NCF Nation: David Ruffer

Numbers from ND's pro day

April, 3, 2012
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Representatives from 27 NFL teams were present Tuesday for Notre Dame's pro day. The Irish just released numbers and notes from the event. Here you go ...
  • Robert Blanton (4.53/4.56) had the fastest 40-time among the five former Irish players who ran it. His 4.53 would have been fourth among safeties at February's combine in Indianapolis, and would have tied for 12th among cornerbacks.
  • The other 40 times from Tuesday: Darius Fleming (4.58/4.54), Gary Gray (4.75/4.70), Trevor Robinson (5.24/5.22), and Taylor Dever (5.38/5.34).
  • Robinson, who was not invited to the combine, would have been the only offensive lineman there to rank among the top 10 in vertical jump (30 inches; tied for 8th), broad jump (8 feet, 9 inches; tied for 6th), bench press (31; tied for 8th), and 40-yard dash (5.22; 8th).
  • Jonas Gray improved his bench press number from 20 at the combine to 22 Tuesday.
  • David Ruffer hit 13 of 15 field goals.
  • Harrison Smith's 60-yard shuttle time (11.52) would have been the fastest time among safeties at the combine. That was the only timed drill Smith participated in Tuesday.
  • Michael Floyd ran an 11.66 in the 60-yard shuttle. The 3-cone drill (7.13/7.11) and pro agility drill (4.23/4.37) were the only other timed drills he took part in Tuesday.

1Q: Notre Dame 7, FSU 0

December, 29, 2011
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ORLANDO, Fla. -- A red zone turnover, an Aaron Lynch penalty ... typical Notre Dame game, right?

Not so fast.

Manti Te'o forced a Devonta Freeman fumble and Zeke Motta scooped it up and scored a 29-yard touchdown to provide the difference after the first quarter, as the Irish lead Florida State 7-0. The score came one play after Tommy Rees fired a pick to Lamarcus Joyner in the end zone on first-and-goal.

Andrew Hendrix entered on Notre Dame's third series and brought the Irish to the Seminoles' 30 before David Ruffer's field goal attempt sailed wide right.

Defensively, the Irish front-seven has made life miserable for E.J. Manuel, recording a pair of sacks and forcing the Seminoles to fight for every yard. They have just 18 total yards so far and will need to make some adjustments if they want any hope of handling Notre Dame's pass rush.

Weekend rewind: Notre Dame

November, 28, 2011
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It's time to take one more look back at Notre Dame's regular-season ending 28-14 loss at Stanford.

[+] EnlargeAndrew Hendrix
Kyle Terada/US PresswireQuarterback Andrew Hendrix saw extensive playing time in Notre Dame's loss against Stanford.
The Good: Better late than never, right? Andrew Hendrix saw his first extended action since Oct. 22 against USC, playing the entire second half. The sophomore completed 11 of 24 passes for 192 yards and a touchdown, and added 20 rushing yards and another touchdown on 12 carries.

The Bad: Whatever BCS-bowl hopes Notre Dame hung onto went up in flames with a convincing road loss against a likely BCS bowl team. The Irish were out-gained 287-75 in a first half that ended with them trailing 21-0.

The Ugly: In falling to 1-3 against ranked opponents this season, Notre Dame surrendered five sacks, missed a 20-yard field goal and committed 10 penalties for 68 yards. Not the recipe for beating a top-10 team on the road.

Turning point: After Darius Fleming picked off Andrew Luck in the second quarter and returned the ball -- with the help of a horse-collar penalty -- to the Stanford 11, David Ruffer missed a 20-yard field goal. Luck and the Cardinal then marched 80 yards in 10 plays, ending with a 28-yard touchdown pass to Coby Fleener that made it 14-0 and swung the momentum.

