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Rees Looks Like Notre Dame’s Starter

Tommy Rees started the second half in relief of Dayne Crist and played well enough to force a change to be made on the quarterback depth chart. (Photo / IconSMI)

Tommy Rees may not look like a typical starting college quarterback when you see him without a football uniform on, but on Saturday afternoon he certainly looked like Notre Dame’s starting quarterback during the 2nd half of Notre Dame’s season opening loss to South Florida.

Ress lost the starting quarterback derby to Dayne Crist last week and at the time Brian Kelly said that he anticipated Crist being his starting quarterback for all 13 games in 2011.  Well, one game into the season, it looks like that won’t be the case at all.  While Crist struggled in the first half despite the presence of a strong running game, Tommy Rees moved the Irish offense with much more consistency and put points on the board.

A few plays into the game, Crist was making it obvious why he was named the starter last week.  He completed 6 of his first 8 passes for 95 yards and moved the offense to the one yard line before Jonas Gray’s fumble was recovered by South Florida and returned 97 yards for a touchdown.

Crist had the Irish on the move again to start the second quarter with another trip inside the South Florida five yard line.  After a touchdown run by Cierre Wood was called back for holding and a potential touchdown pass was dropped by TJ Jones, Crist made a terrible throw to Theo Riddick that was intercepted for a touchback.

After that interception, Crist was just not the same.  Despite missing on only two of his first eight attempts, Crist ended up completing just one of his next seven attempts for no yards and the interception.

Enter Tommy Rees.

Rees, 4-0 as a starter last year, started the second half for the Irish and like Crist’s first drive, he marched the Irish inside the USF 5 yard line.  On first and goal from the five yard line Rees fired a pass to TJ Jones on a crossing route, but the sophomore receiver never looked for the ball and it careened off of his head and into the arms of South Florida linebacker Michael Lanaris for Notre Dame’s third red-zone turnover of the game.

Rees rebounded nicely though and on Notre Dame’s next possession he connected with Tyler Eifert for 37 yards on 3rd and 10 and then two plays later he threw a pretty pass to Michael Floyd for a 25 yard touchdown for Notre Dame’s first points of he game.  By the time the game was over and the lightning stopped, Rees threw for 296 yards on 24 of 34 passing (70%),

Stats aside, Rees also carried himself with more confidence and composure even after bad plays like the interception that hit Jones in the head.   Once things started to snowball for Crist you could just tell he was losing his confidence.

Now, Rees was far from perfect.  After the second weather delay, Rees came out and threw an interception on the first play.  He had Tyler Eifert streaking down the field on a wheel route with single coverage.  Instead of throwing it up for Eifert he scrambled and forced a throw across his body into double coverage and got picked off.  Plays like that are going to happen with a young quarterback though and if Notre Dame has to live with the occasional interception  in exchange for 300+ yards of offense in a half, then so be it.

Despite some poor decision making from Rees, there was a lot to like about his game and the progress he made this off-season.  Rees showed a stronger arm that allowed him to make throws he couldn’t have made last year.  For instance, his 37 yard completion to Eifert was fight in a very tight window – a window he couldn’t have made it through a year ago.

Brian Kelly was non-committal about his starting quarterback for next week when Notre Dame travels to Michigan, but anyone who watched Saturday’s game knows Rees made the decision for him with his performance and honestly, its the only decision he can make after today.

I sang the praises of Crist all summer long as the answer for Notre Dame at quarterback because he has a much stronger arm and great mobility, but as we learned today those two things don’t matter much when passes aren’t delivered accurately.

Rees, whose arm has definitely gotten stronger since last year, showed much better accuracy and touch on his passes.  Notre Dame wide receivers dropped a lot of passes on Saturday and it’s not a coincidence that most of them occurred when Crist was in the game.  Rees just delivered a more accurate and catchable ball.

While Rees may not look like he came straight from central casting like Crist, he looked every bit of the part while he was on the field and it looks like he should be the starting quarterback for the rest of the season.

71 comments

  1. Three keys to the Michigan game:
    1) Tommy Rees has to be the starter. Everyone plays better with him, he doesn’t get rattled, and his calming presence will likely settle the nerves of the other guys (Riddick in particular) that seemed to be a bit shaken. Rees also knows how to get the ball to our playmakers. Michael Floyd had 2 catches in the first half, 10 in the second. Sure we passed more, but Rees feeds the ball into Floyd because he has enough sense to realize the man is a stud.

    2) Contain Denard Robinson. Michigan ran the ball well against what some people considered a “solid d-line” of Western…but I am not buying it. Western is not solid and Michigan hasn’t been tested. I don’t think South Florida will be as good as Michigan in the run game but I would say we are twice as good as Westerns front 7. We can shut down their run but a frightening site last weekend was how easily we lost contain to B.J. Daniels. He doesn’t have the speed of Denard, but if he did, there would have been some huge gains. Michigan has went to a more traditional style of offense so Denard isn’t running as much, but when you play Western Michigan you can afford to stay in the pocket and work on your skills as a passer. When things get rough and pressure is applied, his natural instincts will take over and he will become a threat to run again. We MUST contain him this year. We had too many missed tackles and bad angles agains this guy and must shore that up.

