Your Weekly Quarterback LamentNumerous shaky moments, especially through the game's first 50 minutes, were included in Tommy Rees' sixth win as Notre Dame's starter. And after a weekend of second-guessing from fans and media alike, Kelly was asked if the lack of a running threat at quarterback is at the root of the offense's occasional struggles, a point game announcer Urban Meyer made during the telecast.
"I don't think that Denard Robinson is available, is he?" Kelly deadpanned. "I don't think you can debate that (lack of running element); there's no debating that. We know Tommy is not that threat, so we have to do other things to make certain that we put him in a position where we can run our offense effectively."
Contrary to popular belief, one of those necessities is not the need for more downfield throws. More downfield connections, on the other hand…
"We do a breakdown, a field chart breakdown (that records each passes destination), and you know, our breakdown is surprisingly pretty good. So when you think deep ball relative to our offense, for example, we're throwing at a high percentage in those vertical seam areas that we like to hit. We haven't necessarily (completed) as much as we would like, but we're pushing the ball in those areas, and I think that's most important, that we're pushing in those vertical areas that need to be stretched.
"We gotta get a couple more of them."
Areas for ImprovementMore important for Kelly than deep ball accuracy is that the fundamental skills for a successful quarterback be honed over the next two months and through bowl season. Kelly offered a sampling of those areas in need of improvement from Rees, or any young signal-caller.
"First, within the pocket, making that you have two hands on the football; not getting sloppy and being a quarterback that can get the ball stripped out of his hand," Kelly said, an obvious reference to Rees back-to-back weeks with a strip-sack-lost fumble.
"(Second) What I call ‘eye discipline' in other words, your movement key, are you staying with that eye discipline or are you moving towards looking at the rush and seeing other things (instead of) keeping your eyes down the field."
Kelly noted Rees has intermittently excelled with the latter – it's the other instances that have caused problems.
"At times really good; really good," said Kelly of Rees' eye progression. "And I think that's what we're really talking about…you can put together an incredible highlight reel with Tommy Rees this year. And you could also put together a blooper film. So it's really being able to gain that consistency of play after play after play. And a lot of that is learning and experience."
More accurate, where they are today.
"That's this year. We better not be talking about this stuff next year or there will be another quarterback playing," Kelly admitted. "But he is learning. Some of the body of his work is really good and some of it needs great improvement. And he knows that. I know that, and we believe that he's capable of being more consistent for a longer period of time."
In other words: 8.5 games isn't enough to evaluate a sophomore signal-caller.
(Editor's note: On the other hand, apparently the exact same total of halves played is enough to evaluate a senior QB…)
Kelly sees more than enough in Rees to believe he'll reach the level the staff expects of him: a BCS Bowl-level quarterback.
"What I want to concentrate on is some of the fundamentals of the quarterback play with Tommy, keep drilling the fundamentals because the ball comes out quickly. He's got an incredibly quick release," Kelly offered. "He may not have the strongest arm in the world, but he can get the ball out quickly, and it doesn't have to be a 70-yard pass to be a deep shot. So we just need to continue to work with the fundamentals with him, and he's got some really good intangibles that help the position as well."
Backup BrigadeRees' aforementioned shaky first three quarters Saturday caused color commentator and a guy that knows a little about spread quarterback play, Urban Meyer, to wonder aloud whether backup Dayne Crist might be called upon in Rees' stead.
Kelly stuck with Rees and was rewarded with a 9 for 9 finish through the air.
Crist, however, has been afforded his requisite snaps as a backup in an effort to keep the senior sharp should the need for his services arise.
"I'm most comfortable with that rotation," Kelly said of the division of labor during the week. "So we've stayed very close to that 60/40 (Rees/Crist) rotation."
Also remaining involved are the untested fan favorites, Everett Golson and Andrew Hendrix. Neither has been fully relegated to the Scout Team due partly to the presence of wide receiver Luke Massa – formerly a quarterback prospect.
"(Massa) helps out when necessary because we're still keeping Everett and Hendrix with (the varsity). We don't have any other quarterbacks…so they're getting some work on scouts. It's a rotation right now, and Luke just fills in a very small (part of it). He's a wide receiver, but he's a guy that can help us if we get into a bind.
What we're trying to do is keep all of those guys working in our offense," Kelly said of the Crist/Golson/Hendrix trio. "I don't want to send them down to demo squad and not see them again until April."
Kelly added the Golson/Hendrix pair gets "between 10 and 20 percent" of the week's practice snaps.
So…how do you really feel about the opening slate?A longer than usual pre-amble by Irish head coach Brian Kelly included no less than seven thinly or not-so-veiled references to the team's challenging September schedule (he mentioned the Big 10 on three occasions).
It's thus notable that Kelly was far more pleased with his team's effort Saturday in Pittsburgh than was the majority of the Irish fan base. It's likewise apparent he's aware of recent criticisms of his team's "ugly" approach.
"There are a lot of things that you have to build within your program relative to winning," Kelly began before offering the two main elements he looks for are ‘poise and confidence down the stretch.'
"And I think the best example is Auburn last year who won the National Championship. I think they had six games that they played where they won late or in overtime or won by just a couple of points. I know on my Cincinnati team where we went 12-0, we had a number of games that were decided on the last possession.
"Poise to me is the ability to raise your level of concentration when it's most needed. That you can't talk about. You have to go demonstrate that. Confidence is the trust in your teammates that they're going to do their job so you don't have to do theirs. And those are hard to get…of all the wins that we've had, that was the first time that we exhibited in 2011 poise and confidence," he said before admitting the Irish failed in that regard vs. Michigan."
As referenced often on these pages since last November, Kelly's Irish fare much better in games played (relatively) close to the vest. Saturday's was the third win of his 10 in South Bend that included more than 35 pass attempts; each of the seven losses has exceeded the number.
"I look at the first two weeks where we averaged over 500 yards in offense and we lost both games," Kelly said. "For me it's really about winning games and making certain that we do that. I'd rather do that and be ‘out-coached' and, you know, ‘win ugly' and do all those things, but at the end of the day win the football game.
"Beauty points, style points I'm not really interested in those things."
Kelly hinted that improvement is essential if the Irish are to win at a higher rate than his current 10 win/7 loss pace in South Bend. "Would I like to play better? Certainly. Do we want to take care (of the football)? Absolutely. All those things are absolutely crucial. But I don't think this is a matter (that) we're not moving forward. I think it's still about building some more of those important components that I believe are necessary for long-term winning."
In other words, building a championship caliber unit, while winning by any means necessary in the present, is tougher than fans care to admit.