Call of the day: Hard to point to just one call, but Stanford did a tremendous job of taking advantage of its massive tight ends against the Irish's small cornerbacks. Luck hit 6-foot-8 Levine Toilolo for a three-yard touchdown pass on a first-quarter fade route when Toilolo was matched up against the 5-11 Gary Gray. For his second touchdown pass, Luck hit the 6-6, 244-pound Fleener near the 14-yard line when he was covered by the 6-1 Robert Blanton. Fleener essentially dragged Blanton the rest of the way into the end zone, resulting in a 28-yard touchdown pass and 14-0 Stanford lead in the second quarter.

Next up: Despite its 3-0 ACC record (4-0 if you include soon-to-be ACC school Pittsburgh), Notre Dame will not be playing in this Saturday's ACC title game. That contest will feature Clemson and Virginia Tech. The Irish might get Clemson in the Champs Sports Bowl if the Tigers fall Saturday, but the Irish's bowl and opponent is, at the moment, not yet officially determined.

Halftime: Stanford 21, Notre Dame 0

November, 26, 2011
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STANFORD, Calif. -- Quick thoughts from the first half of Stanford-Notre Dame.

Best player: Stanford linebacker Chase Thomas has been all over the field in the first 30 minutes. He has four tackles, including a sack and two tackles for a loss.

Best player, Take 2: Tough not to include Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck (14-of-21, 155 yards) in the conversation — he has three first-half touchdowns to three different players.

Worst play: Normally we reserve this space for the “best play,” but worst play goes to the pooch punt by Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees. On fourth-and-4 at the Stanford 45 early in the second quarter, Rees lined up under center, then checked out into a deep shotgun, took the snap and tried a quick kick, but it was partially tipped by Ben Gardner. It wasn’t his first punt attempt of the season, but it was definitely his worst, going for all of 5 yards.

Turning point(s): A couple of them – all following the pooch punt. On the ensuing drive, Luck was drilled by Harrison Smith as he threw. Notre Dame’s Darius Fleming picked off the wayward throw and returned it 35 yards. It’s the fifth consecutive game that Luck has thrown an interception. Coby Fleener saved the touchdown by bringing down Fleming, but it was a horse-collar, adding 15 yards to the end of the play. The Irish couldn’t punch it in despite starting the drive at the Stanford 10. And then David Ruffer missed a 20-yard field goal.

What Stanford needs to do: Exactly what it has been doing in the first half – lean on running back Stepfan Taylor (75 yards, 8.3 per carry) and then utilize the mismatches with the tight ends. The Irish have no answers for Levine Toilolo or Fleener.

What Notre Dame needs to do: Buy Rees some more time. The Cardinal pass rush has been fierce. Thomas and Gardner both have sacks and even when Rees does get rid of the ball, he’s usually on the ground after the throw.

Weekend rewind: Notre Dame

November, 21, 2011
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It is time to look back at the weekend that was for Notre Dame, which eked out a 16-14 win over three-win Boston College to win its fourth straight game overall and third in a row over an ACC opponent.

The Good: A win's a win, right? This one was the Irish's fourth in a row against an overmatched opponent, and the end result is all that matters. Looking at the fact Notre Dame had lost two of its previous four Senior Day games -- and the fact it ended the day with the same win total as last season -- the Irish will take it and not look back.

The Bad: As mentioned earlier, Boston College is a three-win team. Notre Dame jumped out to an early 10-0 lead but could never run away from the overmatched Eagles, whose last hope was not officially wiped out until an onside kick recovery by Robby Toma. Notre Dame started six different drives inside its own 20-yard line, and it did not score on any of those drives.

The Ugly: Jonas Gray's likely season-ending knee injury fits in this category. So, too, does Stephon Tuitt missing the game with an illness. And Harrison Smith going to the infirmary the day before the game. And another unidentified player, according to Brian Kelly on Sunday, getting sick after the game.

Turning point: David Ruffer's 27-yard field goal with 8:08 left made it a two-possession game, giving the Irish a 16-7 lead. After starting the season just 2-of-6, Ruffer has connected on eight straight field goals, including three Saturday -- two from 40 yards or beyond -- in what ended up being a two-point game.

Play of the day: Tyler Eifert's spectacular one-handed grab for 37 yards in the first quarter takes the cake here, though Toma deserves an honorable mention for his full-extension 20-yard diving catch in the second quarter while absorbing a hit.

