SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Dayne Crist's starting debut accomplished what an opening act should. It might not have been overly memorable, but it served as a competent warm up.
Crist was efficient in a 23-12 win over Purdue on Saturday. The quarterback completed 19 of his 26 passes for 205 yards, threw a touchdown and avoided interceptions. Yet there was a feeling that he and the offense left a little of unfinished business.
"I think he started well and I think we have some things to work on," head coach Brian Kelly said. "I told him he didn't have to win the Heisman today, but he had to help us win. He helped us win. There's a lot more he's capable of doing."
Kelly allowed Crist to ease into the role and back into game action as he made his first appearance since tearing his ACL against Washington State in San Antonio last year. The Irish stuck to mostly short passes against Purdue's Cover 2 defense and mixed in a lot of runs, moving the ball on the ground 10 times more than they chucked it.
Crist hit eight of his first nine passes and threw a strike to freshman TJ Jones early in the second half for his lone touchdown. He should have had another one, but Michael Floyd fumbled the ball on his way into the end zone for a sure score.
But Crist also sailed a pass over the head of a wide open Kyle Rudolph in the end zone, which is hard to do since Rudolph is 6-foot-6. That forced the Irish to settle for a field goal instead of a touchdown. He also overthrew Floyd a couple of times when his star receiver had favorable coverage down the field.
"I take the responsibility for that," Crist said. "That's on me. Just a combination of things: pressure, just all sorts of things. There are certain things you can't really replicate in practice that you need to be out there and experience for yourself. And I think I picked up a lot of those intangibles today."
Crist emphasized that the main area where he needs to improve is on calling the right protection at the line of scrimmage. That was evident when Armando Allen was tackled in the end zone for a safety when two Purdue defenders came flying off the edge unaccounted for.
But the best news might have been the simple sight of Crist getting hit and popping back up or scrambling away from pressure for a 12-yard gain. His knee is no longer an issue, which is key because no other passer on the roster owns a lick of experience.
"It was good to see him having fun and throwing the ball around again out there," Allen said.
After the players celebrated with the school alma mater, Allen went up to Crist and told him, "You're the man now." Crist simply smiled and didn't say anything back.
Perhaps he realized that while Saturday provided a good opening act, Crist will need to perform like a headliner from now on.