, where the Irish nearly cost themselves a football game with a roughing the punter penalty on sophomore Austin Collinsworth, giving Pitt a much needed first down on the Panthers’ only touchdown drive of the afternoon.

Kicking from their own end zone, Collinsworth tried to make a big play with a punt block up the middle, but dove straight into the legs of punter Matt Yoklic, who sold the refs on a 15-yard personal foul call. Whether you disagree with the refs call or not (Collinsworth barely touched the punter), the Irish haven’t shown themselves capable of making game-changing plays that require sound execution, and Mike Elston‘s unit would’ve been better served setting up for an easy return, especially considering Pitt’s mediocre kickers. Collinsworth is one of the Irish’s best special teamers, but coming right up the middle he made the cardinal sin of diving straight at the kicker and instead of the Irish starting with the ball at midfield, Tino Sunseri drove his team for their only score.

While the punt return game continues to be mediocre with John Goodman handling returns, the Irish field goal unit missed its second kick in three attempts, this one pushed wide right by David Ruffer after long-snapper Jordan Cowart‘s snap came back as a knuckleball. Cowart’s only job is to snap, and he’s been erratic this season on both punts and kicks, a real area of concern for the Irish, who need more certainty from all their special teams units.

***

Possibly the best part of this column is that the Irish come up with a win in the ugly category. The Irish were able to win a football game without playing anywhere near their best. It’s certainly not the kind of thing people were expecting four games into the season, but after starting 0-2, the Irish simply need to keep picking up Ws, regardless of how maddening it can be.

  1. irishinmich - Sep 25, 2011 at 5:41 PM

    That game gave me heart-burn, but a win is a win. Now clean it up and run the table.

  2. TriniND - Sep 25, 2011 at 6:45 PM

    “The Irish have one of their most potent rushing attacks in nearly a decade. They also have a wide receiving corps that goes as many as five or six deep. That sets up perfectly for a push-the-pace offense that dictates terms to the defense, not the other way around.”

    Keith, I couldn’t agree more with this! Thinking back to the couple times last year when we ran the hurry-up offense and were able to move the ball seemingly at will, I’d be a huge fan of seeing some of it again. The great spread offense teams dictate the terms of the offense and dare the defense to stop them. We have the talent to be one… just like we have the talent to win ugly.
    We’re also in a much better defensive situation to run the hurry-up because of the depth along the front 7 would give the guys who need it a breather in the event of quick scores/stalled drives.

    • notredamegrad - Sep 25, 2011 at 7:55 PM

      We saw Kelly run the no-huddle offense with Crist fairly frequently throughout the first 2/3 of last season – they would just fly sometimes, and when things clicked, they looked unstoppable, dictating terms to opposing defenses, tiring them out. Haven’t done that since Rees stepped in – at first, it seemed, because he needed time to ID coverages and get play calls and all of that (what with the big signs on the sidelines); now, though, I don’t get why Kelly doesn’t ever have the offense run that way. Rees very often takes it down to the last few seconds on the play clock – SO different from what we saw with the offense under Crist.

      Is this a strategic choice on Kelly’s part? Is it playing to Rees’s strength with the pre-snap read? Why has the offense’s look changed so much, and why aren’t they taking advantage of the rushing and receiving corps that “sets up perfectly for a push-the-pace offense that dictates terms to the defense”?

      • ndgoldandblue - Sep 25, 2011 at 8:33 PM

        notredamegrad and TriniND,
        I couldn’t agree with you more. All season, I have been saying to my wife, “Why are they taking so long to get the plays off?” “Why isn’t Kelly running his up-tempo, keep the defense on their heels type of offense?” My wife, who is a bit of a football novice asks me, “Why would pace make a difference?” I simply tell her that in an offense like Kelly’s, with the type of conditioning and stamina that his players have, pushing the pace and making big plays (a staple for Kelly’s Cincinnati teams) is the best way to be successful. Coming in to Notre Dame, Kelly’s thing was about keeping the offense up-tempo so that the defense couldn’t appropriately set themselves. In fact, Wannstedt even said that the increased tempo led to the Panthers’ loss last season. Kelly started pushing the pace of the offense and Pitt didn’t have a clue. Now, the up-tempo offense only works if it’s executed properly. That may be the problem with this team and this quarterback. For some reason last year, Kelly thought that he had the type of players that could execute his offense properly. He pushed the tempo all the time with Dayne. As soon as Crist went out, he slowed things down for Tommy, mostly because Rees needed the added time to process everything. Well, it’s been over a year in the system. I’m sure Tommy has the playbook down. So, why does each play drain the play clock down to the final seconds? To be honest, the only time this year that the Irish used the up-tempo offense (when they weren’t trying to play catch-up) was the first possession of the USF game. They were flying down the field. Now, I know that Crist has accuracy issues, but I would rather have a quarterback that can utilize Kelly’s prototypical offensive scheme. Frankly, I don’t think Kelly believes that Rees can run the high-octane offense he wants to run. Coach Kelly, one little nugget of advice, if you truly believe that Rees is the man to take us to the promised land, stop coddling the guy and turn up the tempo on this offense.

