Faced with a 21-0 deficit at halftime against Stanford last Saturday night, Brian Kelly decided to make a change at quarterback. Kelly had been quick to yank senior quarterback Dayne Crist in the season opener against South Florida after the Irish trailed 16-0 at halftime. However, it wasn't Crist who was reinserted to starting role on Saturday night for sophomore Tommy Rees, but instead Rees' sophomore counterpart, Andrew Hendrix. Although the Irish would ultimately lose to Stanford 28-14, the young quarterback showed a skillset that has many Notre Dame fans wondering where Hendrix has been all season.
At 12-3 as a starter, Tommy Rees was a solid quarterback for Notre Dame, despite not being blessed with much mobility or arm strength. Still, his uncanny ability to remain calm under pressure proved to be a worthy asset in both the 2010 and 2011 campaigns. That being said, the skillset displayed by Andrew Hendrix in the second half of the Stanford game on Saturday night reminded Notre Dame fans what a lethal threat a mobile quarterback can be, especially when he has the arm to stretch a defense with a vertical passing game.
When the Irish trekked to the Sun Bowl in December 2010, Brian Kelly took advantage of the extra bowl practices to begin evaluating his young talent for the 2011 season. As the Irish prepare for a likely trip to the Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando, Kelly will again be keeping an eye out for the future, and that may include starting Hendrix in the bowl game. Without Jonas Gray in the lineup, Notre Dame needs to bolster a running game that is down to just one full-time back in 1,000 yard rusher Cierre Wood. As Hendrix proved on Saturday night, he is very capable of creating that ground threat from the quarterback position. Hendrix successfully showed the ability to run designed quarterback draws, option reads and scramble when under pressure, none of which the Irish offense has shown consistently since the Carlyle Holiday era.
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of Hendrix's game, aside from his leadership, was a display of arm strength that rivaled pro-style quarterback Dayne Crist. Unlike Rees, who primarily threw underneath and intermediate routes, Hendrix proved he could throw the out patterns with velocity and also hit receivers downfield with accuracy and zip on the ball. The prospect of spreading defenses out enough to open lanes for tight end Tyler Eifert and create wider spaces for Cierre Wood, has many Notre Dame fans outright giddy.
Anointing Hendrix the next Notre Dame legend after just two quarters of play would be foolish. However, if nothing else, Hendrix's performance on Saturday night warrants additional playing time, and perhaps a chance as the starter in 2012. A potentially daunting upcoming schedule and a Michael Floyd-less offense next year creates a need to find offense in new places, and what better time to find out than the present. Look for Hendrix to get his shot when the Irish go bowling next month.
Notre Dame Football, Irish Football, UND.com
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