Of Schedules, Streaks and Scramblers

Brian Kelly discusses future early slates and snapping losing skids while we examine the relative need of a scrambling signal-caller.

Four down, two to go

The opening sextet of games for the Brian Kelly era included six consecutive BCS conference foes. Three of the four played to date are members of the A.P. Top 25 while another, Pittsburgh in two weeks, began the season ranked No. 15 in the writer's poll.

Is such a challenging slate viable for the head coach's future plans?

"Moving forward, it will be a strength having a schedule like this," Kelly offered. "I think with our spring and summer preparation, coming into the year we're going to be further ahead when we play tough competition right out of the gates. Maybe it's not showing right now, new offense, new defense…special teams. At times we've been sporadic.

"But I'm still not in favor of throwing 1-AA (FCS) teams in there. I still feel like we should be playing the kind of schedule we're playing, and I think it's going to pay off for us."

Entering Week Five, Notre Dame's first four opponents were an aggregate 14-2 (Purdue lost to the Irish and to Toledo). The Irish are unlikely to face another ranked foe until Game 10, a Senior Day tilt in South Bend with current-No. 13 Utah. USC, whom the Irish will visit on Thanksgiving Saturday, is currently No. 18 in the A.P. Poll at 4-0.

Three down, none to go

The last time a Brian Kelly-coached team dropped three consecutive decisions, Tyrone Willingham was in his final season at Notre Dame and few Irish fans could pick Jeff Samardzija out of a lineup.

Kelly finished his first season at Central Michigan with a 4-7 mark, losing a trio of contests consecutively at mid-season. His Chippewas bounced back to win two of their final four games. (Incidentally, the Irish also lost three straight that season to conclude the Willingham era.)

Does Kelly's experience with bumps and bruises over 20 years apply to this, his purported final stop?

"Oh, yeah, sure. It's just the expectations are different. It's the same process,' Kelly said. "It's the same process that we're going through in terms of building our program and doing the thing that's we need to do to win for a long, long period of time.

"Every program that I've been involved with, they've won championships after I left, and I'm not leaving this one. I want to win them. But we're going to get to that level as well."

Notre Dame has dropped at least three consecutive games in six of the last 10 seasons and seven times in that span. It's lost four straight five separate times since Lou Holtz stepped down following the 1996 season

Runner? Scrambler? Creator?

In 1993, Notre Dame senior quarterback Kevin McDougal proved to be a revelation, unexpectedly leading the vastly underrated Irish to 11 wins in 12 starts. McDougal, who remains the highest-rated quarterback in team history, was viewed as a true dual-threat, one that could beat opponents with both his arms and feet.

Would you guess he ran for a net total of 85 yards in that oft-referenced '93 regular season? Or more pertinent to today's backfield situation regarding Dayne Crist, that Brian Kelly's main 2009 quarterback, Tony Pike, managed a whopping six rushing yards at Cincinnati over nine starts last fall?

There are runners (Denard Robinson, Tim Tebow), scramblers (Doug Flutie, Jeff Garcia) and creators (the bulk of top tier college quarterbacks over the last 50 years). The latter is what Kelly needs from Crist, but it won't happen overnight.

"Experience at the quarterback position," Kelly said of Pike's greatest strength in the Bearcats record-setting 2009 offense. "Simply the ability to get the ball out of his hands; the ability to protect himself.

"He had three years of experience in a system where he could run it better than I could call it."

Kelly has noted that a key function of his quarterback's duties is to extend the play - create time to allow a downfield option to break free. Crist's continued struggles relative to that skill set were evident vs. Stanford.

"It was Drop 8 and there's a three-man rush; we've got five guys to protect," Kelly noted of a certain situation vs. the Cardinal in which Crist suffered a (needless) sack. "There's no need for sacks. Stay alive…those are the things he's learning as a young quarterback.

Kelly offered that Crist is progressing as a play-extender, and that it manifested in Wednesday's practice.

"He saw a three-man rush today; he moved out of the pocket, kept the play alive and hit the guy down the field. Those are the developmental things you expect to see from your quarterback."

Though far less experienced than either, Crist's junior numbers measure up to his ballyhooed predecessors through four starts:

  • Brady Quinn 2005: 1,181 yards, 10 TD, 2 INT, 6 sacks (starts No. 22-25)
  • Jimmy Clausen 2009: 1,121, 10 TD, 1 INT, 5 sacks (starts No. 23-26)
  • Dayne Crist 2010: 1,155, 8 TD, 3 INT, 8 sacks (starts No. 1-4)

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