Going into Notre Dame's Blue-Gold game to end the spring football season, most of the talk was on the four-man quarterback race between Tommy Rees, Andrew Hendrix, Everett Golson and freshman Gunner Kiel. After watching the game, it appears to really be a three-man race as Kiel does not yet look ready and will likely redshirt.
The game itself actually featured the defense getting the better end of the fight as well as standout performances by other skill position players on offense. The loss of Michael Floyd is a real concern heading into the season. Theo Riddick and Tyler Eifert both looked as though they can help fill the gap. Both had big games.
Cierre Wood did not play much but looked solid in the cameo appearance he made. Sophomore George Atkinson, who was known last year as the kickoff return specialist, made a strong bid for more playing time at running back next fall. The only negative was that he fumbled twice. With the departure of Jonas Gray, somebody has to step up. Wood cannot be the only runner.
Now for the quarterbacks, which is what all the spotlight was on. Six turnovers was a disappointment considering last season it was the mistakes that really held this team back from what could have been. Based on the fact that Notre Dame does seem to have playmakers all within the offense, the starting quarterback should be the guy who will turn it over the least.
One would think that that would be Rees based on the style of quarterback he is. He is not a great athlete with a great arm, but he is 12-4 as a starter. You would think a quarterback like that wouldn't turn the ball over. However, his 19 turnovers last year say otherwise. Rees did have a stretch last year of looking good, but he fell apart at Stanford and against Florida State.
Who should start?
The way he started the spring game, it looked as though he made no growth at all in the area of turnovers. The interception he threw was just a bad decision. It is one thing to see a defender make an outstanding play and get the pick, but the easy ones are unacceptable.
Rees did end strong with a nice execution of a two-minute drill. He threw the ball well and moved the team down the field while managing the clock. However, it really was the running game that finished it off and found the end zone.
Hendrix really was not impressive at all. The way the day started, it looked like it would be his day as he hit Eifert with an early score. However, that drive was all Wood, and Hendrix really only had the one good pass. After that, Hendrix did not do much at all. He also had an interception similar to that of Rees.
The most impressive quarterback was clearly Golson. He was 11 of 15 for 120 yards and two touchdowns. He also had 25 yards on the ground. The most important stat was no interceptions. However, he did fumble twice. On a few occasions, he did not look like he was quite ready to lead the offense based on his body language. That should improve with experience.
Kiel played the entire second half with the running clock. He looked very raw, in all honesty. Unless he makes huge leaps in the summer, he will likely redshirt this fall.
So who will ultimately win the starting job? I am really torn on that. If I were Brian Kelly, it would be between Rees and Golson. Rees will be heading into his junior year and is 12-4 as a starter. Neither Brady Quinn nor Jimmy Clausen had that good of record going into their junior year.
Quinn then exploded his junior year. That would be a case for sticking with the junior. However, Clausen had a great start to his junior year but really was a disaster the last month. That would be a reason to possibly look another direction. One concern I have with Rees other than turnovers is that the offense is more limited with him. He is not a running threat at all.
Although Golson looked good in the Blue-Gold game, he doesn't have any game experience at this point.
There is still a lot that has to be settled in the summer. Based on what I saw today and looking at the early schedule with Navy, Purdue and a rebuilt Michigan State, I would start the year with Rees and have packages for Golson. With that, the plan would be to gradually increase the snaps for Golson as the season progressed. I would also consider a position change for Hendrix. He is too good of an athlete.