      • alsatiannd - Sep 26, 2011 at 7:19 AM

        That seems awful anecdotal. I’d want actual numbers to show me there’s been an actual difference between Crist and Rees in terms of Hurry Up. Maybe count up the number of delay of game penalties for each. Both quarterbacks have been sluggish in their tempo. And I say this because I feel like “What’s taking so long,” has been a constantly yelled refrain in my living room the last 13 months.

      • notredamegrad - Sep 26, 2011 at 9:47 AM

        alsatiannd, this is still anecdotal, but it’s something: watch ND’s opening drive against UM from 2010 here –

        It starts at 11:00 minutes in. You’ll see the no-huddle offense not at its fastest clip, but moving in a very different way than the offense has moved this year. The play clock only shows up once in a 13-play drive, after Crist snags a 19-yard run. The clock is stopped only once for review of a called-back TD play, and that’s the only time you see Crist go near Kelly on the sidelines or the team really stop moving. Crist (with a noticeably sloppier O-line in front of him) moves the ball 71 yards in 13 plays in 3:41 – that’s 17 sec. per play.

        By contrast (and this really is just anecdotal – I know there isn’t a lot of statistical value in this comparison), in his opening scoring drive against UM this year, Rees moved the ball 57 yards in 7 plays in 3:46 – that’s a little over 32 sec. per play. Similarly, he moved the ball 71 yards in 7 plays in 3:55 later in the game – or 33.5 sec. per play. I can’t find film of either, but would bet money that the play clock came up several times prior to the snap on each drive for Rees.

        I would love to see some solid numbers on this, too – don’t have time to dig them up myself, though.

      • nudeman - Sep 26, 2011 at 10:40 AM

        notredamegrad,
        That video is a great post.

        Tell me: How can ANYBODY watch that and say “I’d rather see that kid Rees”? Dayne looks fast, decisive and exhibits a strong arm. I also noticed the stat they flashed about his first game against Purdue: 0 INTs. How refreshing.

      • brendanunderscoreg - Sep 26, 2011 at 10:50 AM

        Since no one here (me included) likes to play the “If” card, the simple answer as to why Rees is the starting QB is the team’s win-loss record.

      • notredamegrad - Sep 26, 2011 at 10:56 AM

        Nudeman – yeah – 0 INTs against Purdue and a 75% completion rate (his comp. rate was not great against UM, though). And he does look solid on this drive, particularly in the aspects of QB play we’ve seen Tommy struggle with recently. However, this is Dayne playing at one of his higher levels on this drive. When he looks good, he looks better than Tommy’s average; but when he looks bad and shows his inconsistency, he plays below Tommy’s average. I don’t think his worst is any lower than Tommy’s worst, though, and his best is markedly better.

    • brendanunderscoreg - Sep 26, 2011 at 10:51 AM

      Hit “Post comment” too quickly. Meant win-loss record as a starter.

  3. bernhtp - Sep 25, 2011 at 7:56 PM

    I would add Eifert’s play to the good. Without him, instead of an ugly win, we would be having a much uglier loss.

  4. ct111 - Sep 25, 2011 at 9:36 PM

    After 3 games, you would think they had clean up their mental mistakes.

  5. smurphdoggy29 - Sep 25, 2011 at 10:04 PM

    Keith,
    I have to state I am a little disappointed in you and all the people who cover Notre Dame. Everybody. NBC, Blue & Gold, Irish Illustrated, the whole lot.

    This team is playing how it was expected defensively. The Special Teams haven’t been spectacular, but no more so than any other College’s Special Teams. Offensively every piece is operational and from the outside looking in prepared to be productive, with one glaring exception.

    Based on their Leader’s one criteria, production, that exception screams out for analysis. The best we the masses get, is he’s young and developing. Best all of you pundits can do ? Keep it. Save it for the funny papers.

    Somebody has to get to the bottom of why Crist is riding the bench. When Urban Meyer squirms, dodges, and ducks in his reply, which them came out pretty diplomatically, and anyone watching the last 3+ games can see, there needs to be the change up. Period. Last year we saw it under Crist until the injury. What we have with Rees is a potential turnover on every play. Numerous contributors on here have pointedly driven that home. Droves more have swirled around it.

    My frustration, and I am sure many others, stems from words uttered by Coach Kelly. Such as “I have confidence in both to run the team”. From before the Season and even after USF Kelly threw in that Dayne was capable.

    Where is the switch ? Why is there a lack of ? Pitt’s Coach threw his change up in the 1st Quarter.

    I’m convinced Rees is a good player. He does one thing = manages the team to wins. As our QB he hasn’t outplayed anyone yet. Other College QB’s do that when it matters. My litmus test will be SoCal.

    • nddan1 - Sep 25, 2011 at 10:56 PM

      smurphdoggy, im not keith, but may i reply. first off, tommy rees has guided the irish to victories including a bowl game. yes he has some weakness’s, but the upside is limitless. with rees the irish are forming an identity, you may not like the id and thats fine. rees is not going to become a john elway with a rocket arm, but i beleive with each game he gets a better picture of what it takes week in week out to manage the position and it doesnt hurt, while learning, to manage 4th qtr comebacks in hostile environments.

      as far as getting to the bottom of the crist crisis..in my eyes what ive seen is a young man that needs an established team around him. he seems to want to be just one of the guys. well unfortunatly thats not the case at n.d. from what ive seen of crist, when crunch time arrives his throws look guided and short-armed. could crist overcome these weaknesses? dont know. over time? maybe, but we dont have that luxury. now is the time, and rees is the horse to ride.

