As of Tuesday afternoon, Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said he didn't know which quarterback would get the first call if something happened to Dayne Crist again this Saturday at Michigan State. But Kelly hopes that whoever he turned to would be better prepared than last week against Michigan.
Kelly blamed himself for not having Tommy Rees and Nate Montana properly ready and put in the right situations last week when Crist had to leave the game in the first half with blurred vision. Rees threw an interception on his first pass attempt on a flea flicker, while Montana's first two throws were batted down at the line of scrimmage. Combined, they went just 8-of-19 for 104 yards and two interceptions and the team did not score before Crist re-entered the game in the second half.
Kelly said he would evaluate both quarterbacks this week to determine who is the No. 2 guy. Rees came in first on Saturday but played only two series before being pulled for Montana.
"We're going to settle on a package that suits both of them," Kelly said. "I think we have to have something that really allows both of those guys to feel comfortable out there and still run our offense in a productive manner. I'm certain we'll be in a much better place this weekend if we have to go to them when they go in the game."
Yet there's no getting around the fact that Notre Dame is in trouble if that happens. Though he enrolled in January, Rees is still a true freshman who looked wide-eyed on Saturday. Montana was a walk-on who probably wouldn't be on the team if his name was Nate Smith. He completed less than 40 percent of his passes in junior college a year ago.
True freshmen Luke Massa and Andrew Hendrix likely have more pure talent than either Rees or Montana, but both arrived this summer and still face a steep learning curve. Offensive coordinator Charley Molnar said in August he'd like to have one of those two move up into the top three of the depth chart by the end of fall practice, but it hasn't happened yet.
So the main goal remains protecting Crist, whom Kelly said had some swelling in his face on Sunday but is otherwise fine. Unfortunately, Notre Dame can't put protective bubble wrap around Crist without hurting its offensive goals.
"You want to keep Dayne Crist in the game at the end of the day," Kelly said. "But I think that our offense is such that I don't think you're ever going to be conservative in what you do. I think we have to be careful not to play scared."
Crist ran some zone-read plays in the first half, and the play in which he got hurt was a quarterback sneak for a touchdown. The more he runs, the bigger chance he gets hurt.
"But we have to keep it in because of the spread offense," Kelly said. "We have to run option because of the spread offense. If we were going to protect him, we would have to change the way we run our offense. We would have to put another back in the backfield or another tight end on the field so we could protect him at all times."
Kelly is not going to change the entire offense just to make sure Crist stays healthy. So instead he's changing the plan of attack in case Rees or Montana have to play.
Meanwhile, Notre Dame fans everywhere hope Kelly doesn't have to go to his backup plan again anytime soon.