The million-dollar question: What's going on with Dayne Crist?
With his hands on his knees and his head hanging in disappointment, Kansas University football coach Charlie Weis stared down at the ground and then stood back up in an attempt to move forward.
What he had just witnessed likely was something he never expected to see — at least not in an actual game at a crucial moment when everything was set up so perfectly.
But what he saw was a very real moment during last week’s 30-23 loss to Northern Illinois, and as KU quarterback Dayne Crist walked back to the sideline after missing a wide open Kale Pick on fourth down for what could have been — and likely would have been — a game-changing touchdown, Weis kept his composure and began to think about the next defensive series.
As Crist walked past Weis on his way to the bench, there was not so much as a look exchanged between the two. No words were said, no sympathetic eyes a smilin’, nothing.
It would have been real easy for Weis to pat Crist on the butt and utter some encouraging words to keep his spirits up, but we’re past that point now. Crist missed a throw that thousands of quarterbacks would have made and both he and Weis knew it. There’s no sugar coating that.
As crazy as it may sound, it was that exchange that further cemented my belief that Weis is sticking with Crist because he believes he’s the best quarterback for this team, not because of some kind of blind, golden-boy loyalty as the Crist bashers suggest.
Look, Weis is no fool. He gets that what’s happening with his quarterback is a far cry from what anyone expected — himself included. And he also understands that if the Jayhawks hope to win another game this season and continue taking the slow and steady steps toward overall improvement, he’s going to need a better showing from the game’s most important position. But that’s why he’s sticking with Crist. The upside of the fifth-year senior with the good frame and even better arm is far greater than his other options at this point in the game.
In addition to the advantages Crist provides, such as size, experience and intelligence, one of the biggest benefits of playing Crist at QB is the fact that keeping him out there gives Weis the potential to flip to any page in the playbook and make any call.
It doesn’t matter if the rest of us have seen what we want from Crist. Somewhere along the line Weis has seen what he wants, and, obviously, that’s enough. Simply put: Weis still believes it’s just a matter of time until Crist makes plays. Maybe it will just take one throw. Maybe the throw to Pick that he missed would have been the one. But Weis will never know if he yanks him now. And let’s be honest, is four games enough of a true evaluation to make a move of this magnitude — from experienced and trusted starter to unproven and unknown back-up?
Could KU reserves Michael Cummings or Turner Baty come in and make a few plays? Sure. They’re talented athletes who have played the position before. But we know both have been slow to pick up Weis’ offense, and if putting Cummings or Baty out there means Weis would only have 40 percent of his playbook available, you have to wonder how comfortable that would make him. And if the head coach isn’t comfortable then what kind of mess do you have on your hands?
As for what's actually going on with Crist, right now it appears to be largely mental. Mental in terms of trusting his abilities. Mental in terms of not being comfortable out on the field even when he has time. Mental in terms of mounting pressure to perform that only weighs more and more with each rough outing.
The only fix is for Dayne to finally deliver. And the only way he can do that is if he's out there playing. Weis knows that. He also knows it's not a guarantee that it ever will happen. But, right now, it's clear he's still betting on his quarterback.
The way I see it, there are three camps that people have fallen into when talking about KU’s quarterback. They are:
• He’s not good — Right or wrong, we’ve already heard plenty of people saying it’s time for Weis for make a change. It doesn’t look like that’s coming any time soon, but many believe that Cummings and/or Baty should get a look.
• He’s not bad — There’s still a small number out there who believe in Crist. They see the size, the smarts, the experience and the drives and throws where he has looked sharp and are confident that those best represent the type of QB he is. They could be right, but even they are starting to get nervous whether we’ll ever see it.
• He’s still shaking off the rust and is a work in progress — This group might be the largest, as a good chunk of KU fans appear to be comfortable with the idea that the Jayhawks are rebuilding and they believe that having a guy like Crist steering the ship — and more importantly, giving him time to get comfortable — is still the best option for KU’s struggling offense. The question here becomes, if you’re gonna lose with Crist, wouldn’t it be just as beneficial to lose with the back-up who will actually be around next year? That’s a tough one to answer.
Regardless of where you stand, the ‘What’s going on with Dayne Crist’ question has become the one topic that dominates just about every conversation about the KU football team, even though there are at least half a dozen other areas that deserve some attention.
It’s natural for fans of all kinds to have these types of reactions, and it’s certainly more understandable in this case when you consider KU’s current record. If the Jayhawks had made one or two more plays against Rice and Northern Illinois and were sitting at 3-1 instead of 1-3, I can’t imagine anyone would be calling for Crist’s head, even if he had put up the exact same numbers. Such is the nature of the beast, especially at the quarterback position.
The bottom line is this: Weis wants to win. And I honestly believe that if he thought putting Cummings, Baty or even Toben Opurum at quarterback would give the Jayhawks a better chance to win, he’d do it in a second. But they don’t. In so many words, Weis has said that and, certainly for now, I believe it.
This is not to say Weis won’t ever make a change. If things don’t improve and Crist continues to miss throws he should make — especially in clutch situations — Weis may decide it’s time to consider someone else. If it gets to that point, I think he will. But four games into the season is not that point.