October 16, 2013 // Notre Dame Football

One Quarterback Away

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Sep 14, 2013; West Lafayette, IN, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish coach Brian Kelly leads his team onto the field before the game against the Purdue Boilermakers at Ross Ade Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Sep 14, 2013; West Lafayette, IN, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish coach Brian Kelly leads his team onto the field before the game against the Purdue Boilermakers at Ross Ade Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

When Brian Kelly accepted the head coaching position at the University of Notre Dame on a frigid December day in 2009, the expectations were clear. Kelly, as the USA Today reported, would bring with him to South Bend a “quick-strike spread offense and the promise of sunnier Saturdays.” While the sun has graced the Notre Dame skyline more than at any point since the Holtz era, the “quick-strike” reference may leave Irish heads scratching.

Notre Dame’s success under the Kelly regime has come courtesy of Notre Dame’s defense, throwing a curve ball to fans and critics alike that had shown tepidness to the idea of hiring another offensive guru after the failed tenure of former head coach Charlie Weis. Notre Dame’s total offensive production under Kelly has ranked nationally at the 61st, 35th and 54th positions respectively, and currently holds the 86th spot in 2013, a far cry from the offensive fireworks that helped Kelly climb the job ladder. Why have we seen his offensive firework show misfire time and again at Notre Dame?

Whether dual threat or pro-style, in Brian Kelly’s offense it’s all about quarterback production, and the instability at the quarterback position since Kelly’s arrival has stalled Notre Dame’s offensive progress.

Kelly made a name for himself with his ability to spot and develop talent. At Grand Valley State University, his first head coaching position, he recruited a quarterback named Curt Anes from East Kentwood High School in Kentwood, Michigan, a prospect receiving little recruiting attention due to his team utilizing a run-centric Wing-T offense. Fast-forward several years and Anes had accumulated two national titles, a 28-1 record and oversaw an offense that averaged over 58.4 points per game and a still-standing Division II record 600 yards per game. Anes combined for 3,859 yards and 55 touchdowns in 11 games, averaging 350 yards and 5 touchdowns per contest, which led to capturing the Harlon Hill Trophy, the Division II equivalent of the Heisman Trophy.

Not bad for a quarterback whose primary duty in high school was to hand the ball off to a stable of running backs.

The process was repeated at Central Michigan, Kelly’s next coaching stop. Kelly targeted a largely unknown 2-star quarterback prospect from Illinois named Dan LeFevour who boasted only four scholarship offers, one of which hailed from the Division II ranks. LeFevour was so under the radar that he was listed as a “pro-style” quarterback, a laughable notion considering he would eventually become the second quarterback in NCAA history to throw for over 3,000 yards and rush for over 1,000 in the same season (the first quarterback accomplishing this feat being former Texas star, Vince Young).

Kelly started LeFevour immediately as a true freshman and the unknown 2-star “pro-style” quarterback amassed 3,552 yards – 521 of which were with his feet – and 33 touchdowns, propelling Central Michigan to a 9-win season and a MAC Championship that ultimately landed Kelly in Cincinnati.

The Cincinnati Bearcats offered Kelly an opportunity to flash his versatility and adaptability. Kelly inherited a pro-style quarterback with limited mobility in Tony Pike. During Cincinnati’s 2009 undefeated regular season, Pike completed 62.4% of his passes for 2,520 yards and 29 touchdowns, winning in explosive fashion even without a staple mobile quarterback (though Zach Collaros, a dual threat quarterback Kelly recruited and was molding for the future, filled in for Pike at spots when Pike was injured).

So why has Kelly’s offense succeeded everywhere but Notre Dame? The instability speaks for itself. Three days prior to Kelly being announced as the new head of Notre Dame, starting Quarterback Jimmy Clausen, fresh off a season where he completed 68% of his passes for 3,722 yards and 28 touchdowns to only 4 interceptions, chose to forego his final year of eligibility and enter the NFL Draft. Clausen told ESPN, “Coach Weis told me whether he was going to be here or not be here, it was time for me to go.” After Weis’ suggestion for Clausen to depart, Kelly inherited Dayne Crist, an inexperienced former 5-star high school quarterback rehabbing an ACL injury suffered the previous season against Washington State.

Crist, though possessing 5-star character as well as 5-star intangibles, would never pan out at the collegiate level, leaving Tommy Rees, a former 3-star quarterback with mostly MAC offers, to take the reins. It is a testament to Rees’ competitive drive and Kelly’s ability to develop and maximize talent that Notre Dame has been able to defeat the likes of Michigan, USC and Miami with a quarterback who, through no fault of his own, is limited physically in his ability to counter certain defensive schemes.

