Irish still trying to find starting QB

Irish still trying to find starting QB

Published Sep. 4, 2011 1:00 a.m. ET

Here are two things Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly never expected to be doing on the first Sunday of the new season.

Discussing his team's sloppy play in a stunning opening-season loss at home to South Florida and trying to decide again who will be his starting quarterback.

Struggling Dayne Crist got benched after a two-hour, 10-minute halftime that extended by severe weather and Tommy Rees relieved and played well in the second half of a 23-20 loss that featured five turnovers and eight penalties.

Kelly and his coaching staff were sorting through tape Sunday, trying to figure out if it's time to make a permanent QB switch after one week.

"We'll meet here about 4, start to discuss some things relative to personnel, and then whatever decision we make, we'll talk to the quarterbacks involved and then get rolling again on Monday with the decision as to how we go," Kelly said Sunday.

A little less than two weeks ago Kelly was announcing Crist as his starter after he beat out Rees in a training camp competition Kelly said at the time that he expected Crist - who's battled back from two season-ending knee injuries and surgeries - to be the starter for the entire season.

It doesn't look that way now.


Kelly said having to go through the quarterback selection process again so soon after the Irish thought they'd found their man was a step backward. Now he'll be relying on tape to decide who will be starting this week's game at Michigan.

"Sometimes you want to evaluate: 'Was it as bad as you thought or was it better than you thought?'" Kelly said.

"You look at film, you get a better understanding of maybe it wasn't the quarterback's fault on this play, maybe it was some other factor. . . . So it won't be as much as what they do on the practice field; it'll be a decision based upon what we saw on film and who we think is the best quarterback right now moving forward."

With USF up 16-0, the extended halftime afforded the Irish time to go over some things with Rees, although both teams agreed not to look at video during the break.

"It gave us more chance to go over what we were doing and what they were doing against us with Tommy," Kelly said.

"So we spent a good amount of time with him just prepping on him, prepping with him on the plays that we were going to look toward in our menu. So it did give us some time to spend with Tommy."

Rees, who won four games as the starter to close last season after Crist was injured, looked much more comfortable and got the ball out quicker.

He completed 24 of 34 passes for 296 yards with a pair of TD passes to Michael Floyd, who finished with 12 catches and passed Jeff Samardzija as the school's career receptions leader. Rees also had a pair of interceptions, one of which bounced off receiver TJ Jones and deflected into the air - a play that prompted Kelly to get in Jones' face on the sideline.

Rees was also good last season in relief against Tulsa when Crist was hurt. He put up big numbers in that game - 33 of 54 for 334 yards with four TD passes - but also threw a last-second interception in a tough loss.

"Tommy goes in there, and the game is not difficult for him. He's obviously got to get better in a lot of areas, but he doesn't go into the game and appear at any time to be overwhelmed or anxious. We had some guys that were a little anxious in their first game. He doesn't have that," Kelly said. "He's always seemed very comfortable running out on the field."

Crist led the Irish straight down the field on the first series of the game against USF, connecting on a 31-yard swing pass to Cierre Wood on the first play and later hitting Floyd for 26 yards. Notre Dame went right to the 1 and was ready to take an early lead when backup tailback Jonas Gray fumbled after a strip by Jerrell Young and Kayvon Webster of South Florida picked it up and went 96 yards for a TD four minutes into the game.

It was a stunning swing in a matter of seconds.

After that play little went right for the Irish or Crist, who completed 7 of 15 passes and threw an interception in the end zone. Theo Riddick later muffed a punt and the Irish fell behind 16-0, never to catch up in a game that took nearly six hours because of two weather-related delays that prompted officials to evacuate fans from Notre Dame Stadium.

Next up is Michigan, which came into Notre Dame Stadium last season and, behind a spectacular performance by Denard Robinson, beat the Irish in the final seconds.

But that came after the Irish had won their opener against Purdue. Now they're already in a 0-1 hole. And there were plenty of problems other than the turnovers and penalties. Punter Ben Turk averaged only 34 yards on five punts and Riddick had trouble fielding punts all game long.

Riddick's speed is supposed to be a big plus on special teams.

"I was probably as nervous as anybody else when the ball went up in the air," Kelly said. " But we've got to get him through that. He's capable of doing it. He can track the ball. . . . He's got to get over that traffic that's coming down on him and concentrate on catching the ball."

Kelly said he saw some reasons for optimism, despite the loss to South Florida in Bulls coach Skip Holtz's return to Notre Dame, where his dad, Lou, led the Irish to their last national title in 1988.

"We probably played as poorly as we can play relative to execution," Kelly said.

" We played hard, we fought, we had great resolve. Our guys hung together. We played a lot of true freshmen, I think seven in total. So I really think our future is really bright. . . .

"We have to be able to clean up a lot of the mistakes, and they're really glaring when you play the kind of teams that we play at the start of our schedule."