      • alsatiannd - Sep 26, 2011 at 7:26 AM

        No knock on Crist at all, but would you rather invest in developing a sophomore that will be around three seasons or an injury prone senior who might give you one more year after this?

      • smurphdoggy29 - Sep 26, 2011 at 9:14 AM

        NDDAN1 = I firmly agree on Rees’s success and his penchant for guiding the team to victory. I am looking at all the comments too on the Coaches getting out coached by various teams and adding that to my query, if it is apparently obvious that our QB cannot expand the playbook nor the plays at the line of scrimmage, leading to the perception teams are out coaching us, then why hasn’t the Staff gone “next man in” ?

        You make a solid point, well taken. I am just befuddled because of what the Staff keeps saying and saying. Then, being from Cincinnati and having watched the Offense operate at peak efficiency, my aggravation comes from knowing it just needs that next rung guy. Next man in. Which then has the ripple effect of alleviating many of the other ailments.

      • nudeman - Sep 26, 2011 at 10:50 AM

        Rees’ upside is NOT unlimited.

        He has an average arm, can’t run and makes some bad decisions. How the hell is that “unlimited”?

      • nudeman - Sep 26, 2011 at 11:59 AM

        alsatiaand

        Rees is NOT the qb of the future. Golson is.

        As for your sticking with him until they lose, were you out of the country the first couple weeks? He had a BIG hand in hteir loss against USF, even though he didn’t start. And he killed them against Michigan with his fumble and INTs. How much more proof do you need?

        He’s the baseball equivalent of a shortstop who’s ok in the field, and a .255 hitter with no power or speed.

    • pjm79nd - Sep 26, 2011 at 9:30 AM

      I think Lou Holtz’s comment years ago is most appropriate: if you have have two qualified starting quarterbacks, you have two second-string quarterbacks.

    • nudeman - Sep 26, 2011 at 10:48 AM

      smurph,
      I agree with everything you said, except “He does one thing = manages the team to wins”
      He’s also managed them to a couple losses. Maybe not singlehandedly, but was a major contributor.

      Keith, smurph is exactly right. No one has dug into the quick hook on Crist.
      All you have ever said is “Kelly feels Rees gives them the best chance to win”; or “Dayne never looked the same after that turnover”. Seriously? THAT is all we get? There is something else to this story.

      Rees is no better than a mediocre QB. I hold my breath every time he drops back, and I guarantee you he’s got a 4 INT game coming.

      Please, do some serious journalism and find out what the story is here.

    • brendanfitzgibbons - Sep 26, 2011 at 11:07 AM

      Hey smurphdoggy29!

      I couldnt agree more with you about your comments on Dayne Crist. I am completely baffled why the entire ND Nation is so patient with Rees and so critical of Crist. I think Tommy Rees is a good football player and this is not a bashing on him but we act as if Dayne Crist isnt a five or four star talent.

      Keith, you wrote an article about the development of past ND quarterbacks Brady Quinn and Jimmy Clausen. But you forgot to mention during those two eras, there were really no other options at quarterback. And both of those quarterbacks had the talent to be developed.

      Last year Dayne Crist was 174-294 for 2033 yards 15 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. Not amazing statistics but pretty darn good in comparison. And you cant tell me that Crist wouldnt play at least a little better this season. The guy has one mediocre half against South Florida and everyone wants to throw him under the bus.

      And I just feel like everyone from the media to the coaching staff are giving Rees a pass that they would NEVER give to Crist. Keith, I love your coverage and I think you do a great job, but in this article you dont even mention the play of Rees as subpar at best. I watched that game and he could have easily had four interceptions plus the fumble against a pass defense which you pointed out is 119th! Im sorry I really dont understand and feel bad for Dayne Crist who I dont think is getting a fair shot at all.

  6. oldndgrad - Sep 25, 2011 at 10:06 PM

    With the excellent recent recruiting I expect this team to be challenging for a national title within the next few years. Tommy Rees is satisfactory but we will never win a championship with him at the helm and he will give away a couple more games this year. But for a late drop by a Pitt player we would have lost this game too.Dayne has a lot more tools to be a quality qb and deserves another shot. Besides, the future of this team I hope and expect, will be in the hands of Hendrix and Golson, not Rees-he has a weak arm, is late with his throws, focuses on his receiver( usually Floyd) and doesn’t see the whole field, consequently frequently missing wide open players. This was more obvious in this game where Floyd was double teamed.

    • ct111 - Sep 25, 2011 at 11:00 PM

      As much as I love Dayne Crist to start, it’s all up to coach Kelly. I am still waiting for the Irish to destroy the opposing teams.

    • heartmdfornd - Sep 25, 2011 at 11:56 PM

      Rees is late with his throws? I suggest you go and watch the tapes on Crist. (see Keith’s breakdown of UCF game). Someone else said it best, Crist’s processor is set at a slower speed. He doesn’t throw until the receiver is completely in the clear giving the defense ample time to close on the play.

      • johnnd1985 - Sep 26, 2011 at 10:51 AM

        Watch the video above. Crist looks pretty quick with reads. He even checks to multiple receivers in his progression.

