LAWRENCE — Before last Saturday, Dayne Crist had waited 363 days to start a football game. The days stretched into a period of perma-wait, marking the time between his last start at Notre Dame and his first start as a senior transfer at Kansas.
On Saturday, when Crist returns to the field for a 2:30 p.m. kickoff against Rice at Memorial Stadium, it will have been just seven days since his last start. But for Crist, it may have felt like another 363-day delay.
For an intense competitor like Crist, this is what happens when you roll snake eyes on your first turn at the table. It wasn’t all bad, of course. The Jayhawks won 31-17 over South Dakota State in Crist’s debut. But his performance — he completed just 17 of 36 passes for 169 yards — left Crist with a stat sheet’s worth of motivation.
“Too many mental errors,” Crist said of the KU offense, “too many points left on the field and missed plays. At the end of the day, we have to be more efficient.”
It’s easy to state the obvious: Crist will need to improve if KU wants to skip a step in the rebuilding process and dramatically improve last year’s 2-10 record. It’s tougher, of course, to figure out what went wrong.
KU coach Charlie Weis talked about Crist’s long layoff and his anxiousness on game day. Maybe Crist and the receivers were just a tick off. If Crist was rusty or simply trying to do too much, the flaws showed up in the numbers: After one week, there were 99 quarterbacks across the country that had better passer ratings than Crist (90.3), and 96 that had higher completion percentages (47.2).
Meantime, Crist spent the week diagnosing the problems and searching for the right adjustments.
"For me it was all about accuracy,” Crist said. “I am much more accurate than the way that I played. A lot goes into that: you have to tie your feet into your throws, your mechanics … you have to be comfortable with the play.”
In Rice, Crist will face a defense that employs an extra safety while playing just two traditional linebackers. But this is also an opponent that surrendered 49 points to UCLA last week, so maybe Crist can find his groove. In 2010, the one season he made nine starts at Notre Dame before suffering a season-ending injury, Crist completed 59.2 percent of his passes. But that was also the year that Brian Kelly took over for Weis at Notre Dame.
When Crist arrived at Kansas, the hope was that Weis could unlock some of that old potential. And now, the next chance comes just a week after the first.
“At the end of the day,” Crist said. “I know that I can play much better than the way I did on Saturday.”