ND/USF: The QB Controversy

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post-game write-up, I wanted to devote an entire post to the QB controversy that ND now finds itself in.

I have rewatched the game again, taken notes on each offensive play, and broken down each QBs performance.  I will post my findings on the stats, but also go beyond the numbers as well.  Personally, I still feel that Kelly had too short a leash on Crist and that he shouldn’t have been pulled from the game.  We got far too small a sample size for one, and as I will be showing in this post, Crist was much more of a victim of the play around him than most are giving credit for.

This isn’t to say Rees didn’t play well because he definitely did, but I question Kelly’s thought process on why Crist was yanked so early.  If you are certain that Crist is your top QB, you give more time than just a half, especially since the rest of the team needed to settle down as well.

But anyways, let’s get on to the breakdown.  Below are the basic stat lines for each QB:

Comp Att Comp % Yards Avg TD INT
Crist 7 15 46.67% 95 6.33 0 1
Rees 24 34 70.59% 296 8.71 2 2


Obviously, we don’t have too much to go on as far as Crist’s basic stats go.  Rees clearly had a solid performance and the INT number is misleading as one of them came off of T.J. Jones’ head.

Let’s go a bit deeper into the stats.  A lot of the criticism on Crist is that while he was in, the offense was flat and that he couldn’t covert third downs.  Blow is a look at the number of first downs each QB got on their six drives and how each performed on third down:

1st Downs By Pass By Penalty By Run 3rd Downs Faced Pass Conversion Run Conversion
Crist 9 5 0 4 6 0 0
Rees 15 11 3 1 5 3 1


Again, Rees by far has the better performance here, although it is quite interesting to note that Rees was the only QB that benefited from USF penalty mistakes, one of which came on a fourth down.  Take those three first downs away, and Rees has only 12 first downs, which is somewhat comparable to Dayne.

Of course, the major numbers that stand out for Crist are the zero third down conversions; however, if you dig a bit deeper:

Att Bad Throws Drops Great Catches Bad Throw % Drop % Great Catch %
Crist 15 4 3 0 26.67% 20.00% 0.00%
Rees 34 7 4 4 20.59% 11.76% 11.76%


And now we have the real story of the game.  Just to note, here is how I defined the above stats:

  • Bad Throws – Balls that were overthrown, underthrown, etc…basically balls that weren’t going to be caught
  • Drops – Balls that hit the receiver’s hands and failed to complete the catch (Jones’ off-the-head INT counts too)
  • Great Catches – Any catch the required the receiver to leave their feet in order to make the catch

While Crist did have a slightly higher percentage of bad throws, Rees definitely had far more chances to even his stats out.  Rees was accurate, made some great passes, but he was far from perfect; in fact, some of his bad throws game at the worst possible times.  Of course, you have the INT after the second weather delay, but you also have Rees overthrowing Wood right before Ruffer’s missed FG, and he made another awful throw on the failed 2-point conversion fade attempt to Floyd.

The big standout number that Crist had 20% of his passes dropped. That’s just flat out inexcusible.  The drops happened at the worst possible times too.  Before Crist’s memorable INT, T.J. Jones dropped what would’ve been a TD pass.  Two more passes were dropped on third down as well.

Yes, that’s 3 of Crist’s 5 failed third down conversions accounted for right there.  Another one of those failed third downs was Jonas Gray’s heartbreaking fumble after a stellar drive.  The final third down that Crist failed was 100% his fault though as he completely overthrew Floyd.

Rees was also very much a beneficiary of his receivers making much better plays and dropping far fewer passes.  I credit this to both halftime adjustments and ND using the weather delay to settle everyone down and get back into gear.  After the lengthy delay, the defense came out on fire and causes a USF three and out.  To top it off, USF had a horrid punt on top of that.  Momentum was squarely on ND’s side and ND finally got a break as USF jumped offside.  All was going so well until T.J. Jones had a ball go off his head.

Now should be a good time to note that’s two drives T.J. Jones helped to blow up.  You could credit him with 14 blown ND points if you really want to.  It’s unreal how his poor play has gone completely under the radar.

Another thing that has been noted by several people is that Rees got Floyd the ball.  For me, that’s a direct result of halftime adjustments, not a result of Crist “avoiding” Floyd as he definitely targeted him.  On my notes, I have “Floyd Curl”, “Floyd Screen”, “Floyd Slant” and “Floyd Look Pass” written down all over the place.  ND noticed USF was giving Floyd too much room out of fear of being beat deep and ND took advantage.

The there were two real successful “long shots” at Floyd.  One was a great ball thrown into a cover-2 window on a go route, and the other was another go route (possibly a hot-route as well) in which Floyd beat single coverage on a blitz (that was picked up very well by Wood).  There was a third attempt at a long route, to Floyd but that was Rees’ poor decision to throw to Floyd in double coverage.

In conclusion, I still feel like we have two very comparable QBs and the performance by both isn’t quite as far apart as people might think.  I would’ve loved to have seen Crist come back out with the Irish after they had settled down after the rain delay, especially considering how well he lead the Irish on the first drive.

As far as next week though, after seeing what happened last week, it doesn’t matter who comes out under center for the Irish under the lights.  I fully believe both QBs give us a chance to win.  What I do want to see is Kelly stick to his starter for the whole game if another situation like last week comes up.  If the start throws three awful INTs, yeah, yank him, but if everyone around him is dropping balls and fumbling, Kelly needs to restrain from the knee-jerk reaction that he displayed this week.

  • Herring Bone Sports (Steve Herring)

    Hey, that’s some great stuff. I appreciate you taking the time to break down the reality of things out of Crist/Rees control. I’m with you that Dayne Crist got a quick hook and may not get a chance to show his stripes.

    Would love a look at my breakdown (less stats, more commentary) on my new ND Blog-

    I even noticed we’re using the same theme. Gotta love Suffusion.

  • http://twitter.com/tricerapops Jesse (@tricerapops)

    I’m with you on the short leash point, but I kind of expected it going into the first game. BK said during his pressers, that he had to go outside of stats to pick the starter (because everything up until that point had been so even between DC and TR – a point you illustrate further in the stats above). That meant that he had to go to intangibles to determine who would be best suited to lead the team. The risk in this is that no matter how hard you slice/dice it, it’s a gut feel. We’ve been there before where we immediately regret a gut decision – and depending on the situation, you adjust. I believe BK saw something in that first half that didn’t sit well with him, and totally flew in the face of the gut decision he made. He weighed the options and realized that he had a capable backup that was drilled in the entire playbook AND had the benefit of splitting reps up until gameweek. So at worst, the backup wasn’t prepping as the starter for the few days leading up to Saturday – so in his mind, I’m thinking that BK could live with the halftime hook on Crist and ‘gamble’ a bit.

    It’s not a big gamble though, if you think about it – and given his track record of swapping out QBs (at least at Cincy), this wasn’t against his nature to tap Rees for the 2nd half. Now, he can’t go about this in every game, because I don’t think we have viable options outside of our 1 and 2 guys – and if we go to Hendrix/Golson – we’re dealing with a tailored playbook (lessons learned from 2010). I have a feeling he’ll stick with Rees, and the optimist in me thinks Rees will make his decision to do so easy (by playing lights out in the Big House).