    • joeschu - Sep 26, 2011 at 9:29 AM

      I was right with you until you called for Crist instead of Hendrix. We need to save EG’s year of eligibility, but Hendrix is burning one anyway.

      Crist is, by all accounts, a great guy. Perhaps some school poised to contend for a conference title will pick him up on the Russel Wilson rule next year, but Dayne’s future isn’t in taking snaps for ND. If BK is trying to build a program, he’ll thank Dayne for trying and move on.

      The crux of this thing is continuing to watch Tommy bump up against his ceiling vs. throwing Hendrix to the wolves. BK seems to be saying he’ll let Tommy bump his head on that ceiling. I’m not sure if that is a knock on Hendrix or some sort of massive endorsement of what EG can do. There may also still be some sort of BCS fantasy for this year that is holding BK back from tinkering and giving Hendrix the keys to the car.

      While I don’t agree, I guess I can understand BK letting Rees continue to bump his head as long as he doesn’t stick Crist or EG in a game this year. I’d still love to see Hendrix, but putting in Crist or EG would be inexcusable at this point.

    • johnnd1985 - Sep 26, 2011 at 10:48 AM

      I agree. People forget the Crist has this year and next. I’d certainly play him over Rees. Also, take a look at the video above. Crist looks like a pretty good QB there.

  7. nddan1 - Sep 25, 2011 at 11:14 PM

    id like to ask a ? what has dayne crist done? i know he has pedegree, he looks impressive. has a strong arm, but will someone tell me something so that i can see the light?

    • johnnd1985 - Sep 27, 2011 at 10:07 AM

      Why don’t you look at the video of last year’s Michigan game (in these comments). That’s one example. After that, look at his other games played last year. He played pretty well and much better than Rees, and that was without much of a running game and a defense yielding 24.5 points a game.

  8. heartmdfornd - Sep 26, 2011 at 12:05 AM

    I think that Kelly and his staff were completely out-coached on Saturday. Pitt seemed to have the answer on every call on defense, especially in the first half. Whatever play that Rees changed into at the line, the defense was set correct. They knew what was coming. I have to ask, is the offense still that simplistic for Rees that other teams can figure out the calls and the audibles? I agree they have to up the tempo, but they also need to change up the playbook a little. They are getting very predictable.

    The UCF game was similar. UCF came to play and they were very well prepared. I was at that game and the ND players were 40 minutes late on their walk to the stadium. In past years, you could set your watch based on the walk from Mass to the Stadium. The team looked completely off kilter during the first half. They expected to win and were shocked by the performance of UCF. A 40 minute delay in your pre-game prep is (and was) a recipe for disaster.

    • joeschu - Sep 26, 2011 at 9:22 AM

      I was with you right up until you called USF UCF and when you blamed that mess on the weather. No one should have been shocked by USF playing hard and opportunistic football. Last I checked, USF played under the same delays and conditions, and it resulted in 0 turnovers and stupid personal fouls on their side. That excuse holds no water.

    • dbldmr - Sep 26, 2011 at 10:37 AM

      If I’m not mistaken I got an e-mail from ND before the USF game explaining that the previous years’ pre-game walks from Sacred Heart to the stadium were being changed. Somehow I remember a bus being involved and a trip to the Gug, but maybe I’m wrong.

  9. joeschu - Sep 26, 2011 at 9:19 AM

    Spot on assessment Keith. “Turnover machine” and the ability to toss that seam route into tight windows are definitely Tommy’s strengths. The zone read option and throwing the out are not in his skill set, so we’re a bit limited as long as we stick with him. With the frequency he throws late balls over the middle, I’m shocked we don’t let him throw some more jump balls on the sidelines. Floyd has more than enough data points out there to suggest that he can go up (even against double coverage) and make that play with consistency. I’d rather see Rees throw a pick on a sideline fade or go route than on yet another late ball over the middle.

    I also completely agree with you that a more spread-out, up-tempo style would better suit 10 of the 11 guys on the field. Here’s the problem with that, the 11th guy is Rees himself (or Andrew if they’d ever put him in). Obviously, BK doesn’t trust Tommy to make his own reads. It has been a check-with-me system at the line, where everyone looks to the sidelines for the adjustments. This slows down everything. In Pitt’s case, they took advantage of that and out-coached us badly. Graham and his defensive staff could dictate a play change by formation or a look, and when the Irish checked to the sideline, Pitt would wait to change coverage until after the offensive adjustment was already in. It was spectacular strategy, and Pitt fans should be enamored with their coach and defensive effort. I fear what having this tape out there means for the rest of our season.

    Here’s what I don’t get. Rees is out there because he’s the smart one, the one with the gym-rat knowledge of what’s going on. He doesn’t have the cannon arm or good feet (that Hendrix is rumored to have), so he’s out there because on some sort of knowledge base. Despite this knowledge, BK doesn’t trust him to make his own reads at the line, and they admitted they didn’t have Tommy ready for many of the looks Pitt threw at him.

    If the kid is a (well-documented) turnover machine, doesn’t have the physical skills of the other candidates, and doesn’t have the knowledge-base/aptitude to make his own calls at the line, why are we not trying Hendrix again? It is going to suck when he x-fer’s away and goes to lead a good program to some big wins.

