Oct 11, 2011, 1:14 AM EDT
After a season and a half of waiting, Irish fans finally got to see quarterback Andrew Hendrix in action. Through a recruitment process that started with Charlie Weis, ended with Brian Kelly and had a brief dalliance with Florida coach Urban Meyer, Hendrix was always a player that piqued the interest of Notre Dame fans certain that the Ohio native had a skillset that made him a star in the making.
Yet Hendrix’s journey to the field wasn’t necessarily an easy one. Coming out of a high school program that ran the ball far more than it ever thought about throwing, Hendrix was less a ready-made blue-chip quarterback, but rather an intriguing prospect with lots of upside. If Hendrix were a baseball player, he’d be the flame-throwing high school righthander from West Texas. It’s hard not to notice the raw talent and physical tools, but it’s not all that easy to harness them.
While Hendrix was originally a Weis recruit, in many ways he’s the prototype of what Kelly is looking for in a quarterback. Walking onto campus as one of only three scholarship quarterbacks, Hendrix was so raw as a true freshman that the coaching staff would’ve likely gone to Luke Massa over Hendrix early last season, if only because saving a year of eligibility was so important for Hendrix as he learned the complexities of college football.
After watching the first 18 games of his college career, Hendrix was finally inserted into the gameplan against Air Force, and his impact on the game was immediate. Special thanks to Matt Casey and our video team, who did a great job pulling the snaps Hendrix took for the Irish offense. Here’s a detailed look at how Brian Kelly used Hendrix.
It didn’t take long for Kelly to get Hendrix involved. After an opening touchdown drive, Theo Riddick took the first play of the Irish’s second possession around end on a reverse. Kelly then called Hendrix’s number on a 1st and 10 at the Air Force 45 with the Irish leading 7-0 and holding the momentum after Jamoris Slaughter forced Asher Clark to fumble. Hendrix’s first snap was a high percentage pass, and the worst play of his afternoon, with TJ Jones and Riddick mixing up a blocking assignments and Michael Floyd getting stuffed for a three-yard loss on a quick screen.
From there, Rees substituted back in immediately, driving the Irish into the Falcons red zone. Hendrix came back into the game later in the series, running the option with Jonas Gray around the right side. Hendrix ran hard around the edge, going for six yards and setting up a 2nd and 4 from the Air Force five-yard line. Rees substituted back in, and two plays later threw a touchdown to Tyler Eifert.
On the Irish’s next drive, Hendrix again entered on the second play of the series, this time completing a roll-out pass to Eifert, a simple out cut that Eifert turned into a big gain. Even if the throw was remedial, the zip on the ball was there, and Hendrix putting the ball a bit behind Eifert turned advantageous and helped Eifert slip his initial tackler. Again, Rees shuttled right back in, and two plays later he’d thrown his third touchdown pass in as many drives.
Hendrix’s success came mostly on the ground, with Air Force totally overwhelmed by the quarterback runs that Hendrix executed. Operating a simple zone read with great success, the 78-yard run was obviously the biggest gainer, but just about every time Hendrix decided to tuck it and run, the play was really well blocked and executed. (For a hilarious reaction to Hendrix’s almost touchdown jaunt, fast-forward to the 15:00 mark of UND.com’s latest ICON video.)
Kelly mentioned giving Hendrix six formations to operate from. He ran option to the left and the right, ran the zone read, and threw four passes, completing all four without much trouble — each one an easy read and throw. Still, the use of Hendrix might have been the most interesting — and encouraging — development of the day. We’ve seen various quarterback platoons stall out in offenses looking to develop multiple young players (see Texas’ attempts against Oklahoma last weekend), but to Kelly’s credit he used Hendrix perfectly, working him in and out of the series with little notice to opposing defenses.
Operating from the same framework, but running different plays will be a key strategic advantage for the Irish going forward this season. More importantly, it allows the Irish to unlock more of Kelly’s playbook, using Hendrix in the midst of up-tempo drives and bringing in the zone read running of the quarterback. It may have taken a few games longer than people wanted, but it’s come at the perfect time, with the game of the year just around the corner.