The 83rdannual Blue Gold game culminated spring practice for the 2012 season. The game helped shed light on the much talked about battle for the starting quarterback job. Inconsistent play and turnovers plagued the position last season, which has led to an open competition this spring, between candidates Tommy Rees, Andrew Hendrix, Everett Golson, and Gunner Kiel.
Rees was the starter for the Irish last season and presents the only experienced option at quarterback. Rees started every game for the Irish last season with the exception of the season opener versus USF. Rees holds a 12-4 career record as a starter with wins over programs such as USC, Miami, and Michigan State. However, Rees is turnover prone and inconsistent. Last season Rees recorded 2871 yards passing and 20 touchdowns, but also threw 14 interceptions. Rees also lacks the ability to extend plays with his feet, which is essential in a spread offense. Rees was sacked 13 times last season and had a season long run of only eight yards.
Rees started the Blue Gold game and went 7-14 passing for 84 yards and one interception, while struggling to make certain throws and looking largely mediocre.
Rees’s turnovers and lack of athletic ability was the difference between winning and losing in many games last season. With Rees lacking a strong arm and mobility the Irish are limited on offense, and with talented, athletic options behind him, Rees will need to improve because experience alone will not keep him atop the Irish depth chart.
The second player figuring into the Irish quarterback battle is Andrew Hendrix. Hendrix is the only other quarterback besides Rees to have seen playing time for the Irish in the past. Hendrix showed signs of brilliance in his relief appearance of Rees versus Stanford. Hendrix threw for 249 yards, a touchdown, and two interceptions last season, the majority of which coming versus Stanford.
Hendrix is a good athlete, with a solid arm and an ability to make plays in the running game. He represents a capable option for the quarterback position in the spread offense. Hendrix recorded 51 yards passing, one touchdown, and one interception, on 4-9 passing in the Blue Gold game. The only question that remains regarding Hendrix is his decision making. Last season Hendrix completed less than 50 percent of his passes, a trend that continued in the Blue Gold game. Also Hendrix is interception prone, and the Irish can’t afford to repeat last year’s performance on offense when it comes to turnovers.
The third and possibly most intriguing option at quarterback is redshirt freshman Everett Golson. Golson is the prototypical spread quarterback, possessing great speed and a cannon arm, allowing him to make all the throws required and open up space as the defense must respect his ability to run.
Golson was the third quarterback to get on the field in the spring game but quickly stole the show, recording 120 yards and two touchdowns on 11-15 passing, a performance that has led to the vast majority of fans clamoring for Golson to be the starter. However, Golson is unproven with no playing time at the college level yet, and with head coach Brian Kelly saying Golson’s decision making can give him heart attacks, it is unknown if Kelly will pin the season’s hopes on the redshirt freshman.
The final member of the quartet battling for the starting job at quarterback is true-freshman, blue-chip recruit, and Indiana native Gunner Kiel. Kiel did not see time in the spring game until the second half, in which the offense was made up of walk-ons and depth players.
Kiel went 5-10 passing, for 57 yards and one interception. Kiel also ran the ball well and didn’t shy away from contact electing to challenge tacklers instead of sliding. Despite his promise it is apparent that Kiel will likely redshirt this seasons barring injuries at the position.
With the poor play at the position last season and the fact a starter hasn’t been named yet the debate will continue as to who the starter should be. The recent arrest of Tommy Rees also clouds the picture as his future with the team is uncertain at the time. If Rees misses any practice time or is suspended for any length of time during the season his chances of winning the starting job would be crushed. It would appear the Irish must choose between the status quo of Rees who represents experience but lack of athletic ability, or the inexperience and potential of Hendrix or Golson.