    BK better raise his game. Todd Graham clearly has his number. ND was thoroughly out coached on Saturday and put the recipe for shutting down our offense on tape for everyone to see.

    • whatever82 - Sep 26, 2011 at 11:30 AM

      Kelly may see Rees as a stop gap measure till he can roll out EG.

      There’s a lot of pressure playing for ND and maybe when it comes to Crist v. Rees, Rees seems to have the upper hand in handling the pressure especially when things go wrong. Yes, Crist looks like a QB and has the offense down, but he seems to lack the ability to hold a team together when they get hit with adversity in a game. Last year I blamed that on a new system and coming off an injury.

      Rees throws interceptions, yes. His arm isn’t that great. Maybe he’s still too slow on the reads, but he’s one cool cucumber. When things went wrong during the USF game I could literally feel Crist fall apart mentally.

      With Rees in the USF/UM games I felt like we had a chance despite the turnovers. Crist sounds like a great guy and I was rooting for him to get the starter position, but the QB’s mentality does affect the rest of the team. If your QB starts to fall apart it will drag the rest of the O-line down. I follow some of the NDFB seniors who graduated last year on Twitter. Noticed one comment made during the USF game about Rees’s “swagger.” Maybe Rees’s coolness plays well on the field and in the locker room. Maybe that’s what Kelly sees that we don’t. Not saying Rees is Joe Montana but I see shades of Montana’s coolness in Rees. That — hey guys isn’t that John Candy in the stands attitude.

  10. hyde - Sep 26, 2011 at 10:43 AM

    What makes the Collinsworth penalty so frustrating is that Pitt was called for roughing the kicker when they barely touched Turk. So, everyone knew how the refs were going to call it.

  11. alsatiannd - Sep 26, 2011 at 11:50 AM

    It’s still hard to argue with a 6-1 record as a starter. Intangibles count. Maybe Rees should have been pulled at half against Pitt like Crist was against USF. Maybe Crist could have pulled out the victory against Pitt in the second half. Rees did win it though. He’s my guy until we lose.

    • notredamegrad - Sep 26, 2011 at 12:31 PM

      It’s easy to argue with a 6-1 record as a starter because (1) Rees has got to be held responsible for the Tulsa loss (Crist played 1 possession) and (2) Rees’s QB play should have lost against at least USC and Pitt, and arguably, did lose against Michigan (his last TD drive was great, but his TOs there were utterly game-changing); his play also didn’t help the way it needed to against USF – see his 3 TOs, again (or 2?).

      You say he’s your guy until we lose, but we DID lose with him at the helm (see UM), and we would have lost to Pitt if it wasn’t for our D and Pitt’s DBs failing to pick up 3-4 interception-worthy throws from Rees. Rees’s 6-1 record is tied up in a much stronger O-Line, receivers with an extra year of experience, a vastly improved run game, and a dominant D, more than in his own play.

  12. sfnd - Sep 26, 2011 at 11:59 AM

    Keith – I usually enjoy the blog but you seem to be ‘head over heels in love’ with Tommy Rees and that clouds your commentary if not your judgement.

    I want ND to be successful and that means cheering for Tommy, Dayne, or whoever is on the field.

    However, Tommy Rees has not shown himself to be clearly superior to Dayne Crist. Both are flawed, yet both have some strongly positive attributes. We (the fans) yearn for strong QB performance and the team has a desperate need of it. Right now, we have 2 quarterbacks who have considerably difficulty executing the system adopted by the coach and 2 other QBs who are yet to see the field.

    At this point of the season, most fans are rather disappointed to be 2 -2. The greatest weakness in the team this season has been the coaching. Kelly and crew have not adequately prepared the team for the games, made the necessary in-game adjustments, nor led with a dignified passion. The coaching staff is not creating the conditions for the individual players, and consequently the team, to be successful.

    Here’s hoping for improvement each week.

    • joeschu - Sep 28, 2011 at 2:04 PM

      Agree coaching is the issue, but I think you’re off base on the criticism of Keith. He’s been pretty clear that he thought Crist had the skill set to lead this team. Look at the preseason posts. Keith isn’t cheerleading in the least, but he is trying to counter the flood of negativity around this team and the QB situation.

      You’ve said the clearest thing. BK is to blame for a record that seems below our talent level. He needs to wake up to the reality that he isn’t in Cincinnati anymore. People obsessively scout and game plan for their game against his team on national TV. This isn’t the JV BigEast, this is relevance on the national scale and every opponent gets up for us as a big game.

  13. Michael Steinberger - Sep 26, 2011 at 12:19 PM

    I still think Rees’ cup is half full, not half empty. Maybe the tap’s even been re-opened:

    Rees’ “decisiveness” seemed to disappear from a point early in the MSU game through three quarters of the Pitt game. Maybe it was lack of confidence thanks to all of the turnovers, and maybe defensive wrinkles a sophomore hasn’t dealt with enough, but he looked tentative and confused for 5 or 6 straight quarters over two games. So our offense struggled, particularly Rees.