Next up: Notre Dame's biggest test of the season comes this Saturday at No. 6 Stanford in what is likely Andrew Luck's final home game. Who? Just arguably the greatest NFL draft prospect of the last decade and a strong Heisman Trophy contender. The Cardinal will likely be playing for an at-large BCS-bowl berth, something Notre Dame can only have a fringe chance of by pulling off the road upset this weekend.

Final: Irish 16, BC 14

November, 19, 2011
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Notre Dame edged out Boston College in an ugly contest Saturday, escaping with a 16-14 Senior Day victory at Notre Dame Stadium.

David Ruffer's 27-yard field goal with just more than eight minutes left in the contest all but iced the game. Bobby Swigert's seven-yard touchdown catch with 1:57 remaining was too little, too late for the Eagles.

Robby Toma recovered Boston College's ensuing onside kick attempt.

The Irish won their fourth straight game overall and their third over an ACC opponent in as many weeks, matching last season's win total in improving to 8-3.

However, it was not all roses for Notre Dame on its Senior Day, as running back Jonas Gray went down in the third quarter with what looked like a serious knee injury. The blow would be devastating to the Irish backfield and especially to the senior Gray, who had a renaissance campaign and was positioning himself to be drafted this coming spring.

Be sure to keep it here for postgame reaction to the Irish win and for the latest news surrounding Gray's injury.

Non-AQ Players of the Week

November, 14, 2011
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Here are the non-AQ players of the week, as selected by each conference.

C-USA

Offense: Charles Sims, RB, Houston. Sims rushed for a career-high 207 yards on only 10 carries with two touchdowns to lead Houston to a 73-17 win at Tulane. He had 252 all-purpose yards in the game.

Defense: Shawn Jackson, LB, Tulsa. Jackson had nine total tackles, including eight solos and three tackles for loss, and added one pass breakup in a 59-17 win against Marshall.

Special Teams: Danny Hrapmann, K, Southern Miss. Hrapmann tied his own school and Conference USA records by making five field goals in a 30-29 win against UCF.

Independent

Offense: Tommy Rees, QB, Notre Dame. Rees set a season high for completions with 30 in a 45-21 win against Maryland. Rees completed 30-of-38 pass attempts for 296 yards and two touchdowns, his 18th and 19th passing touchdowns of the season.

Co-Defense: Thomas Holloway, DB, Army. Jabaree Tuani, DE, Navy. Holloway set a career high with 14 tackles in a 27-12 loss to Rutgers. He also got his first career interception. Tuani had four tackles and a sack in a win against SMU.

Special teams: David Ruffer, PK, Notre Dame. Ruffer made a career-long 52-yard field goal against Maryland.

MAC

East Division

Offense: Matt Brown, RB, Temple. Brown made his first start of the season and rushed 24 times for 123 yards and a touchdown in a 24-21 win against Miami (Ohio).

Defense: Roosevelt Nix, DT, Kent State. Nix tied a career-high with six tackles in a 35-3 win against Akron. Nix helped his defense hold Akron to just 58 yards rushing on 27 attempts.

Special Teams: Paul Hershey, P, Ohio. Hershey had five punts for 205 yards, including a 51-yard punt in a win over Central Michigan. He had four go inside the 20.

West Division

Co-Offense: Alex Carder, QB, Jordan White, WR, Western Michigan. Carder threw for a program record 548 yards and seven touchdowns and rushed for another in a 66-63 loss at Toledo. The yardage total ranks second all-time in MAC history and his passing TD total is tied for the most in conference history. White had 238 yards receiving and became the school leader in career receiving yards leader (3,678), single-season receptions (111) and single-season receiving yards (1,402).

Defense: Brad Ohrman, DL, Eastern Michigan. Ohrman had eight tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss and one sack in a 30-17 victory over Buffalo.

Special Teams: John Potter, K, Western Michigan. Potter made a career high nine extra points at Toledo. Potter became the MAC's record holder for consecutive PATs made with 114.

