SOUTH BEND – After watching the top returning quarterbacks perform poorly – yet again – in Saturday's Blue-Gold spring game, Notre Dame football followers have to wonder if indeed this is the end.
Has the carelessness and inaccuracy of Tommy Rees and Andrew Hendrix, coupled with the immaturity (on the field) of Gunner Kiel, left the Irish Nation without the one constant, which is hope, that has always carried this fan base through the past 22 years of non-championship level play?
“We saw some errors that are all too familiar,” Kelly said. “I think that there were some strides made, but clearly we are not there yet.”
Notre Dame fans have been witness to an abundance of mediocre football over the past 30-plus seasons. But through the Gerry Faust years; the Bob Davie era; the Ty Willingham recruiting malaise; the Charlie Weis losses to UConn, Navy, Syracuse, among others; and the Brian Kelly ‘We'll throw into double coverage with a freshman quarterback instead of kick a field goal vs. Tulsa' decisions; Irish followers have always been able to cling with a death-grip onto hope that next season would be the season that it all turned around.
But after watching Rees and Hendrix play Saturday, does any Notre Dame fan truly hold hope that the quarterback play will be sufficient enough to win road games against Michigan State, Oklahoma Miami, and USC, while beating Michigan in South Bend? Back away from the Grotto and answer that truthfully.
If there “were some strides made,” that is truly taking a half-full approach by Kelly in analyzing the play of Rees and Hendrix. At least half-full of something.
The two juniors combined to misfire on 12 of their 23 throws against a bland defensive scheme and both also threw drive-killing interceptions.
If the Notre Dame fans left with any positive feeling about the quarterback play it had to be the fact that sophomore Everett Golson demonstrated tremendous potential. However, any positive mojo was quickly snuffed out by Kelly himself at the post-game presser.
“We're making progress (with Golson),” Kelly explained, “but we are no where near where we need to be.”
Kelly later said that Golson's play gives him “a heart attack.”
So if you felt that completing 11 of 15 passes for a pair of scores and zero interceptions offered hope? Well, you were too hopeful.
Notre Dame finished last season by making enough plays on both sides of the ball to win games. Also, the Irish defense was stout; the running backs were productive behind a solid offensive line, and tight end Tyler Eifert appeared to be super human.
All of that was again part of Saturday's performance. In fact, one has to wonder what the Irish quarterback's completion percentage would be if indeed Eifert wasn't the most athletic tight end in the country. The Bishop Dwenger High School product has made a habit of spectacular catches each game and did so again on Saturday. His performance was enough to make NFL general managers cry that Eifert will be watching the NFL Draft on Thursday and not in the draft.
“Tyler is a guy that has to replace the production loss of (receiver) Michael Floyd,” Kelly said. “He's a guy that could play wide receiver, heck; he could play running back if we needed him to. He's an incredible athlete, a versatile player, so we are going to take advantage of that skill.”
Kelly said after the game that there is still plenty of time throughout the summer and into training camp for the quarterbacks to continue to improve. But four months is four months and not much has seemingly changed with the position since the Champs Sports Bowl.
“This summer they have to help themselves,” Kelly said. “The guy that really commits to the details this summer is probably the guy that is going to be the starter.”
Will Rees, Hendrix or Golson make enough progress during voluntary workouts in which they aren't even allowed to be instructed by the coaching staff? Notre Dame fans can only hope.