    Then, he leads that long drive against Pitt, taking charge and spreading the ball around and doing the 8-for-8 thing (and on the road, with the team trailing, just like that last drive in the Michigan game). Going forward we’ll see if that means Rees turned the corner and got his mojo back, but give him his chops. Some of his inconsistency is about a fairly inexperienced receiver corps figuring it out, too, especially when the team’s principal weapon is taken away. Eifert emerged Saturday, and Riddick and Jones have shown us flashes of what they can do. Consistency is a skill acquired in stages, not purchased overnight, and it’s not just about the quarterback (although I wish they’d stop asking Rees to throw on the run, whatever the theoretical advantage of sprinting out against certain defensive sets).

    Don’t expect a Tom Brady on Saturday. We don’t have one of those on the roster. By the way, on Saturday’s pick, the throw was late, but if Eifert comes back to the ball instead of standing flat-footed maybe he helps his QB out. It takes all eleven guys out there…

  14. bernhtp - Sep 26, 2011 at 2:45 PM

    Re: “The Irish aren’t going to be an explosive offense if they play horizontal football, dinking and dunking their way down the field.”

    In all of the discussion here about who the best QB really would be, we’ve lost sight of Keith’s point; the fact that Kelly has effectively lost confidence in Rees with the full playbook. The fear that Rees cannot be trusted to make the deep throws without turnover (interception or sack due to hold the ball longer) has led Kelly to constrain the passing game to short throws. With the constant double-team on Floyd and the Pitt defense’s need to only focus on the short/midrange passing game, it’s no wonder why the passing offense was as anemic as it was, despite it being a notorious weakness of Pitt.

    It’s going to be a tough season once we get to the better teams in the schedule again if BK can’t open the offense up and trust his QB with the full playbook. Playing to win instead of not to lose must start with the coach and BK needs to have someone in the game that has his confidence.

    • notredamegrad - Sep 26, 2011 at 2:56 PM

      I agree. Here’s Bryan Driskell from ISD on ND’s progress at QB this season through the Pitt game (sorry for the length – he’s good, though):

      “In many ways the Notre Dame offense is much better than it was a season ago. The pass catchers are more talented and experienced, the running backs are more explosive, and the offensive line is exponentially better than it was last season. Despite these improvements around the quarterback, the Irish offense is actually scoring less points (23.0 in 2010 vs. 22.5 in 2011), is going for slightly fewer yards (426.3 in 2010 vs. 423.5 in 2011), and is only slightly better at yards per play (5.9 in 2010 vs. 6.0 in 2010).

      “The problem is simple, the 2011 offense is not protecting the football. Turnovers can kill any offense, and right now the lack of discipline on the offensive side of the football is preventing what should be a high-scoring and potent offense from becoming that. Until that changes, Notre Dame will continue to struggle as a team to perform as well as it should….”

      “Notre Dame’s passing attack has regressed in 2011. A season ago the Irish passed for more yards and more touchdowns than it has this season. On top of the decline in yards and touchdowns, Notre Dame’s passing attack is also less potent this season. Through four games a season ago, Crist was averaging 13.0 yards per completion and 7.7 yards per attempt. Through four games this season Rees is averaging only 10.6 yards per completion and 7.1 yards per attempt. If you take away Crist’s 95-yard touchdown pass, the yards per attempt would be the same as this season, but Crist was still averaging 12.0 yards per completion.

      “Ten turnovers from the quarterbacks through four games (nine by Rees) is simply unacceptable and must change for this team as a whole to truly start making significant progress. Notre Dame must also figure out a way to get back to being a bit more explosive in the pass game.

      “When it comes to quarterback play, the team has regressed up to this point in the season.” – Bryan Driskell, “Progress,” 9/26, ISD, http://www.irishsportsdaily.com/football/football-articles/5576-progress-part-i

      • nudeman - Sep 26, 2011 at 5:41 PM

        notredamegrad,
        Great post, and interesting analysis from Driskell. It comes down to this:

        The yards per catch/completion stats are very revealing and in my opinion directly attributable to Rees mediocre arm strength, and probably Kelly’s lack of confidence in his ability to protect the ball. So they dink, they dunk, they chip away and if Rees doesn’t fumble or throw it away, they might even score.

        But 9 turnovers by one player in 4 games is absurd.

  15. Keith Arnold - Sep 26, 2011 at 3:00 PM

    Guys,
    I’m tackling all of this QB stuff today. @Smurph — Not trying to disappoint you, just writing it as I see it.

    • notredamegrad - Sep 26, 2011 at 3:26 PM

      Great, Keith – looking forward to it. I could tell this was all getting a little intense when I saw a “#FreeDayne” hashtag in a comment on another site today. Not interested in an uprising, just sound, just reasoning and a little wisdom.

    • whatever82 - Sep 26, 2011 at 3:55 PM

      Keith,

      You’re one the best out there writing about the Irish. Ignore us Monday morning quarterbacks and keep writing the way you see it.

    • whatever82 - Sep 26, 2011 at 3:56 PM

      Keith,

      You’re one of the best out there writing about the Irish. Ignore us Monday morning quarterbacks and keep writing the way you see it.

      • nudeman - Sep 26, 2011 at 4:51 PM

        “Ignore us Monday Morning quarterbacks and keep writing the way you see it”

        whatever,

        Are you nuts?

        Like ALL Blogs, this Blog exists exactly because of us Monday a.m. QBs. That’s sort of the idea here. I think even Keith would agree with that. Keith writes a great blog, but I don’t think he’s ever adequately taken on the issue of the QB switch.