Mountain West

Offense: Casey Pachall, QB, TCU. Pachall went 24-of-37 for a career-high 473 yards and five touchdowns in a 36-35 win at Boise State. The five touchdown passes tied a TCU single-game record, while his 473 yards marked the second-highest single-game total in school history.

Co-Defense: Carmen Messina, LB, New Mexico. Nat Berhe, DB, San Diego State. Messina had his fifth straight double-digit tackle performance with 14 stops in a 21-14 victory against UNLV -- the first of the season for the Lobos. He also forced a fumble. Berhe tied a team-high with six tackles, forced a fumble and also had an interception in San Diego State’s 18-15 win at Colorado State.

Special teams: Anson Kelton, P, TCU. Kelton averaged 45.8 yards on four punts in a 36-35 win at Boise State.

Sun Belt

Offense: Derek Thompson, QB, North Texas. Thompson set a North Texas single-game record by completing 82 percent of his passes – going 31-of-38 -- to lead North Texas to its first win ever at Troy. He completed 17 consecutive passes in the game and threw for 331 yards.

Defense: Brandon Joiner, DL, Arkansas State. Joiner tied a school and conference record with four sacks, and he also tied his career high with a team-best eight tackles in a 30-21 victory against Louisiana-Lafayette.

Special teams: T.Y. Hilton, KR, FIU. Hilton returned a punt 97 yards for touchdown in a win over FAU. The punt return is the longest in FIU history.

WAC

Offense: Cody Fajardo, QB, Nevada. Fajardo accounted for 371 yards and four touchdowns in a 42-28 win against Hawaii. He completed 25-of-36 passes for 290 yards and a career-high three touchdowns with no interceptions. He also rushed 19 times for 81 yards including a 25-yard touchdown run in the second half.

Defense: IK Enemkpali, DE, Louisiana Tech. Had six tackles, including 3.5 for a loss of 18 yards, in the 27-7 win at Mississippi. Enemkpali had a sack for a loss of seven yards and also forced a fumble.

Special teams: Taveon Rogers, KR, New Mexico State. Rogers returned eight kickoffs for a career-best 246 yards -- including a 99-yard return for a touchdown -- in a 48-45 win against Fresno State. He had a school-record 412 all-purpose yards in the game.

Halftime: USC 17, Notre Dame 10

October, 22, 2011
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Here's a quick breakdown of the first half, as USC has a 17-10 lead over Notre Dame.

Turning point: George Atkinson's 96-yard kickoff return for a touchdown with 3:22 left in the first half completely changed the tone of this game, as it got the Irish on the board and injected some juice into the stadium. The Irish responded by stopping USC on its next drive and then marching downfield, setting up a 24-yard David Ruffer field goal right before halftime.

Stat of the half: USC has outgained Notre Dame, 253-127. The Trojans have had their way offensively while the Irish had trouble getting anything going in the first half until their final drive, when they marched 68 yards in 10 plays and just 1:04. Notre Dame will need to build off that last drive as it closes the gap on what was once a 17-0 Trojans lead.

Best player in the half: Matt Barkley has completed 12 of 20 passes for 125 yards and two touchdowns, directing three USC scoring drives and giving the Trojans an early three-possession lead. Notre Dame did a better job of slowing down the Trojans' offense as the half progressed and will need to continue to do that to complete the comeback.
1. Protecting the ball makes for smooth sailing: It seemed like we'd never see the day Notre Dame went 60 minutes without a turnover, but Saturday changed that.

[+] EnlargeCierre Wood
AP Photo/AJ MastNotre Dame's Cierre Wood is 42nd in the nation in rush yards per game at 89.8.
The Fighting Irish eclipsed the 500-yard mark for the third time this season, but won while crossing that plateau for the first time, as they were doomed by five-turnover performances in Weeks 1 and 2. Saturday was huge for the offense, particularly Tommy Rees, who eliminated many of the befuddling miscues that had Irish fans calling for a new quarterback after his first three and a half games under center. Now, for the first time all season, we can no longer say Notre Dame leads the nation in turnovers or has the worst turnover margin. (The first honor belongs to East Carolina, with 17. The latter is shared by East Carolina, Iowa State and Western Kentucky, at minus-2.00).

