Thursday, March 24, 2011

The USF Question: Should it be Tommy or Dayne?

Notre Dame ended the 2010 season on a four-game streak that has fans and pundits alike boosting program expectations for this upcoming fall. The Irish now have a full season learning and implementing Brian Kelly’s philosophy, which should lead to significant strides on both sides of the ball.

Notre Dame returns one of the most experienced squads in the country and is staring a manageable schedule so the bar has been set at competing for a berth in the BCS.

There’s one giant question hovering over everything though: will Tommy Rees or Dayne Crist be the starting quarterback when Notre Dame takes the field against South Florida?

A lot of fans are arguing that Rees should be the starter because of how the team ended the year with him at the helm. I’m here to tell you they’re wrong. If Dayne Crist is healthy enough to go full speed on September 3 then he's the one should get the nod.

Before we go any further, let me say I’m operating under the premise that these are far and away the two most likely starters on opening day. There’s certainly a chance that the pair of talented quarterbacks sitting behind them—Andrew Hendrix and Everett Golson—could have outstanding springs and be right in the mix, but odds are pretty slim it’d catapult them to the top of the depth chart for the first contest.

While they have enormous potential for the long term, Brian Kelly has two quarterbacks who have already started multiple games. Smart money says one of them will ultimately be chosen for game one.

Looking strictly at the stat lines from their first years starting, Crist and Rees are actually pretty similar.

Their accuracy was very comparable (Rees 61 percent, Crist 59 percent), yards per pass was almost identical (Crist 6.9, Rees 6.7), and a mere three points separated their final quarterback ratings (Rees 132, Crist 129.3). Tommy did average more touchdowns per game (2.4 to 1.9), but he threw more interceptions per game as well (1.6 to 0.9).

People in the “Tommy Rees Should Start” camp will recite four words as the reason why he deserves the nod over Dayne: Tommy is a winner. He may not have the physical skill set of many elite quarterbacks, but he led the team to a 4-0 record as starter while Crist’s record sits at an ugly 4-5.

To be blunt, that’s a bogus argument.

Tommy Rees did an admirable job after he was thrown into the fire for the final four-plus games of the season, but let’s stop acting as if he was the spark for the win streak (that would be the defense).

He did a nice job managing the game against Utah and Army and played great football for one half against Miami. There were some solid highlights and some undeniably great throws along the way—like the beautiful touch pass to Eifert against Army and the touchdown he threw to Kamara in the corner of the endzone against Utah.

There were also some ugly moments. Of course rough patches are to be expected from a first-time starter, but people seem to have completely block them out since the end result was a win.

Rees was absolutely atrocious against Southern Cal, to the point where one of the best Irish defensive efforts in recent memory was almost wasted. His final stat line does not reflect how shell-shocked he looked in the second half.

During the third quarter nearly every pass was either batted down at the line or delivered to the breadbasket of a player wearing maroon and gold. It was turnovers galore and all in the shadow of Notre Dame’s own goalposts.

The reason for pointing that out isn’t to rag on the kid; it’s to remind people that Joe Montana wasn’t quarterbacking like some seem to think.

For how positively fans view Rees thanks to his winning streak, they pull the exact opposite maneuver when remembering Crist’s season. By no means did Crist have a great season, but he had flashes of brilliance that seem to have been completely forgotten. Unfortunately his final outings—the debacle against Navy and the opening of the Tulsa game—leave a bad taste.

The disaster in the Meadowlands was a clear step backward and the start of the Tulsa game looked equally ugly. The confidence he’d built up over the first month of the season disappeared and he began regressing.

With every incomplete pass he’d look over at the sideline like a dog that knew he did something wrong and was about to get scolded—and every time Brian Kelly was there to fulfill Dayne's prophesy with a scathing expression and an earful of unprintables.

Crist’s season shouldn’t be defined solely by his hiccups. The real story of his first campaign as a starter when you study it was streakiness. When Dayne got in rhythm he had the look of an elite quarterback, one that just needed some experience and time to mature.