        It’s possible that we’re looking for a story where none exists and it’s simply that BK thinks Rees gives them the best chance. But why such a glowing endorsement of Dayne just a few days earlier after a rigorous months long QB competition? IT MAKES NO SENSE, especially when you consider how “uneven” Rees’ performances have been.

    • smurphdoggy29 - Sep 26, 2011 at 7:44 PM

      Keith,

      I humbly apologize for my heated tone. Know that I appreciate the work you do, and your reporting. I assure you I am extremely grateful for your work and look forward to what you put on here. I also appreciate the other reporters (good ones that is) who cover Notre Dame. I allowed my emotions to override my judgement. I also appreciate my fellow bloggers for their passionate commitment, for you all help to enlighten me.

      I shall look forward to the forthcoming information on the Quarterback situation.

      Thanks again for all you do Keith, rally on Son of Notre Dame !

      PS
      My 2 favorite players on the squad this year are Cierre Wood and Jamoris Slaughter (who can’t like a guy with the name Slaughter ?) can you do a third of the way there update on them ?

      GO Irish beat the Body Odor PU

    • 1notredamefan - Sep 26, 2011 at 9:46 PM

      I stand by you on the obvious choice for ND QB!!! Sometimes reading this stuff reminds me of dealing with my wife…..He can win everyday but still some how some way you find self indulging arrogant fault at the man that does nothing but brings you (or tries) happiness/……(WINNING)

  16. domer77blowsgoats - Sep 26, 2011 at 3:27 PM

    Some general observations:

    1. Tempo has been non-existent – if Rees can’t handle making the correct checks, go back to the goofy signs from last year and start firing – we heard nothing but pace for a year and now that threat is gone, the playclock has become an enemy where it was an ally

    2. Kelly was 100% out coached vs. Pitt’s 119th ranked pass defense? Do something creative to get Floyd the ball whatever it takes, if the guys in the booth can list off 15 different ways to get Floyd involved off the double team why can’t Kelly? I would have loved to see deep intersecting crossing routes with the double team chasing Floyd all over the place… Whatever the case, we no longer impose our will on opposing teams, I can’t believe we wait to see what they do and adjust- until we do we won’t be any better than 9-3.

    3. Rees, to his credit, made plays when it mattered. But Kelly’s offense looks sick w/o the threat of the run and deep ball

    4. Dink and dunk works when you show the threat to go vertical – how many pass attempts were over 20 yards?

    5. Where the hell is a pump fake? You have everyone jumping on Floyd if Rees blinks in his direction, imagine the reaction to a hard pump fake as floyd slips deep? If pro safeties can be looked off and jump on pumps, why isn’t it used at all? (required trolly comment: Don’t get excited nudeman, a lot of “stimulating” words in that sentence for you…)

    6. Call of the year so far has to be ranking Ruffner our #1 player, how’s that working out?

  17. nudeman - Sep 26, 2011 at 4:33 PM

    goatblower

    Relax

    I’m not excited by anything you post, frankly, especially your calling for “deep intersecting crossing routes” with a qb who can’t throw it as far as me.

    • domer77 - Sep 27, 2011 at 9:36 AM

      NudeBOY,

      Talk about Relax. Take a pill and get off the “Dump Rees” bandwagon. I know it’s been years since the mill closed and all you have left is an oscillating fan, your laptop and your wife(boy) beater shirt. How’s that one bedroom flat just off the “L” working out? Not only has your union “job” been outsourced to China apparently your intellect followed. Given the repetitive nature of your inane comments either somehow, someway have an original thought in your steelworker brain or simply do us all a favor and just STOP. Where’s my Union Rep????

      • johnnd1985 - Sep 27, 2011 at 9:59 AM

        Domer77, if you want to make an intelligent comment, feel free, but your personal attack lends nothing to the discussion. Commenting on what you imagine to be someone’s life is not needed. Instead, tell why you think Rees should be our QB.

  18. ndfanor - Sep 26, 2011 at 6:12 PM

    First I want to say “Thank you” to Keith. I enjoy and always look forward to your writing after each Notre Dame game. Since a lot of these post comment on who should be playing QB, I will put in my 2 cents, for what its worth, in defense of Tommy Rees. Three times now, with the game on the line, he has over come his mistakes and drove the team to a winning TD. The first against USC last year, and against Michigan and Pitt this year. None of these games were home games. They were played at the LA coliseum, the Big House, and Pitts home field. My point!! He can handle the pressure of a hostile enviroment. While you can argue his arm strenght, he made some great throws down field in the past. Anyone remember the throws to Eifert in last years Army game? If not , go you Youtube and watch the highlights. Is Rees making mistakes, yes, but I feel part of this is the way BK is running the offense this year as oposed to last year. It needs to run faster, Tommy needs to stop using Floyd as his “security blanket”, and start playing the football.

    Other things to point out from last Saturdays game so not everyone can blame the QB. How about the penalties? Instead of having Pitt punt from the their own endzone, Collingsworth is flagged for roughing the kicker. Questionable call, maybe, but why go for the block. Would have had the ball at midfield. Instead, Pitts keeps the ball. There only TD drive of the game.