2. The rush defense is for real: Notre Dame had another dominating performance up front Saturday, limiting the Big Ten's second-ranked rushing offense to 84 yards on 27 carries. This came two weeks after the Irish allowed just 29 rushing yards against Michigan State and one week after holding Pitt's Ray Graham to 89 yards, something that looks like more of an accomplishment after Graham exploded for 226 yards Thursday against South Florida.

3. Special teams need to improve. Still: Brian Kelly said Saturday that he didn't want to sound like sour milk when listing what his team could have done better, but the Irish did leave points on the board. David Ruffer, a 2010 Lou Groza Award finalist, missed two field goals. And the punt return experiment once again looked like just that -- an experiment. John Goodman netted minus-3 yards on two returns and, in a real head-scratcher, watched one ball sail over his head and roll for a 61-yard punt in the first quarter.

4. Penalties still need clearing up: This one gets overshadowed because the Irish didn't turn the ball over, won by 28 points and saw their opponent commit an astounding 13 penalties for 118 yards. But Notre Dame itself committed eight penalties for 85 yards, including an ugly one when long snapper Jordan Cowart got tangled up with several Purdue players on a second-quarter punt. Mental lapses such as these are forgivable against the Boilermakers, not so much against USC or Stanford.
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — A primetime audience saw everything Notre Dame does good and bad through the first quarter, one the Fighting Irish have escaped leading 14-0.

Gary Gray picked off Caleb TerBush's first pass of the game, and Tommy Rees hit Michael Floyd two plays later for a 35-yard touchdown pass. Jonas Gray punched it in from two yards out with three seconds left in the quarter for the Irish's other score.

David Ruffer had a 28-yard field goal attempt blocked earlier in the frame after the Irish failed to score on a series that started with a first-and-goal from the Purdue 5. A false start penalty on Chis Watt was the killer on that drive.

Also mind-boggling is, once again, the punt-return game, as John Goodman lost two yards on the one punt he did return and watched the ball roll for a 61-yard punt on the one kick he chose not to return.

Still, the mental gaffes have affected the Boilermakers more so far, as they committed consecutive penalties on the Irish's next red zone trip, resulting in two new sets of downs from inside the 5.

Encouraging for the Irish has been their ability to do whatever they want in the run game so far. Notre Dame has gained 75 yards on 11 carries, and its offensive line is manhandling the Purdue front seven so far.

It will be interesting to see if this can continue as the game progresses. Regardless, the Irish have put themselves in great position to start, so long as they can avoid shooting themselves in the foot once again.

What we learned about Notre Dame: Week 4

September, 25, 2011
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1. A win's a win: Cliche, I know. But a Notre Dame team that saw the football gods pull a couple fasts ones on it in Weeks 1 and 2 has to be thankful for escaping Heinz Field victorious with a 15-12 win on Saturday. The Irish are 2-2 with a favorable schedule the rest of the way, and they won't, nor should they, apologize for how they got there.

2. Tommy Rees has to minimize the mistakes: The sophomore quarterback has now accounted for nine of Notre Dame's 15 turnovers on the season, and he didn't even play the first half of the first game. His game-winning touchdown drive shows why Brian Kelly had so much faith in him, but he has to be more careful with the football, especially deep in opposing territory.

3. The pass rush is for real: A week after making life miserable for Kirk Cousins, Notre Dame's front-seven got to the Pitt backfield all afternoon, recording six sacks and coming up with four hurries. The group has proven to be a force to be reckoned with the past two weeks and should only continue to develop with a pair of talented defensive ends playing key roles.

4. Special teams, anyone?: There were at least no turnovers this week, but David Ruffer's missed 39-yard field goal -- due in no small part to a bad snap -- could have been costly in a low-scoring game. The Irish avoided a special teams turnover for the first time all season, but they still can't seem to bring it all together for four quarters without making one kind of blunder or another.