Throughout all of the ups and downs, the ins and outs of Crist and Rees throughout the years, Kelly finally landed his quarterback in Everett Golson. After sitting out his freshman season to soak in his college surroundings and learn the offense, Golson nabbed the starting job his redshirt freshman year, racking up 2,700 yards and 18 touchdowns as he helped lead Notre Dame to its first undefeated regular season in decades. His progression trajectory was so high that prior to the start of the 2013 season Golson was listed on the Heisman watch list by CBSSports. Notre Dame was finally on the cusp of a Kelly offense for 2013.

And then it happened.

In May of 2013 the story broke that Golson had been suspended for poor academic judgment and would miss the 2013 season. Once again, as with Crist before him, Rees would emerge as Notre Dame’s starter to replace the departed Golson. One look at Notre Dame’s current depth at the quarterback position tells of the instability since Kelly’s arrival. Only one quarterback currently on the team – true freshman Malik Zaire – was recruited by Brian Kelly.

After years of playing musical quarterbacks, it appears 2014 is when stability will finally be achieved. Should Everett Golson return from his suspension and Hendrix claim his fifth year of eligibility, the quarterback depth chart will consist of Everett Golson, Malik Zaire, Andrew Hendrix and current 2014 commitment DeShone Kizer. Every quarterback will have dual threat capability, and three of the four players will have been recruited by Brian Kelly.

Armed with arguably the best back-to-back offensive line recruiting classes in the nation, a deep, talented and youthful wide receiver corps and immense talent ceilings of running backs Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston, the explosive offensive potential is finally within eyesight.

The impending 2014 firework show will be overdue, but well worth the wait.

Scott Janssen is a blogger for the Huffington Post and has authored several nationally-featured articles as well as co-founded a nationally-featured non-profit organization. In his spare time he takes his NCAA Football ’13 online dynasty way too seriously and alienates those around him by discussing football 24 hours a day. Scott can be reached at scottjanssenhp@gmail.com.

Comments to this Article

  • upthera44 commented on October 16th, 2013 at 5:52 pm

    Yes, there’s tremendous offensive potential. On the other hand, you gotta worry about what has been Kelly’s bread-and-butter so far at ND: the defense. D-Line, Linebacker especially will be pretty flimsy, and the rest of the defense somewhat unproven.

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  • KEVIN HURLEY commented on October 16th, 2013 at 8:46 pm

    I’m excited. (understatement being the rhetorical tool I use)

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  • TRirish55 commented on October 16th, 2013 at 11:29 pm

    Good read I’m ESP stoked about the 5 O linemen they got this year to go along with a deep WR recruiting haul lets see what happens go IRISH!!!!!! Beat SC and embrace the hate!

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  • JC commented on October 17th, 2013 at 1:01 am

    We are beyond the legendary National Championship marker year for ND. I am not looking forward to next year’s QB derby. I don’t see the incentive for Hendrix to come back for a fifth year. Kinzer will probably not play his 1st year. However, if Golson returns as planned he will start and more than likely 5-Star Zaire will leave. BK has no intention of playing Zaire this year unless Rees is sidelined with an injury. Therefore, Zaire goes up against Golson with zero game experience next spring. Not to mention, the special QB training in CA Golson is receiving while on suspenion, is certainly a great advantage for him. See any disadvantage here for Zaire? BK said: “Golson will have to win back the starting position.” Wink, Wink! So does anyone really believe 5-Star Zaire will ride the pine behind Golson? Golson is definitely BK’s only hope to win a NC next year with fingers crossed. Like the above post, the defense will be questionable and we will be down to putting up big scoring numbers to win a National Championship. So if we end up with only two QB’s next year it will be a real problem if an injury would enter into the equation. Further, if we don’t win a BCS bowl this year, it seems highly unlikely we will win a NC next year. Yeah, it all looks great on paper vs CW for a pay raise but is that a true indicator for winning National Championships? How about Nick Saban makes 5.5 million per year for starters and on his way to his fourth National Championship in year six! Until we religiously analyze our stats inside and out vs Bama’s, we are clueless about the current mountain climb to a National Championship!

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  • vern3000 commented on October 17th, 2013 at 1:26 am

    Love this line….”And then it happened”

    I think this season will forever be defined by that moment. I’m super excited about 2014 BUT, because of “that moment” I’m reluctant to get too excited. Transfers, Injuries, academics, etc. Let’s hope none of these affect the QB position this off season.

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  • Peter S Murutz commented on October 17th, 2013 at 4:23 am

    Don’t know what JC is thinking. Next season will be such a relief with Golson supposedly coming back and Zaire backing up. Having the option of flat-footed Rees out of the equation will be totally refreshing. Our offense will flourish with those 2 and someone opening up their brain and getting Folston and Bryant and Mahone some touches. Zaire’s a good kid and I feel disappointed that he’s not being played this season. Red shirting is an old mode of excuse. I cannot wait for this season to end and for us to get ready to begin a new era with Golson.