Go back to the tape of the Michigan State game and watched how good he was during the third quarter. It was a passing clinic. Crist possesses a rifle arm and for the most part he didn’t make a lot of killer mistakes. If anything he was actually overcautious too frequently—and if you want a first-year starter to be on an extreme of the spectrum you’d rather it be on the side of caution as opposed to recklessness.

The key to Dayne progressing and evolving into a top-level quarterback is figuring out how to eliminate the prolonged cold streaks. His main issue was that he’d hit eight passes in a row and then immediately follow it with six straight incompletions. The offense can’t maintain any sort of momentum if once or twice a game consecutive drives will be sabotaged because Dayne gets out of sync. That’s where the drastic improvement needs to take place—and he still has two full seasons to make it happen.

Tommy Rees is a smart quarterback and an asset to the team, but his ceiling is just not high enough. Physical he’s incapable of making all the throws that would make this offense operate at its peak and the running threat he presents is nearly absolute zero.

I appreciate his contribution last season and I’d love to have him around as a reliable backup that can come in and manage the offense in emergency situations, but that’s it. If he proves me wrong and seizes the starting job never to let go again then I'd be happy as can be. But my gut says there’s a much greater chance he turns out to be Matt Lovecchio: The Remix than a four-year starter at Notre Dame.

Dayne Crist is no slam dunk to be successful. There’s never a guarantee that players are going to maximize their potential and Crist’s propensity to get hurt might completely snuff out his chances to progress to an elite level.

But if his body cooperates and allows him to move forward, learn, and grow into his role as the leader of the offense then he possesses the potential to be great—something Rees does not. That’s the reason why he should—and will—get the starting nod against USF.


  1. Good piece - the point was well made and well defended. Crist undeniably has all the skills but he has never impressed me as a leader - THE leader out there. Rees seemed to me to have some of that.
    We'll see - It's a nice problem to have, unlike last year.

  2. Yes, good article. I do agree that TR isn't the answer. Twenty-one other starters should get credit for the 4-0 finish, not just him. In fact they won in spite of TR in the USC game.
    I can't see Crist being the answer either. He seemed to get worse as the season progressed, maybe for the reason given in this article: he can't take the heat from BK. Therefore, he can't produce under pressure. I surely hope the other two can play.

  3. Crist is the man, of this there is little doubt. If he can stay healthy, avoid the streakiness of last year and be a leader who doesn't look over his shoulder every time something goes wrong, he will be an excellent fixture on a very good team with all sorts of possibilities.

    Given the high upside of Hendrix, I don't understand why BK wouldn't red shirt Golson and save that year of elibibility while he learns the system. Seems a waste to burn a year on a couple of reps a game when Hendrix can run and pass with efficeincy

  4. jim said..

    I'm just excited about going into a season with two quarterbacks that have playing experience.

  5. Crist may have gotten to a point last year where defenses were starting to pick up on some tendencies. Think about it, our opponents had zero game film on him as a starting quarterback. With learning a new offense and being a first year quarterback, he was bound to has some problems. I think this being his second year as a starter, Dayne could be great!! GO IRISH!!!

  6. Crist just does not have the nerves and/or look of confidence in his eyes. I hope he stays healthy, I want him to succeed. But to run BK's offense on gimpy knees? No. He was recruited as a pocket passer, and that's probably the only chance he's got to play the game much longer.

  7. I saw Brian Kelly chew out A LOT of players coming to the sidelines. The key with him seems to be to take your medicine and move on. If Dayne can't handle the pressure of being a Notre Dame quarterback, he shouldn't be in there. That's not to say he can't, and another year in the system should be good for him, but if every time he makes a mistake, he's fearing what Kelly is going to do, that won't be good.

  8. BK will put the QB on the field that he believes can win.
    Crist has talent but I don't see him leading the recievers with his passes. They seem to be always slowing down and turning back to catch the ball. If not that the ball sails over them. Whether that is technique or hesitating then trying to catch up by forcing the throw, I don't know but something fundamental is lacking in the delivery.
    Rees seems to have the delivery handled better but does not have the physical attributes. He does seem to understand and see the field better than Crist. I am pleased they are using the Helmetcam. I believe that will tell a great deal to the coaches.
    I think they are both great ND players for different reasons but only one will earn the right to start and earn it they must.