It's game day at Notre Dame Stadium

September, 17, 2011
9/17/11
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Greetings from Notre Dame Stadium, where the Fighting Irish go for win No. 1 against the 15th-ranked and defending co-Big Ten champion Michigan State Spartans.

Plenty of green has taken over Notre Dame's campus today, with even a few "Go Green, Go White!" chants sparsed among the tailgaters. I've actually been impressed by the number of folks who made the trip from East Lansing, Mich., to cheer on Sparty as it looks to improve to 3-0.

No need to remind everyone what's at stake here, especially with the way the Irish's next opponent, Pitt, has looked against Iowa early today.

On the field, kicker Kyle Brindza is once again sporting lime-green cleats, which, despite the considerable amount of green on the field today, still manage to stand out like a sore thumb.

The weather today has been beautiful and is expected to hold up, meaning we may just have a game that goes less than five hours. Knowing the drama that inevitably follows Notre Dame, however, I wouldn't count on that just yet.

Be sure to keep it here throughout the afternoon for updates and analysis from Notre Dame Stadium.
[+] EnlargeTommy Rees
AP Photo/Michael ConroyQB Tommy Rees played well against South Florida in spite of harsh conditions.
1. The QB battle is back open: It lasted all spring, most of summer and through 19 preseason practices, but here we go again. Dayne Crist couldn't get the offense going following his opening drive, something Tommy Rees had little trouble doing in the second half. Rees' numbers (24 of 34, 296 yards) were impressive in harsh weather conditions and against a USF defense playing the pass the entire time he was in. During the summer and again Saturday, the rest of the offense has seemed to see little difference between which signal caller was running the offense. Still, a decision on Crist -- a senior who overcame two devastating knee injuries before winning the job -- will be interesting.

2. The red zone is a nightmare: There are reasons the Irish dropped a game despite outgaining the opposition by exactly a 2-to-1 margin (508 yards to 254). Five turnovers, for one. And, more specifically, three giveaways inside the USF 20 yard line. Jonas Gray fumbled at the goal line, resulting in a 96-yard Bulls touchdown, and Crist and Rees each tossed an interception inside the 10. Notre Dame has to capitalize when it gets scoring chances, a task that will be all the more difficult this Saturday as a guest inside the sport's biggest stadium.

3. Special teams must improve: Theo Riddick failed to impress on returns Saturday, fumbling a punt that USF recovered at the Irish 20 and struggling to handle several other returns. David Ruffer whiffed on his only field goal attempt, a 30-yarder late in the third quarter. Brian Kelly sounded like he was determined to keep Riddick in the return role, saying after the game: "I told him to get his butt back out there. If we're going to have the kind of playmakers we need at that position, we don't have a waiver wire, we can't trade for anybody."

4. Penalties need to be curtailed: The Irish committed eight penalties for 73 yards, including five gaffes on defense that resulted in 53 yards. Cornerback Gary Gray's fourth-quarter pass interference on third-and-goal from the Irish 6 proved the most costly, as USF scored a touchdown on its very next play to go up 23-7. The defense, impressive as it was, will need to shore up loose ends before Saturday, as Denard Robinson presents another huge challenge.

Red zone struggles continue for Irish

September, 3, 2011
9/03/11
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Maybe Notre Dame should just go for the deep ball every time. Thus far, the Fighting Irish have had more success that route as opposed to operating inside the opponents' 20-yard-line.

Tommy Rees and Michael Floyd broke the scoreless drought for the Notre Dame offense, hooking up on a 24-yard touchdown pass with 7:12 remaining in the third quarter to cut the South Florida lead to 16-7. But the red zone struggles have continued, keeping this a two-possession game.

Rees's pass pass to T.J. Jones on the quarter's opening drive bounced off the receiver's shoulder before dropping into the hands of Bulls linebacker Michael Lanaris. Two possessions later, David Ruffer missed a 30-yard field goal attempt that would have cut the Bulls' lead to six.

