QB Quandary: 3rd and short

In this first in a series of looks at Notre Dame's quarterback situation, Irish Eyes breaks down the team's 3rd down successes under both Dayne Crist and Tommy Rees last fall.

Its football's money down, and Notre Dame's 2011 offensive fortunes – especially vs. the schedule's most talented teams – will be determined by its quarterbacks' collective performance on third-down this season.

Below is a look at both Dayne Crist and Tommy Rees in four third-down situations last fall: short yardage; middle distance; long yardage, and unlikely conversion situations.

The latter pair is published in Part II, linked below.

Dayne Crist on 3rd/4th and short: 2010

Crist took 177 more snaps than did Rees, playing what amounted to eight contests (nine starts).

Crist faced 16 third or fourth-and-short opportunities (4 yards or less). He converted 9 into Irish first downs including three touchdowns (2 passing, 1 rushing) while also scoring a touchdown that was later called back due to penalty; he also lost a crucial 4th down fumble.

Crist ran for first downs five times while being stopped on three other occasions, including twice on fourth down. He completed seven of eight passes in third and short situations, though two were caught short of the marker without a conversion (both late at Michigan State).

Five different pass catchers secured his seven completions: Kyle Rudolph (3), Michael Floyd (2), John Goodman (2), Theo Riddick (2), and Tai-ler Jones (1). Two of his three incomplete passes were intended for Rudolph, both against Stanford. On two of Crist's three incompletions, he was hurried shortly after receiving the snap (Stanford and Pittsburgh).

Crist – 3rd or 4th and short:

  • Rushing: 8 carries, 5 first downs, 1 touchdown + 1 touchdown called back due to penalty.
  • Passing: 13 attempts, 10 completions, 8 first downs, 2 touchdowns + 1 touchdown called back due to penalty (Floyd 44 yards vs. Pittsburgh).

Tommy Rees on 3rd/4th and short: 2010

Rees played in nine contests, attempted passes in seven of them while starting four and playing the bulk of a fifth (Tulsa). His 332 snaps were 177 fewer than Dayne Crist's total in the latter's eight starts/nine games.

In third-and-short situations (4 yards or fewer needed for a first down), Rees completed 9 of 15 passes for seven Irish first downs, including a touchdown pass to Michael Floyd vs. USC. One of his six incomplete passes on third-and-short was picked off (also USC).

Four of his seven completions were secured by Floyd with Robby Toma and Tyler Eifert grabbing a pair apiece. Cierre Wood also caught a third-and-short pass, though short of the marker, however, Wood's bowl game reception led to a Robert Hughes conversion on 4th and 1, and could thus be considered a mild success. Likewise, one of Eifert's third-down receptions from Rees was for no gain (Navy) though Rees hit Toma on a 4th down conversion on the ensuing snap.

Three of Rees' six missed passes were intended for Eifert, each of the trio occurring against USC.

Rees – 3rd or 4th and short (4 yards or fewer):

  • Rushing: One carry for two yards and an Irish first down.
  • Passing: Completed 9 of 15 passes for seven first downs (including a touchdown) with one interception. Two of his completions were garbage time offerings vs. Navy.

Crist: 3rd and middle distances (likely passing down)

Middle distance = 5, 6, or 7 yards stands between the Irish and a first down – a likely passing situation though certainly an attainable distance with a scramble or occasional QB draw/keeper.

Crist completed 15 of 23 passes in these situations, but three of the 15 completions did not result in Irish first downs. He was sacked once (Western Michigan) fired two touchdown passes (Michigan and Western Michigan) and was intercepted twice (Navy and Boston College). Of note, four of his eight incomplete passes (and his INT) in third and middle-distance situations occurred vs. the BC Eagles – a game the Irish controlled from the outset.

Eight targets caught first down passes from Crist on third-and-middle situations last fall: Floyd (5), Tyler Eifert (2), Rudolph (2), Armando Allen (1), Duval Kamara (1), Riddick (1), Jones (1), and Goodman (1). Both of Rudolph's receptions were short of the marker; Jones and Eifert scored touchdowns.

Crist – 3rd or 4th and middle-distance:

  • Rushing: 0 attempts, though sacked once.
  • Passing: 15 completions in 23 attempts for 12 first downs including two touchdowns with two interceptions.

Rees: 3rd and middle distances (likely passing down)

Rees hit on 7 of 14 passes with six first downs, including one completion of 35 yards down to the Irish 1-yard line (to Eifert vs. Army). Of his seven incomplete passes on 3rd and middle-distance, four were intended for Eifert. As well, Rees was hurried immediately on two of his seven incomplete throws.

Four of Rees' six third-down conversion passes landed in Floyd's hands (he caught another one-yard short of the marker) while Eifert and Goodman secured the others.

Rees – 3rd or 4th and middle-distance:

  • Rushing: No attempts
  • Passing: Completed 7 of 14 passes for six first downs with no touchdowns and no interceptions. Rees' six conversion passes resulted in a whopping 128 yards, not including 15 additional for a late-hit he absorbed vs. Miami. He also drew Tulsa offsides on one occasion for an Irish first down on 3rd and 5.

Head-to-head analysis

Crist's sample size is larger, though it's notable he carried out eight read-option keepers with great success while Rees was largely a pocket or (half) roll-out passer despite minimal yardage to gain.

Though sample size again played a part, Crist spread the wealth a bit more than did Rees in short-yardage and middle-distance situations. A larger number of Crist's failed 3rd-and-short opportunities (Michigan State twice late in the contest, twice at Navy) were costly. Rees overcame his toughest day on third-down with a win at USC.

Combined, Crist converted 25 of 45 opportunities on third-and-short or third-and-middle into first downs (either rushing or passing) with two touchdowns, two called back touchdowns (one rushing/one passing) and two interceptions.

Rees finished with 14 conversions in 30 opportunities, with a touchdown, an interception, and an additional first down due to penalty.

Click here for Part II and a look at Dayne Crist and Tommy Rees' success in both 3rd and long, and 3rd and unlikely situations.

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