  9. To see Dayne look to the side lines like a little dog getting trained and then under perform did me in. Tommy would do the same thing but he has a winner's mentality and I believe it was passed on in the huddle and the rest of the team.Players sense when they have a QB who is going to battle and win by any means. Go Tommy!

  10. I agree that Crist has all the tangibles. My concern is what's between the ears. Let's remember, you're comparing a Junior with a True Freshman. The fact that Rees' numbers were (for the most part) slightly better than Crist should raise some eyebrows.
    And while I acknowledge he had a horrible game against USC, you yourself point out that Crist was awful against Navy and Tulsa.
    In any case, I agree with the comments above that we are in much better shape this Spring than we were a year ago.

  11. People seem to forget that Dayne was a first year starter and learning a new system along with the rest of the offense at the start of 2010. All of the offensive woes cannot be blamed soley on Dayne. Tommy played good but to say he was a better player than Dayne is short sighted. The defense was playing better at the end of the year, and they were not good at all at the beginning of the year when Dayne was playing. The offense had a better grasp of the system at the end of the year than they did at the beginning of the year. That being said, Dayne was learning along with everyone else while Tommy stepped into an offense that was already 9 games deep into the system. The defense bailed Tommy out while they were almost non existent at the beginning of the year. Dayne should win the competition and ND will be a better team because of it.

  12. Im thankful for the job LeVechio did last year, Oh sorry, meant Reese. The reality is Christ is the much better QB. By the time fall camp is over, LeVechio, I mean Reese, will be 3rd string behind Christ and Hendrix. A year of experience in this offense will make a world of difference for Christ

  13. Christ, to me, is clearly the way to go. Both QBs were essentially first year QBs because of BK being the new coach. It seems natural that TR would put up slightly numbers then DC did because when it came time for TR to play he had a team around him with a little more than a half year of game time experience. I do agree that Dayne may have some leadership issues, but lets not forget the Michigan game. He brought the team back and set them up for a chance to win from what seemed to be a for sure defeat. Also, the team looked extremely lost when DC wasn't on the field. To me the spells out some qualities of leadership. TR found ways to win which is a great quality, but comparing TR when he is on fire to DC when he is on fire too, it's like night and day DC is clearly a more poised, comfortable, and strong player. With a years experience under DC belt leadership will develop, the streakiness should subside and we should see our third great QB in a row.(BQ and JC) Also with a defense that is projected to be very good it will take pressure off DC to have to score almost every drive. Reese can be good, but the fact the Christ clearly has more tangibles and that "IT" factor Weis said JC had. The only issue with DC is that he is injury prone.


  14. Let us not forget that Kelly was calling two completely different offenses for both Q.B's. Dayne was throwing the ball nearly every down while the running game was lagged behind.

    T.R. supplemented the offense while the running game and defense carried the team. Personally, I feel that if Kelly had called an offense with Dayne that T.R. received then we would have won far more games early.

  15. This is a good article and well thought out comments by all. I think you've made the cases for either DC or TR to start. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. I don't have an issue with DC's heart, desire or leadership abilities (see UM game). He may have had thin skin at times when heading over to hear BK's wrath, buy after a while anyone can get used to that. He will too. DC has a stronger arm, but is consistently inconsistent, and what bothers me the most. Overthrows and five yard swings that either hit the dirt or hit our RB's in the back will cost ND two to three games if he's the starter. As for TR, he has all the intangibles that a solid QB needs except for the strong arm and lack of mobility. BK's rants seem to roll off him like water on a ducks back. The lack of arm strength and mobility will cost ND two to three games if he's the starter. Either way, we'd end up 10-2 or 9-3. I'll be happy with either of them or Hendrix too, if he gets in there. Golson should sit a year. We'll need him down the road much more than we do this year. Another year in BK's system will improve all the QB's and hopefully result in something special next year and for years to come. Can't wait for September. GO IRISH!!!!