    ND’s 3rd possesion of the 3rd quarter. On 2nd and 12, Gary has a 10yd run called back on a hold. A few plays later, on 2nd and 10, Rees hits Eifert down the middle for a 23 yard catch. But instead of a having a 1st and 10 on Pitts 20, it comes back for a personal foul call, and the drive stops a few plays later.

    Missed field goal. Is having a scholarship to much pressure for Ruffer this year? I would just like to see the Irish put together a game free of the mental mistakes, perhaps against Purdue this Saturday? GO IRISH!!!!

  19. johngmack - Sep 26, 2011 at 6:14 PM

    Ara’s first team (1964) defeated a 3-5-2 Pitt team 17-15 on the road. As an old timer I recall he season turned out OK.

    • nudeman - Sep 26, 2011 at 6:20 PM

      However, in ’64 they didn’t lose the first two to put their season on the ropes.

  20. nddan1 - Sep 26, 2011 at 8:24 PM

    nudeman, you replied to my post by saying, “he has average arm, cant run, and makes bad decisions “, how is that unlimited? first off i wrote he was no john elway. his arm is limited, but its good enough for the “unlimited” aspects of his play going forward. you say he cant run. when has he tried? when he starts to read defenses better and faster i think youll see him pull it down and run for critical 1st downs. “makes bad decisions”? show me a young q.b. that hasnt. he is only going to get better with each game. his decision to run, throw it away, drop it to a secondary receiver, when to audible. these are things i see as “limitless”

    your recipe for replacing him with crist doesnt make sense. what is your thinking on why crist should replace rees, are you daynes kin? do you think crist is going to step in and lead the irish to a 10-2 record? ive watched every game crist has played and he has not shown me any reason to think he could be the one.

    • nudeman - Sep 26, 2011 at 8:36 PM

      nddan

      Someone said Rees had “unlimited potential”. I was replying to that. Can’t remember if it was you or someone else who wrote that.

      When I think of “unlimited potential” I think of a wideout who can run like Rocket Ismail; a pitcher who can throw like Stephen Strasburg; a point guard who can jump and play like Derrick Rose. Or as a QB, I think of a young John Elway at Stanford who could do it all: Huge arm, great legs, father was a college coach.

      Unlimited Potential = Awe inspiring natural athletic talent and some semblance of “feel” for the game.

      I’m sorry, that does NOT define Tommy Rees. He seems to have the “feel” in certain clutch situations, I’ll grant that. But there is nothing else about him that makes me think “unlimited potential”. I think “good feel, certain intangibles, lacks ability to focus for 60 minutes as witnessed by careless turnovers, limited physically.”

      • 1notredamefan - Sep 26, 2011 at 9:59 PM

        Or….a NFL QB winning at ND!

  21. 1notredamefan - Sep 26, 2011 at 9:57 PM

    It’s become clear through all this BS that Rees is the 1 player you detractors hate because you just need to HATE….. I think you’ve had too many years in the dumps and have to vent the built up hostilities on something! Rees wins for us every time he has stepped on the field and you hate? Loss=d! (he left us up with 30 somthin sec’s left COME ON!!!!) Rees is slapping you guys in the face with what it takes to win and winning and you deny him the subtlety of being new!! I’ll call it the Clausen affect. You were spoiled with the likes of losing as long as your QB didn’t throw INT’s and walked around with his thumb up his ass entitled but LOSER? (FACT not OPINION) ASS BACKWARD FELLAS!!

  22. 1notredamefan - Sep 26, 2011 at 10:00 PM

    Anyone want to wager a bet on Rees winning in NFL……….MOJO and the “IT” is all it takes../….

  23. whatever82 - Sep 26, 2011 at 10:42 PM

    Nudeman,

    Chill.

  24. frankbjr - Sep 26, 2011 at 11:18 PM

    Just got done reading 59 comments, you are a spirited bunch!

    I would love to know what Jonas Gray said to Cierre Wood when he came running off the field after td run and pushed Wood out of the way, take a closer look and you will see what I mean.

    anyway, can anyone remember any college coach removing his anointed starting quarterback after one half of the first game of the season? In one of the posts someone asked Keith to dig a little deeper, I agree. In my most humble and somewhat inexperienced opinion, I think Crist is the better physical specimen, faster, stronger arm, taller? And probably played a better brand of HS ball. I just dont understand why bk was so quick to pull him. I think he should have started the second half and had the chance to play through the first half jitters. I think a starting quarterback deserves that consideration.

    Finally, if it continues this way, I see Crist leaving, and I become concerned about the future of Hendrix, as well.

    • sfnd - Sep 27, 2011 at 11:25 AM

      The way BK has handled the QB position this year should make any (and every) potential QB recruit wary.

  25. nudeman - Sep 28, 2011 at 2:21 PM

    I am very tired of people complaining about so called “{negativity” here. There is almost none.

    You want negativity?
    Check this blog from previous years when they became a completely irrelevant program under Weis. I will bet that the traffic now is 5x what it was then, because fans like me are hopeful and overall optimistic about Kelly and where the program is headed.

    When I say “Get Rees out of there”; or “I think Crist should be the QB” THAT IS NOT NEGATIVE. It’s an opinion, sometimes with an edge. But NEWSFLASH: THAT is how sports fans talk.

    I see almost no negativity here. I see legit criticism which I sometimes agree with, sometimes disagree with, and sometimes post myself.

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