Blue and Gold Illustrated

January 2018

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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Page 4 of 55 JANUARY 2018 5 T here is a quarterback problem in South Bend, and it has been brewing for years. Notre Dame has had several issues during head coach Brian Kelly's ten- ure that have kept it from contending for a national title in all but one of his eight seasons. At times the run game struggled, and other seasons the de- fense proved the most problematic. However, one underlying theme throughout his tenure has been quar- terback play that simply hasn't been good enough. Under Kelly, Notre Dame's signal- callers have completed 58.4 percent of their passes while averaging 3,127 passing yards, 24 touchdowns and 12 interceptions per season. Irish quarterbacks have thrown fewer than 10 interceptions in a season just three times — and that number drops to two if there is another inter- ception in Notre Dame's bowl game against LSU, which boasts the coun- try's ninth-best pass efficiency defense. During Kelly's tenure, Notre Dame passers have averaged a 134.57 quar- terback-efficiency rating and posted a rating better than 140 only three times — in 2014, 2015 (high of 152.2 when the Irish finished 10-3 and were a pair of two-point losses away from earning a spot in the four-team College Football Playoff) and 2016. This season was the worst with Irish signal-callers posting a rating of just 118.41, which ranked Notre Dame 103rd out of 129 teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision. There are three ingredients to play- ing championship football in the modern era. You have to play good defense, you need a competent run- ning game and you absolutely must get good quarterback play. Two of three or one of three isn't going to get it done. If you want to compete for championships you need all three components. From 2010-16, the first seven years of Kelly's tenure, quarterbacks for the na- tional champions completed 66.1 per- cent of their passes. The lowest com- pletion rate was 63.6 by Ohio State's quarterbacks in 2014. Only twice un- der Kelly has Notre Dame completed better than 60.0 percent of its passes — 63.8 in 2011 and 62.5 in 2015. Championship quarterbacks have averaged 28.6 touchdown passes and 10.0 interceptions, while compiling a collective 161.64 passer efficiency rat- ing. Simply put, Notre Dame hasn't been close to consistent champion- ship-caliber play from the position. If you want proof about how im- portant quarterback play is, all you need to do is take a look at Auburn. The Tigers went 8-5 in 2016 despite averaging 271.3 rushing yards per game and ranking seventh in the na- tion in scoring defense. This season, Auburn is averaging 237.7 yards per game on the ground and ranks ninth in scoring defense. Yet Auburn finished the regular season with a 10-2 record, beat Alabama 26-14 to end the regular season and played for the SEC title. The difference was at the quarter- back position. In 2016, Tiger quar- terbacks had 18 touchdown passes and six interceptions while posting a quarterback rating of 135.17. In 2017, following a 28-7 loss to Georgia in the SEC title game, Ti- ger quarterbacks had completed 67.0 percent of their passes with 23 touch- downs and just four interceptions while compiling a 153.44 rating. Three of the four College Football Playoff teams had at least a 160.26 pass efficiency rating this season — Okla- homa compiled a 206.90, Alabama fin- ished the regular season at 161.08 and Georgia was at 160.26. Only Clemson (138.50) had a below-standard quar- terback efficiency rating. What makes the 2017 season so frustrating is that when ND's quar- terback play was simply average to above average, the Irish offense was truly dominant. In the five games Notre Dame had a quarterback efficiency rating of at least 130.00 the offense averaged 39.4 points, 463.4 yards and 7.1 yards per play. The Irish won those contests by an average of 20.2 points. In the seven games that Notre Dame threw more touchdown passes than it did interceptions, the offense averaged 488.6 yards per game and 7.3 yards per play, and won all seven of those contests by an average score of 42.1-18.0. Notre Dame's defense ranked 20th in efficiency according to the Fre- meau Efficiency Index, while the run game averaged 279.1 yards per game and 6.4 yards per carry. Champion- ship-caliber quarterback play was all that was missing. Current starter Brandon Wimbush is going to receive the bulk of criti- cism for this season's play, but issues at the position go back to the begin- ning of Kelly's tenure. In his eight seasons as the head coach at Notre Dame, Kelly has had only one quarterback, Dayne Crist, start the opening game of a season for two consecutive years. And in the second of those starts, in 2011, Crist was replaced by Tom Rees after half- time of a 23-20 loss to South Florida. The turnover at quarterback can be attributed to many reasons — inju- ries, poor play, suspensions, transfers and leaving early for professional football. There has also been a lack of con- tinuity in coaching the position — Kelly has had five different QB men- tors during his tenure. Until some stability can be estab- lished at the position, Notre Dame will struggle to get championship play from its quarterbacks. The other two key ingredients are in place. Now it is up to the Irish to get the final piece where it needs to be. ✦ Quarterback Play Is The Missing Ingredient CLOSER LOOK BRYAN DRISKELL Bryan Driskell has been a football analyst for Blue & Gold Illustrated since April 2015. He can be reached at Quarterback play has suffered under head coach Brian Kelly, and that is what is ultimately keep- ing Notre Dame from championship contention. PHOTO BY ANGELA DRISKELL

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