SOUTH BEND, Ind. - Notre Dame will head out for its first road game of the season and coach Brian Kelly promises he'll have this much ready to pull out of the suitcase - two prepared backup quarterbacks with an easier system for them to run.
Notre Dame's worst fears were realized for most of the first half last week against Michigan when starter Dayne Crist took a hit to the head. He had blurred vision, forcing him out of the game.
Crist returned in the second half and led the Irish to 17 points in a 28-24 loss. But while he was out, inexperienced backups Tommy Rees and Nate Montana struggled to run the offense.
Kelly said Tuesday that he is going to install a less complex package for Rees and Montana, should they get the call at Michigan State on Saturday night.
"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," Kelly said. "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."
Crist was a little unsure of himself after taking a hit with a helmet as he was hitting the ground during a run on the Irish's opening TD drive Saturday.
Rees, a freshman who was an early enrollee, got the first call but threw an interception on his first college attempt. He was 0-for-2 in two series and then Kelly turned to Montana, who was a little more effective with 23 yards rushing and another 104 through the air on 8 of 17 passing. But also in his first college game, the son of NFL Hall of Famer Joe Montana threw a pick and sailed a ball out of the end zone from the 3 on the final play of the half.
Kelly said he didn't know who would get the first call - Montana or Rees - should Crist need to replaced again.
He is, of course, hoping it's not a decision he has to make. Crist, who ran for a TD and threw for two more, did not have a concussion.
"He's fine," Kelly said, adding that the blurred vision cleared up and that's why he was able to return. "It went away or we wouldn't have put him back in the game. It went away within an hour or so and he has not had any headaches or anything that would cause our medical staff any concern."
Since the beginning of fall camp, Kelly has reiterated that keeping Crist healthy is crucial to the Irish's success. And last Saturday proved it. But it's also a balancing act - the Irish can't run their offense playing scared but they have to be smart with their quarterback.
"We have to run option because of the spread offense," Kelly said.
"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. We just have to be careful with it."
Kelly also said special teams and defensive line coach Mike Elston, who missed Saturday's game because of a lingering virus, has still not rejoined the team. Kelly said Sunday that Elston had given 72 vials of blood for testing.
"We're expecting that coach Elston will be back with us pretty soon," Kelly said without providing specifics. Other coaches will share Elston's responsibilities.
Lingering questions were answered emphatically by the 2012 team, but 2013 is an all-new season that brings all-new question marks. Brian Kelly feels fairly confident his offense is in a great position to take a step forward, but to do that, they’ll need the services of some under-the-radar players.
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