During his three seasons as head coach at the University of Cincinnati, Brian Kelly used a number of quarterbacks to help him win back-to-back conference championships. His 2009 squad had a proven leader in Tony Pike, but unproven and unheralded signal caller Zach Collaros became just the latest of players to fill the "Next Man In" philosophy Kelly preaches.
Kelly now has nine games under his belt at Notre Dame, and unlike his time at Cincinnati, the quarterback position has yet to spark the offense the way many expected.
Notre Dame Quarterbacks 2010
Until this weekend, Dayne Crist has been the starter for Kelly and for good reason. As the most experienced quarterback on the roster, Crist was expected to overcome an injury from a season ago and push Kelly's offense down the throats of the many defenses the Irish would battle during the 2010 season.
With Crist now out for the season, Rees is the starter and should be expected to carry the torch much like Collaros and Pike had done when called upon the previous two seasons.
Cincinnati Quarterbacks 2009
Tony Pike played in nine (started 8) of the twelve games, Kelly coached at Cincinnati during the 2009 season. An injury to Pike during the South Florida game forced Kelly to play Zach Collaros and the unproven backup would start four conference games playing impressive and winning football. Pike would return for the West Virginia game, but not as a starter only attempting four passes during the game with two of them being for touchdowns.
The combined numbers of Pike and Collaros were impressive to say the least.
417-277-8 – 66% for 3,784 yards and 36 touchdowns while only being sacked 10 times.
Pike vs. Crist
With Dayne Crist now finished for the season after nine games, we can look at the numbers of Tony Pike and compare the two. Both played nine games in their respected season with both missing time due to injury.
Dayne Crist: 174-294-7 59% 2033 yards 15 touchdowns
Tony Pike: 184-293-6 62% 2350 yards 26 touchdowns
As we can see by the numbers, Dayne Crist attempted one more pass but completed ten less throws as compared to Tony Pike. While this leaves the completion percentage to be only a 3% difference, the biggest difference came with Crist having 317 less yards and 11 less touchdowns.
To be fair in the comparison we must take into account Dayne Crist only had the spring and camp to digest Brian Kelly's offense. Tony Pike was in the system for three seasons having played a high amount of reps the season prior to the 2009 season.
Going back and looking at Pike's first season as a starter may be a better assessment of the two signal callers.
Pike during the 2008 season played in twelve games starting ten of them but did not enter the season as the team's starter until the team's third game of the season and also missed time with an injury as Kelly used three quarterbacks as starters during a 14 game season. How did Pike do?
199-324-11 61.4% 2,407 yards 19 touchdowns
As we can see, many more attempts, more completions, higher completion percentage to go with more yards and touchdowns.
Having watched each of Dayne's starts this season allows for some judgment. While it would be nice to watch the day-to-day work in practice, the fact Dayne posted numbers close to what Pike had posted during Kelly's tenure in Cincinnati keeps him in the race as the starting quarterback in 2011.
However, the performance of Tommy Rees against Tulsa showed the type of quarterback that has success in the Brian Kelly scheme. Yes, Rees made some serious mistakes, but he showed the quick decision and release needed to place receivers in the right positions to make a catch and continue to gain positive yardage.
During the three seasons at Cincinnati, Greg Forest was Brian Kelly's quarterback coach. Forest, now the offensive coordinator for Jeff Quinn at Buffalo, played a key role as the in-between to Kelly and the Cincinnati quarterbacks.
Charley Molnar is now the quarterbacks coach at Notre Dame. Molnar, who served as Kelly's receivers coach at Cincinnati, is no stranger to coaching the quarterback position with or without Brian Kelly. He played a huge role in the development of Central Michigan quarterback Dan LeFevour during his one season at CMU with Kelly, while also having developed quarterbacks during several other coaching stops in his career.
What Is Missing
When looking at quarterback play this season at Notre Dame, the first thing you notice is the lack of confidence in the decision making process. This offense is for a quarterback confident in setting up and making the throw to receivers in movement. If a play is not there, it is the responsibility of the quarterback to roll the pocket keeping his eyes ahead looking for a receiver working to get open. Very few plays this fall have seen receivers hit in stride allowing them to gain positive yardage after the catch. One of the things shown by Tommy Rees in the Tulsa game was his ability to hit receivers in stride. This has to improve if the offense is going to post the numbers expected.
Brian Kelly will have to make a hard decision if forced by poor performance or injury to Rees about burning the redshirt of Andrew Hendrix. The best case would be for Rees to play as other Kelly quarterbacks have done over the years.
No matter what happens the rest of this season, fully expect the quarterback position to be a hot topic until the start of the 2011 season when we will learn if Dayne Crist can come back and earn a second chance as the starter, or if Tommy Rees or one of the freshmen earn Kelly's trust.
The advantage at this position goes to Kelly's quarterbacks at Cincinnati. Tony Pike was better suited for Kelly's offense as compared to Dayne Crist. He played the 2009 season with better understanding of the offense as Crist started with small amounts of the knowledge needed to have the success Pike showed under Kelly.
This will not last long as Kelly will make sure his quarterbacks are a step ahead of this season. A bowl game would really help in this area, as the extra practices will allow the younger quarterbacks to have a better grasp of the system prior to spring practice.