ORLANDO, Fla. – Brian Kelly has walked the quarterback tightrope all season.
Why would a couple of days in the Florida sunshine change any of the uncertainty that has swirled around that position before a matchup with Florida State in Thursday’s Champs Sports Bowl, a team that regularly devours opposing quarterbacks? The Seminoles have sacked opponents 36 times and they rank sixth overall in total defense.
They are not a forgiving bunch.
“From a pure athletic standpoint, if they aren’t the best defense we’ve faced, they’re definitely up there,” Tommy Rees said.
If there appears to be some hesitation about exactly how Kelly is going to start Rees and yet play Andrew Hendrix in a significant way against FSU, it is well-founded. Aside from the second-half stint against Stanford, in which he finished 11-for-24 for 192 yards with one touchdown pass and one interception in a 28-14 loss, Hendrix, a redshirt freshman, doesn’t have much experience in big games. He also played for a series against USC.
Kelly is dropping hints that Hendrix could play a lot, possibly more than Rees, even though Rees has been announced as the starter.
“The first time Andrew goes in there, they’re going to blitz him –at least I would because he didn’t pick up the blitz well against Stanford late. As long as he does that, he can play the entire game if it works that way. If he gets in there, he could play quite a bit,” Kelly said.
Hendrix does have the one attribute Kelly covets in a quarterback. He can run the football if needed. He also has a rocket arm. Hendrix said the experience against Stanford “definitely helps. It was a big environment and we were down. I went in and did well.”
Kelly was noncommittal Monday after practice about how exactly he plans to use both players against FSU.
That means the time on the field won’t necessarily be scripted.
“I don’t know what to tell you,” Kelly said. “I want one guy to have the hot hand. If both of them have it then obviously we’ve got to make it work. We’re going to play them both and see how it goes. Florida State is really good. We’ve got to see how both of those guys handle the situation. They’re both prepared. We’ve got plenty of time. There is no excuses. Both of them can go in there and play the game and we’ll just kind of see how it goes.”
For Hendrix, the learning curve over the last three weeks has been greater. Hendrix has split time practicing with the No. 1 unit since the team started preparing for FSU. Before Dayne Crist transferred to Kansas, Hendrix had spent most of his time practicing with the second unit.
Kelly said his grasp of the offense has improved over the last few weeks.