Why Brian Kelly’s ‘Bullpen’ QB System Is His Best Option
Coach Kelly, your Fighting Irish are 6-0 for the first time since 2002 and ranked No. 5 in this season’s first BCS standings. Although your team’s expectations, along with the pressure to perform, seem to be as high as ever, there is no need to panic.
No one denies the fact that first-year starting QB Everett Golson has struggled at times. While he plays like a seasoned veteran in some games (especially against Miami, where he posted a QB rating of 101.7 in addition to 51 yards on the ground), he wears his inexperience on his sleeve in others. Against Stanford, the Irish offense, led by Golson, seemed stagnant for a majority of the game by struggling to convert third downs (7-16), put points on the board, and even hold on to the football. Including his three fumbles on Saturday, Golson is responsible for all of Notre Dame’s turnovers this season.
What’s more? Fans are starting to question why the starting job still belongs to Golson instead of backup QB Tommy Rees. Rees possesses exactly what Golson is still trying to gain: in-game experience and better football intelligence. In addition to that, he has exhibited flashes of brilliance in the few times he has played. Rees made arguably the play of the game against the Cardinal when, in a critical third down situation inside Stanford territory, he called an audible after recognizing the ensuing blitz. His knowledge of the game and the situation allowed for TE Tyler Eiffert to gain the much needed pass interference call to keep the drive alive and set up the game-tying field goal at the end of regulation. It is hard to argue against Rees being named the player of the game.
So what are you waiting for, Coach Kelly? Is it not clear who the better option is at QB going forward? And if you are going to keep the undefeated season alive, do you have any choice other than to bench Golson in favor of Rees?
As ESPN college football analyst Lee Corso would say, “Not so fast my friend!” Such an opinion would not only be premature, but also an overreaction.
First of all, ‘winning now’ and ‘building for the future’ are not mutually exclusive ideas. Just because you want to develop Golson as Notre Dame’s quarterback-of-the-future doesn’t mean you are in anyway giving up on this season. As I will further explain, starting Golson and allowing him to gain experience, while also calling Rees’ number when needed, is the best option not only long-term, but also short-term.
From a strategic standpoint, Golson’s style of play better complements your spread offense. In addition to his ability to spread the ball all over the field, his versatility and ability to scramble add another dimension to the Irish offense, which keeps defenses guessing. While some could argue that Rees is a more skilled passer and more knowledgeable QB, his ability to move around the pocket, keep plays alive, or even scramble downfield is not nearly at the same level as that of Golson. Rees’ style of play makes the Irish offense more predictable, and shoving him into the starting role would only make it more difficult for Notre Dame to move the ball downfield over the course of a game.
Yes, I know that his recent success (4-4, 43 yards, TD in the final minutes against Stanford) suggests otherwise. However, these results are not only reflective of his skills and experience as a college quarterback, but also the dynamic he is playing in. As the starter for the majority of the 2011 season, Rees struggled to fully manage your spread offense, which caused him discomfort and led to his 20 turnovers (14 interceptions, 6 fumbles). Rees’ true success stands out in late-game situations, when he is needed to lead the offense downfield via the aerial attack. His final drives against Stanford and Purdue this year, as well as those against Pitt and Michigan in 2011, suggest he is at his best in these ‘save’ situations. Not only that, but asking him to do anything more may negatively affect his rhythm and take away from his success as the closer.
And finally, Coach Kelly, you should stick with your ‘bullpen’ system because IT’S WORKING! When Golson’s sloppy play has hampered the Irish offense (against Purdue, Michigan, and Stanford, specifically), you’ve turned to Rees, who has pulled through each and every time this season. Can this continue, though? Could Golson dig too deep of a hole for even Rees to recover the team from? The turnovers, as well as the lack of consistency, are an issue, no question. Over the course of the season, however, these trends can only improve as Golson gains more and more experience. Also, with the defense playing as strong as any in the country, it should keep the Irish competitive in each contest, no matter who they play. Lastly, with Rees as hot as he is, there seems to be nothing that he can’t overcome late in a game. Up to this point, there has been no indication that this system can’t work. In other words, it isn’t broken, so don’t fix it.
Coach Kelly, you’ve been a head coach for a long time. Although you have never dealt with a QB situation quite like this one, your years of head coaching experience and deep understanding of the game make you as well prepared for the job as any coach in the country. More importantly, you are more than capable of handling pressures associated with being the head coach of Notre Dame; as long as you stick to what you’re doing, the future (this season and beyond) looks bright for the Irish. Just stay calm, be confident, and don’t panic.