Notre Dame QB Dayne Crist gets C-plus for first 5 games
It's not easy learning Brian Kelly's spread offense on the fly. But Dayne Crist is getting there.
After five games, Crist ranks 59th among NCAA Division I quarterbacks with a 129.93 passer efficiency rating. He's completed 113-of-194 passes for 1,358 yards, 10 touchdowns and four interceptions. For the record, Michigan's Denard Robinson is fourth (179.97), Michigan State's Kirk Cousins is 13th (164.82) and Stanford's Andrew Luck is 21st (157.54).
Notre Dame offensive coordinator Charley Molnar, who previous quarterbacks under Kelly swear by, gave Crist a C-plus for his early season performance, which sounds about right compared to previous quarterbacks in Kelly's offense.
''The last game [against Boston College] he showed the most understanding [of the offense] of all the games he's played,'' Molnar said. ''Would he like to take some throws back and some decisions back? Sure, he would. But he's definitely made improvement from the first game to the fifth.''
Kelly and Molnar are comfortable with Crist's rate of progression and expect him -- and the Notre Dame offense -- to be better in the second half of the season. And there's little reason to doubt them. Crist's performance so far is consistent with the statistical norm for a first-time quarterback in Kelly's offense.
Crist's completion percentage of 58.3, for instance, is the second-lowest for a quarterback in Kelly's offense. The only one lower was Central Michigan's Kent Smith (55.8) in 2004 -- like Crist an inexperienced junior learning the spread offense in Kelly's first year at the school.
But Smith improved as he the season went on. In his first six games, he completed 51.6 percent of his passes and had a 105.10 efficiency rating. In his final five games, he completed 60.8 percent of his passes and had a 137.83 efficiency rating.
And it showed up on the scoreboard. Central Michigan averaged 18.2 points in its first six games, 30.2 points in its final five (26.0 in regulation).
In the spread offense, completion percentage is more an indication of the players' familiarity with the offense than the accuracy of the quarterback's passes. The throws themselves are not difficult. But if Crist thinks Kyle Rudolph is breaking right and he breaks left, it's an incompletion. If he calls the wrong protection and a defender comes clean, more often than not it's an incompletion. If Theo Riddick doesn't know he's the hot receiver, it's an incompletion.
And completion percentage is the key statistic in the spread. Completions lead to first downs and provide the rhythm and pace that make the spread so lethal. It's no coincidence that the two most accurate passers in Kelly's system -- Curt Anes at Grand Valley State in 2001 (69.7 percent) and 2002 (67.1) and Zach Collaros at Cincinnati in 2009 (75.0) were a combined 30-0 as a starter.
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