Though not without highlight moments and the occasional outstanding big-game performance, taken in the aggregate, the sport’s most important position has performed at the level of painfully average during the bulk of the last five seasons in South Bend.
The Elite: None – As recently as mid-season 2014, this would seem ludicrous, but the downward spiral experienced by Everett Golson thereafter makes it a reality.
Standout/Difference Maker: Golson – Two seasons, 55 total touchdowns and a BCS Championship Game run. His penchant for fumbling (12 lost, 20 overall in 23 starts) was Golson’s Achilles heel. Tack on 20 interceptions in 25 games and it’s clear Golson didn’t value the football enough to join the Elite.
Quality Starter: Tommy Rees – Played a key role in three season success stories:
-- Aided the 2010 team to a 4-1 mark to conclude the season as the lead quarterback after taking over for injured starter Dayne Crist.
-- Provided crucial relief in wins over Purdue, Michigan, Stanford, and – for one key third-down – Oklahoma, to augment Golson’s efforts under center in 2012.
-- Stepped in for the suspended Golson to guide the Irish to a 9-4 mark – the second-best of the Kelly era – as a senior in 2013.
Aided the Cause: Dayne Crist – Best remembered for one terrible half (South Florida) and one terrible play (USC), Crist had positive moments as well, but he and Kelly mixed about as well as oil and water. An ugly, very public benching defined his senior season prior to Crist’s post-graduate transfer to Kansas.
Couldn’t Carve A Niche: Andrew Hendrix, Gunner Kiel – Kiel transferred midway through his second spring without seeing the field. Hendrix stands as Exhibit A in the “Be Careful What You Wish For” category as his emergency effort in relief of Rees against USC in October 2013 showed exactly how far he was behind his classmate in terms of game readiness.
Kiel predictably shined after his move to Cincinnati while Hendrix unexpectedly did so as well, playing his fifth year for former Irish offensive coordinator Chuck Martin at Miami (OH).
On Deck for 2015: Malik Zaire – The junior’s approval rating since early December has steadily increased, spiking following a Dec. 30 Music City Bowl win over LSU. Barring a 14-0 record and national championship, it will never be higher.
No longer the backup, Zaire’s proving ground waits.
Finding a Foothold this Fall? DeShone Kizer – Ideally, the redshirt-freshman will clearly emerge as the definitive No. 2 and be used only in mop-up duties for the starter Zaire.
On the Horizon: Brandon Wimbush – Not to be flippant, but one could likewise argue that, ideally, Wimbush will clearly emerge as the definitive No. 2 and be used only in mop-up duties for the starter Zaire.
Why They’re No. 9: Mistakes.
Notre Dame’s quarterbacks have combined for 23 of the program’s 43 fumbles lost and 68 interceptions during the five-season Kelly era. That’s 91 of 111 total turnovers in 65 games. (Four of the remaining 20 fumbles were the fault of Irish special teams, leaving only 16 in 65 games from Kelly’s skill position players.)
In addition to a combined 28 red zone turnovers committed by Kelly’s QBs (reviewed here ) are 11 touchdowns yielded directly to opposing defenses as a result of interceptions (9) or QB fumbles (2).
Over Kelly’s first five seasons, the quarterbacks giveth (120 combined touchdown passes; 22 rushing), but they likewise taketh away at an unacceptable rate – one not commensurate with championship football.
Note: The tenth-best overall position group of the Kelly era…