In the Flow

Irish head coach Brian Kelly noted yesterday that backup quarterback Andrew Hendrix "will play." How much, when, and under what circumstances will be revealed during the Champs Sports Bowl.

At kick-off, the 1988 Cotton Bowl between 8-3 Notre Dame and 9-2 Texas A&M featured the nation's Heisman Trophy Winner in Tim Brown and an Irish team with a quarterback dilemma: senior Terry Andrysiak (3-1 as a starter but out since early October with a broken collarbone), or sophomore Tony Rice (5-2 as a starter but on a two-game skid including an ugly 24-0 defeat at powerful Miami in his previous outing).

Head coach Lou Holtz went with the veteran Andrysiak and despite a tremendous opening half effort from Brown (3 receptions, 105 yards, TD), the downhill slide continued for the Irish. Adding insult to injury was the on-field theft of Brown's "Heisman Towel" (a family gift), Brown's subsequent tackling of the offending party for a 15-yard penalty, and a 35-10 beating of Holtz's Irish that dropped the squad to 8-4 after an 8-1 start that took them to No. 7 in the polls.

Today, Brian Kelly's Irish enter the Champs Sports Bowl with a similar record (8-4), another great wide receiver, and a not dissimilar quarterback quandary.

Kelly, like Holtz, is going with the veteran over the intriguing athletic option. And while Irish fans hope the result of the Champs Sports Bowl will be polar opposite of the game played 23 seasons prior, the aforementioned Cotton Bowl blowout happened to be Notre Dame's last loss for 23 months – a fine trade-off for a few embarrassing moments on the Dallas turf.

(Editor's Note: So much for needing a bowl win as a "springboard" for the following season.)

Steps Since Stanford

Tommy Rees' worst statistical game occurred 13 months ago when he brought home a comeback victory, 20-16 at USC. His worst statistical game in defeat and his only collegiate benching occurred in his most recent outing, November 26 at Stanford.

Rees rebounded from the USC showing with his best game of 2010 and a 33-16 Sun Bowl blowout of Miami. A repeat performance in his second bowl game would be the ideal way to silence his ever-growing list of critics.

"Stanford was definitely a learning experience for me, similar to what USC was last year," Rees offered. "As an individual, I'm ready to keep getting better and take this time to build off Stanford. I think there were a number of things from that game to take back," he continued. "(Better identifying) protections and what the defense was trying to do."

Rees' focus is on bringing home a win, not assuaging the concerns of Irish faithful and media members.

"I'm not in the business of proving things," Rees said. "I need to play better than I did against Stanford, that's the bottom-line."

Kelly offered yesterday that Rees has made progress to that end.

"Some of the things we've wanted Tommy to improve on were essentially decision-making – the ability to put the ball in good positions – and we worked hard in dropping eight (defenders) in coverage and him being patient with the football, and I think he's done a good job," Kelly said.

When, Where, How, and Why?

Hendrix will play. Some assume as many as half the snaps, but it's possible (likely, in my opinion) that one, two, or three series will be all the backup sees on December 29. Or maybe it'll be in each goal line situation?

There's no reason for Kelly to put his cards on the table.

"I think some of that plays a part in it," said Kelly of the assumption that Hendrix's playing time will stem from how the game materializes.

"It's different from when we tried (during the season) to think about ‘When do we insert Andrew'? We know he's going to play. He's prepared to play. I don't know how it's going to (present) itself. I haven't set it in my own mind, but I know he's going to be in the game."

Hendrix appears ready for extended action if called upon.

"I'll say 75 to 80 percent of it," Hendrix noted earlier this month when pressed on his knowledge of the vast playbook. "We install in spring ball and summer camp the entire offense and the basis of it throughout the season. Whether a defense runs a certain look we'll put in plays that attack that look.

"Those are the specific plays created for a (specific) week that I really didn't get reps on because I was running plays for a package that I was comfortable in," he explained. "Really only the last 20 percent of the playbook that's involved each week is what I wasn't familiar with."

In other words, there should be plenty of plays at his disposal vs. Florida State next week.

"Andrew just continues to learn more and more of the offense," Kelly noted yesterday in his final South Bend media session this season. "I think he's more comfortable with protections and more of the technical aspects of the game. That's been great for him and for (freshman redshirt) Everett Golson too, because Everett's been able to get a lot of work that he hasn't (had previously). As you know, he pretty much at the end of the year was focused primarily on Scout Team work."

Back to Glory?

Purdue in 2009, Michigan State in 2002, and multiple contests in 1993.

Examples of the Notre Dame program featuring more than one quarterback in a contested game en route to victory are few and far between over the last two decades.

Charlie Weis' use of a severely limited Jimmy Clausen and newcomer Dayne Crist (the athlete, pre-injuries) helped snatch victory from the jaws of defeat at Purdue. Walk-on Pat Dillingham's pass to Arnaz Battle helped undefeated Tyrone Willingham and the Irish shock the Spartans of Michigan State seven years prior. Neither backup passer would have played had the head coach had his druthers.

The best recent example of designed success for a "package quarterback" at Notre Dame was during the oft-reference 1993 season when No. 2 QB Paul Failla often served as the goal line triggerman, replacing top-notch starter Kevin McDougal inside the 5-yard line.

(Failla was better at running Holtz's beloved option, contrary to revisionist history of McDougal as a "running quarterback.")

Backup QB Paul Failla in 1993

Most college quarterbacks need rhythm to succeed. Consider that gospel for Rees, a passer capable of ripping off 8, 10, even 14 straight completions (the latter tied the program record vs. Maryland this year) when he's on his game.

Disturbing that rhythm will doubtless be on Kelly's mind when he considers inserting his more athletic backup.

"In making our decision we felt Tommy has a great rapport with Mike (Floyd) and Tyler (Eifert) and our offensive line feels really good with his communication and getting in protections," Kelly revealed earlier this month. "And there's a lot of things that you can't just undo after one game. But I think that you also know that Andrew Hendrix can do some things that can help our football team. We need to see him as well. Tommy's going to start and expect to see Andrew playing as well."

Seminoles defenders and Irish fans anxiously await Kelly's approach and the end results. Top Stories