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  • Toulmin H. Brown commented on October 17th, 2013 at 6:10 am

    So why has Kelly’s offense succeeded everywhere but Notre Dame?

    University Leadership.

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    Ron replied on October 17th, 2013 at 8:10 am

    Please explain this??

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    Ron Burgundy replied on October 17th, 2013 at 10:44 am

    There is no explanation, this is the same guy who thinks Purdue and Temple are outstanding teams.

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    Scott Janssen replied on October 17th, 2013 at 8:17 am

    Hopefully you’re not referencing Golson’s situation when you speak of university leadership. While the loss of Golson was truly a blow, I’m proud I cheer for our school that wouldn’t make an exception for a star player. And should Golson tough it out and come back, I’ll be proud of him for overcoming adversity and returning.

    Not many universities would have handled the situation the way Notre Dame did. That’s a point of pride, not a shortcoming.

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    JC replied on October 17th, 2013 at 9:54 pm

    Amen Scott Amen!

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  • C-Dog commented on October 17th, 2013 at 11:00 am

    Call me a skeptic, but I am concerned that the academic requirements are the cause. ND players simply don’t have time to practice on their own. While the NCAA limits weekly practice, film, games study, and game time, there is a loophole that allows players to do any of that “on their own”. That is how Pete the Cheat circumvented the spirit of the rules. It’s easy to run a two hour practice to set game strategy when the players have already done workouts and drills on their own time. And it’s a lot easier when class attendence is not required. That is the difference. The timing requireed to run these quick strike offenses requires much repetition. Instead of physics at 10 AM you find a field with your buddies and work on quick routes and timing patterns. Smash mouth Stanford style fits the needs of a real academic institution with stricterd rules. My concern is that Kelly’s offensive style may not fit Notre Dame’s academic standards.

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    Shazamrock replied on October 17th, 2013 at 11:47 am

    C-Dog,

    According to “Forbs” the Top 10 Academic schools (in order) that play Div I college football are:

    Stanford
    Duke
    Northwestern
    ND
    Navy
    Virginia
    Michigan
    Air Force
    Rice
    Boston College

    The ony ones to ever win a national championship were Stanford (in the 1920’s) Navy (in the 1920’s) Boston College (in 1940 under Frank Leahy) ND (25yrs ago in 1988) and Michigan(16 yrs ago in 1997)

    These facts would appear to support your theory.

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    C-Dog replied on October 17th, 2013 at 1:38 pm

    Shaz,
    Wow, I didn’t know those details, ( aside from ND of course ). I want to qualify my remarks a bit. I do think a National Championship is possible. Stanford is a contender since Crazy Jim Harbaugh put his program in place. His successor may be an even better coach. Tough defense and an offense that can beat you down field but also will slug you in the gut is a formula that can co-exist with reasonable academic requirements. Strength and conditioning can be maintained even with a solid classroom workload. Smart kids can learn a Stanford style system via playbook and decision making als within the confines of academic responsibilities. But offenses requiring coordinated quick decisions both by the QB and Recievers and Backs, as well as the timing required to execute those decisions take time to hone. I wonder whether teammates can practice together when they have actual classroom responsibilities throughout the week.
    Matt Leinert had a lot of time on his hands when his only class was a 1 CREDIT BALLROOM DANCING CLASS. That’s one hour a week, with a minimum of 40 free hours for voluntary practice time with the boys.
    It is amazing that not so many USC players have distinguished themselves post college days, while a significant number of ND players are getting solid time in the Pros.

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    C-Dog replied on October 17th, 2013 at 1:40 pm

    And so the question is not whether ND and Kelly can win it all, but rather whether he needs to consider a different offense, given time constraints and classroom responsibilities. Frankly, I still want to know first that the players are earning real degrees. Learn to win with that non-negotiable tradition.

    SteelFanBob replied on October 17th, 2013 at 4:28 pm

    It was technically 2 credit hours for ballroom dancing. He red shirted his Freshmen year and took summer school throughout so he only needed 2 credits to graduate. Nothing illegal.

    Many kids projected to get drafted try to leave a very small number of credit hours for their final spring semester which allows them time to get ready for the combine. Nothing new here.

    I’d like to pose a question to the group. I’ve read on here that most of you claim ND does not recruit kids who have committed, I find this laughable. All coaches recruit kids who have verbally committed, it’s their job. Furthermore, this weekend ND will host Bo Scarbrough who is a very talented RB. He also happens to be a Alabama commit.

    Which leads me to this question: you all claim that ND has student athletes on its roster (of which I wholeheartedly agree); however, you also claim that those that go to tOSU or SEC schools are thugs. So, if Bo eventually goes to ND is he a scholar athlete or if he goes to Bama does he then become a illiterate thug who doesn’t go to class?

