But in the myopic view of Saturday’s game against Tulsa (4-3) at ND Stadium and how Crist will perform against the nation’s 109th-ranked pass defense, it’s just a puzzle piece that hasn’t settled.
For those who expected Crist’s coming of age to be an event and not a process, frustration builds. And Crist is among them.
“We have got our backs up against the wall,” Crist said. “We've got to win, and everyone understands that. Everyone has to raise their game now, regardless of what they were doing or how hard they were working. You've just got to do more.”
There’s a new wild card in the formula now for this 4-4 team, the death of 20-year-old videographer Declan Sullivan at Wednesday’s practice, just hours after Crist was interviewed for this story. Sullivan was atop an aerial scissor lift filming practice Wednesday when it toppled in high winds.
University police, an accident investigation team and the Indiana Occupational Safety & Health Administration are investigating.
The team, which has been cordoned off from the media since the accident, filled at least eight pews at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart at a Thursday night Mass honoring Sullivan’s life. They’ll wear decals on their helmets in his honor. They will dedicate their efforts Saturday, and perhaps beyond, to Sullivan.
And no one knows how that will translate on the scoreboard.
Last season, for example, 20-year-old Connecticut cornerback Jasper Howard was stabbed to death about nine hours after a mid-October victory over Louisville.
The Huskies went on to lose their next three games by a total of 10 points, including a 47-45 near-miss against a Brian Kelly-coached Cincinnati team that was a 17-point favorite.
The next game UConn waltzed into Notre Dame Stadium for the first time in school history and walked out with a 33-30 double-overtime victory. It proved to be the first step in a four-game UConn winning streak to end the season at 8-5.
Even without the new wave of emotion to deal with, Crist has been consistently inconsistent.
Some have wondered, particularly on sports talk radio and in cyberspace, whether Irish first-year head coach Brian Kelly’s “tough love” was protracting Crist’s growing pains.
“Dayne cares, so much, about his performance,” Kelly responded to that notion. “He cares so much about his teammates. He cares so much about Notre Dame. So when you start with that premise, in terms of coaching a young man that cares so much, I think what my style has always been is to get him to understand the game first, because he cares so much.
“So a lot of it, for me, has been educational. And so my coaching style with him has been, we are driving points home. We are trying to fill his head with football knowledge. He didn't have a whole lot of football knowledge, especially the spread offense, coming in. And so you take each individual, and you look at them, and you coach and teach to that.
“I don't have to get him fired up. I don't have to get him caring about his performance or the team's performance. I don't have to kick him in the butt to get him out to practice and practice with energy. This is strictly about knowledge base, and drilling that home. And sometimes we literally have to drill it home.”
It’s a stark contrast, though, to what Crist is used to both in style and substance. And yet his numbers as a first-year starter (174 of 292 for 2,033 yards and 15 TDs with seven interceptions) are far superior to two of those former Irish QB greats giving him advice these days and comparable to Theismann’s at the same juncture.
“I understand that a lot of (wining and losing) falls on my shoulders and my back, but that's why you come to Notre Dame and that's why you play quarterback here,” Crist said. “It's just got to be a situation where I've got to do a better job each week, no matter what it is, I've got to make the adjustments to get better each week.”
Adjusting to Kelly’s coaching style, Crist admitted, isn’t a snap of the fingers. But he’s never complained, just complied.
“We are both very fierce competitors,” Crist said. “All we care about at the end of the day is winning. That's his style of coaching and that's what he does. He's the coach and he's right, and I'm the player and I do what he says. That's basically how it goes. ...
“You know, in the heat of the battle like that, obviously it's a very intense situation, just the language and the way the conversations go. It's just all about winning, and we have got to do things fast on the sideline, making adjustments between series and things like that.
“It's an intense situation. There's no denying that. But the intensity is what's driving us to win and compete.”