  16. Tommy did win and in all the comments ive read from this post to countless others no one is mentioning his loss. Was it or was it not him who threw the ball directly at the Tulsa defenders hands while we were in field goal range. I know it was B.Ks decision to go for it but ultimately it was Tommys job to put the ball were only Floyd or no one could get it score or at least maintain possession and more than likely secure a victory with a very consistent kicker

  17. Reese quickly gets rid of the ball - even when he is in trouble.

    Crist holds on to the ball consistently too long - even when he is in trouble.

  18. (Jeremy)

    Crist seemed to have trouble with being a leader, but I believe it was due to his lack of confidence because he was in a brand new system, not some innate inability to be a leader. It's hard to lead when you don't no what you're trying to do. Rees, on the other hand, played a spread in high school. He at least knew what he was supposed to do out there.

    The comparison for Crist may be like Harrison Smith switching defenses and positions. He was completely lost in 2009 but finally started getting it back in 2010. I expect to see incredible performances from both Crist and Smith.

  19. These have been phenomenal comments. Kudos to everyone, you should chime in with a name rather than stay anonymous. We want to see you back here for more of these discussions!

    One thing I don't understand at all is why suddenly Dayne Crist's leadership and intangibles are dismissed as negatives. I feel like this topic deserves a column to itself.

    Crist oozes charisma, confidence, and leadership. When he was at the Army All-American Game, by all accounts the other prospects flocked to him and looked to him as the leader. In August 2009 before he had ever even taken a snap, when players were asked who the offense looked to as the leader one responded "Jimmy and Dayne." When pressed the player said that they looked up to both just as much.

    Dayne's a natural leader and he's a tough kid. He had a rough go of it last year (and at times looked overwhelmed and defeated not by the situation, but by Kelly's endless barrage of criticism), but that doesn't mean he's lost those qualities and along with them the respect of his teammates.

    Tommy Rees did a great job of not only stepping in and holding down the fort after Crist's injury, but also in earning the respect of his teammates. He clearly has strong leadership qualities and that's a great thing...but everyone who thinks he's clearly a better leader with better "intangibles" than Dayne needs to pump the brakes.

  20. This was interesting and well defended article. However, the point made about Rees not being able to make all the throws should be measured against what appeared to me like a much more natural runner with the ball in his hands. Remember, this offense on the Charlie Weis offense puts a high value on a mobile quarterback. There was zero stats on this and I'd be interested to see if it changes your mind.

  21. Tommys a winner, Dayne is not. Enough said. Rees brings intangibles to the team that Dayne does not. and, he was recruited by BK which makes the relationship work. A winner wins the close games (msu) and doesn't blow the easy ones (navy,tulsa).

  22. To the anonymous who posted at 6:13 -

    Painfully ignorant post. Rees committed to Weis and also "blew" the Tulsa game.

    With so many great responses and solid dialogue it was a shame you had to show up.

  23. To anonymous post at 5:47 -

    I completely agree that in order for the spread offense to maximize its potential you need a legitimate running threat at the quarterback position. When it comes to Dayne vs Tommy though, this isn't a category where Tommy would receive a checkmark.

    Neither quarterback is as mobile as Hendrix or Golson, but Dayne at least has the ability to run the QB Read. Kelly was very hesitant to call runs for Crist since he was coming off a major knee injury, but he did more and more as the season wore on. Crist was understandably a bit hesitant. but he still ended up with four touchdowns on the ground (including three games in a row starting with the QB Read he took to the endzone untouched against BC).

    Tommy on the other hand has almost zero running ability. Kelly rarely--if ever--called a designed run for Rees and he ended the year with 12 carries for -2 yards (most of those carries likely came on sacks or broken plays where Tommy tried to scramble back to the line). In the opening interview of spring ball, BK talked about how that's clearly not one of the strengths of Tommy's game.

    Ultimately in a year or two I think Rees' lack of mobility will lead to him getting passed on the depth chart by Hendrix and/or Golson simply because they fit the offense better.

  24. In addition to what Mattre said at 6:53 in response to anonymous. MSU clearly was more of a defensive issue. An offense that can put 34 on the board should win. Oh and DC also put up 4 TDs in that game. To me, I would take 4TDs from my QB.