The Irish offense has certainly shown more of a hop in its step under Rees, who is 10 of 14 passing for 140 yards. But at what point does the unit -- along with the special teams, responsible for a turnover -- run out of chances?

Rees completed his first four passes on his opening drive before tossing a pick on a first-and-goal from the 5.

The defense has continued to do its job, forcing consecutive three-and-outs before holding USF to a single first down on its third possession of the second half.

Since the Sun Bowl ended, the debate around Notre Dame football centered on whether Dayne Crist or Tommy Rees should start at quarterback.

The two had been locked into competition all the way until Monday. But the general feeling was that it was Crist's job to lose. Irish head coach Brian Kelly announced on Tuesday that Crist had, in fact, won the starting job and that he expects him to start all 13 games for the team (good to see he's assuming a bowl game).

This seems like the right move, especially since Kelly said Crist and Rees played virtually even throughout camp. If the stats didn't differentiate much, then Crist deserved a shot to lead the team into the season for the second straight year.

That's because Crist only lost his job last season because of his second straight season-ending knee injury. Yes, Rees guided the team to a 4-0 record and that can't be discounted. But it's also true that Kelly went to more of a power running game style with Rees at the helm, and the defense improbably took its level of play to new heights for the final third of the season. Who knows how Crist would have fared under those circumstances, instead of having to learn the offense on the fly early in the year with his teammates?

Kelly praised Crist's toughness in coming back from yet another knee surgery, which included a setback caused by an infection after surgery. Crist, Kelly said, didn't play very well in the spring but worked his way back to top form for fall practice.

Crist's leadership qualities have never been questioned. And those, in the end, won him the job more than anything else.

"He's the kind of guy I want to coach," Kelly said. "He's tougher mentally. He handles himself in that leadership position the way I want quarterbacks to handle it."

Crist now understands all the expectations that the demanding Kelly has for his quarterbacks. He's also the veteran here, as a senior who is entering his third year of playing. Rees is just a sophomore, and it's easier to lose the veteran by benching him rather than the younger guy. Not that Crist is the type of person who would mope about things, anyway.

He still has improvements to make in order for Notre Dame to reach its potential. Crist must get better with his accuracy -- his 59 percent completion mark last season is too low for this type of offense -- and make smarter, crisper decisions. But as long as he's healthy, he has more athletic upside than the less mobile Rees, and Kelly said Crist will run and extend plays with his legs because "he can't play any other way."

[+] EnlargeDayne Crist
Andrew Weber/US PresswireFormer Notre Dame QB Dayne Crist brings experience as a starter to Kansas.
While Kelly understandably painted this decision as an all-season deal, he knows he has a rare luxury: the guy holding a clipboard still has an undefeated record as a starter. Should Crist prove ineffective, the Rees option remains viable and readily available. The Irish can also mix things up with running quarterbacks Andrew Hendrix and Everett Golson; Kelly has been cagey about how he'll use those two youngsters, but it's a safe bet he's got a plan for one of them.

The best news for Notre Dame is that this quarterback debate has been put to bed, at least until Crist's first interception or misfired throw. The players can now focus on the opener against South Florida knowing who their on-field leader will be. Crist deserves that role for now.

A couple of other news items from Kelly's press conference Tuesday:
  • Chris Watt has beaten out Andrew Nuss for the starting job at left guard, while Dan Fox has earned the nod at inside linebacker over Carlo Calabrese. Kelly said that both will be 50-50 deals, though, where both players will see time. Fox might have made the biggest jump in leapfrogging Calabrese, who started the first eight games last season before getting hurt.

    "Last year, [Fox] was not a guy that liked contact," Kelly said. "He likes contact now. He knows contact is necessary in the zone he plays in."
  • Kelly said true freshmen DeVaris Daniels, Cam McDaniel, George Atkinson and Troy Niklas would all play this season, on special teams at the very least. McDaniel and Atkinson are backing up Cierre Wood at running back, while Daniels is pushing for time at receiver and Niklas is competing at outside linebacker.
  • Freshman Kyle Brindza will handle kickoffs this season, taking that job over from David Ruffer.

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