    I know the name calling will now ensue but I’d really like to know our thoughts. Btw, not a Bama fan so this is just an example.

    Shazamrock replied on October 18th, 2013 at 7:27 am

    SF-Bob,

    I agree that ND leaves the door open or even continues to pursue verbally committed players, but I also believe that once a player has signed his letter of intent they respect that decision.

    As far as student Athletes, various schools, and scholars vs thugs go, I think college is all about oppertunities
    and how those oppertunities are utilized by the student athlete is what’s defining.

    For example, Ohio State won a National Title in 2002 behind QB Craig Krenzel (who went 24-3 as a starter at OSU)
    Krenzel Majored in Molecular Genetics, spent a lot of his spare time working in a local hospital on cancer reasearch, graduated as a 5th year senior with a 3.75 GPA and was instramental in helping his team win a National Championship on the football field.

    Here is a quality person, who made the most of his university’s oppertunities, got a quality education and succeeded on and off the field, because of what he put into it.

    That 2002 Ohio State National Championship team lead by Krenzel, also just happened to be the same team that fielded Maurice Clarett.

  • clubgitmo commented on October 17th, 2013 at 2:19 pm

    I still say Kelly’s play calling is lacking especially in the red zone. A big reason why offense just hasn’t lived up to expectations.

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  • SteelFanRob commented on October 17th, 2013 at 4:54 pm

    SteelFanBob,

    I agree with you that it’s naive to think ND doesn’t continue to recruit committed players. BK and staff would be remiss in their duties if they failed to pursue to the last possible moment any recruit showing an interest in ND. The problem is continuing to recruit kids after they’ve signed their LOI. That’s a real problem. I’m not saying UCLA did that with Vanderdoes but the suspicion is there regardless.

    As for your other point, it’s not that you don’t have student-athletes at OSU or in the SEC. Of course there are, in fact, very good ones. Just not to the same extent that at the schools listed above by Shaz, and the academic demands of programs like Bama can’t compare to Stanford or ND. Bo Scarbrough notwithstanding, I bet you 75% of Bama’s recruits wouldn’t qualify (I mean REALLY qualify) for ND or could successfully do well in the classroom in S. Bend.

    No name calling required, SFB, in this case since you didn’t use any yourself and you raised valid points. There’s a difference between being a wise ass and just an ass. Keep up this kind of sane and civilized discourse and you’ll note peoples’ attitudes toward you will change. No coincidence there.

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  • Green Day commented on October 17th, 2013 at 8:08 pm

    Golson comes back next year and is a lock? That shouldn’t be but well may be the case because Kelly redshirted Zaire. Put yourself in Zaire’s shoes, what would you do? Wanna play somewhere?? Absolutely. There is more Golson and Zaire’s in the pipeline so what are we waiting for? Does anyone think if Zaire started to get reps thisnyear we would be worse than 4-2? Wait till next season is the philosophy? Yeah someone like Saban would profess this? Every game in college football is a championship game for the title unlike the pros.

    Scholars vs Athletes, lets get real. First of all the service academies should be in the Ivy League rather than get beat up by FBS teams. They don’t deserve that with their academic schedules and the type courses they take. They blow away Harvard, Yale and the Browns as far as schedule of athletics and time management for academics hands down. Go ahead Ivy boys debate that.

    I’m not sure ND will ever be the power house they were in the 20th century. Last year was a tease and not sure how accurate of a powerhouse they were other than their record but were back to reality this year and still have no votes of credibility based on rankings. Four other teams in the top 25 with 2 loses ahead of us? If we go 10-2 we should go to a BCS Bowl? I’m not sure of the remaining schedule that it is justified but I would take it of course. Though, don’t think we need to worry bout that.

    In college football every game and every play is the National Championship. WTF is Kelly and staff calling the plays waiting for. Oh yeah next year………

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    JC replied on October 17th, 2013 at 9:45 pm

    Now, now, Green Day! You don’t want to upset the KellyCare Polyanna club here. We are on our way to a National Championship! Just follow the Yellow Brick Road! We have no real competition other than ourselves! Just ask them, they are smarter than Nick Saban and now Bill Gates! Amazing!

    GooooooooIrish! Stomp USC!

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  • Storespook commented on October 17th, 2013 at 11:03 pm

    Is there an actual commitment or confirmation Golson is even going to be back next year. If there is, great (I must if missed that if there is). The article is correct. After 4 years, we are no where near the offense that was hoped for (and somewhat proclaimed when BK was hired). So to yet hear of promises “about next year” starts to ring a little hollow at this point. I am getting use again to the fair hair wonder boy qb’ing this offense.

    Lets go Irish

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