    3) Special Teams. Ben Turk was atrocious. I am willing to bet he shanked more punts in that one game than he does in an entire practice of doing nothing but punting. He HAS to get that fixed because the field position battle is going to be huge in this one. David Ruffer missed a chip shot field goal which makes that two in a row dating back to last year. Hopefully it was bad footing or something that caused it, but he is a critical part of our team. Punt Returns were the worst. I don’t know what is needed to get Theo Riddicks’ confidence back, but he HAS to catch every ball and make some plays. If not, please stick John Goodman back there to fair catch everything. I wish we still had that walk on guy from a couple years back who NEVER fair caught anything. I forget his name, but Riddick should get the film out and look at him. You aren’t going to return to glory by being afraid to get him by gunners on the punt return team. Man up, catch the ball, and make some plays.

  2. Here is the real issue a lot of people are struggling with. ND is not a national powerhouse anymore and we get so mad when they don’t win because we still think it is 1988. USF wasn’t intimidated by ND, they expected to win. It is going to take a few more games like the Utah and Miami game last year before that will happen.

    Since Holtz left, ND has gone 99-74, which is a 58% winning percentage. I am a fan of ND, but I’m also facing reality. Brian Kelly has a mess to clean up because there has been 14 years of mediocre football. Anything over 7 wins is an improvement and we should be estatic if this team wins 9 or more games. Kelly keeps talking about the process and one of the things he has to remove from ND is the loser mentality. That feeling of here we go again when Gray fumbles the football. Most of these players have been on those teams that suffered though that including Crist. Rees, on the other hand, wasn’t, which is why he is calm. He wasn’t here for the heartbreaks that was the norm for Weis last 2 teams.

    So, I’m choosing to focus on what I see is a tremendous positive, this defense has given up an average of 11.2 points over the last 5 games. Kelly is recruiting studs to the defense on the line and in the secondary. This Longo is transforming these guys right before our eyes. Also, despite all the mistakes, this offense did put up over 500 yards and outscored USF 20-7 in the second half.

    I want to see how this team plays in Michigan, it will tell a lot about there character. Who knows, maybe they beat the crap out of them and we can start talking BCS again.

  3. I have begun following Notre Dame because I like Brian Kelly, who coached here in Grand Rapids for GVSU. It doesn’t take me long to read people, and I could see in the Michigan game last year that Crist should not be the quarterback. Yes, he has a pro quarterback’s body, but you just never know how a player will respond at the next level, especially when they are hyped ahead of time. When I was in grade school I dominated in football. I expected to be good in high school but my body did not keep up with the other kids, and my confidence was not there, and my first 3 years in high school were a nightmare. I finally recovered by senior year, but it was a huge mental battle to do so.

    I could see right away with Crist that he did not have the right mindset for college football, he was not the right leader for the team, and I felt he cost them games last season. I also felt his injury was a blessing in disguise. Finally young Rees stepped up and helped them salvage the season, even beating Miami in spite of throwing all those interceptions. I have not been confident about Crist since last season, I just do not see that passion and heart from Crist, and never have. You got Kelly just about popping blood vessels over there on the sideline, and then there is Crist…

    So, Rees is a player. Let the kid play. If I was gonna put money on this Michigan game, I’d bet Michigan is gonna win if Crist starts, but if Rees starts, and after this humbling they just had, why can’t Notre Dame have a blow-out game under the lights in the Big House this Saturday night? I would put my money on Notre Dame if Rees is their leader.

  4. I consider ND a top tier team – based on what they showed me between the 20’s on Saturday. Let’s not forget USF is a very good team – and they had no answer for Wood, Floyd, etc. The problems revolved around two things – 1) mental errors and 2) Dayne Crist’s play.

    What I saw from Crist Saturday was EXACTLY what I saw last year. Lack of mental toughness, lack of leadership and to put it plainly, bone-headed passes. And, what I saw from Rees was exactly what I saw last year – precise passes, accuracy and the ability to command a drive.

    This is a no-brainer to me, bench Crist and start Rees. Dayne has had over a YEAR to mentally and emotionally prepare himself, correct his mistakes and live up to the hype. He failed miserably. I don’t care how tall he is, how big he is, how hard he throws. NONE of it matters in a game.

    That can’t be said for Rees. Yes, he isn’t the biggest, fastest or hardest thrower. But he wins.

    I seem to remember another Notre Dame QB like that . . . what was his name . . . . Joe Montana.

    So stop focusing on size, on paper stats – and focus on REAL stats. Crist in the game? 0 points. Rees? 20. Start Rees last week and the USF game is a W.

  5. I’d rather lose in a close, hard fought BCS bowl than mop the floor with some scrubs in a Hawaii Bowl or Sun Bowl. Im looking forward to Golson starting down the road too, but right now Im more concerned with beating the teams on our schedule. And to address the jist of your comment, no, I dont think anyone considers ND to be a top, TOP tier team right now, or anytime THIS year. But certainly we shouldnt fear a BCS bowl game.

  6. Seriously does anyone really want to go to a BCS game and play the likes of LSU, Florida St., Oklahoma, Alabama….not me! We are obviously not there yet and until we get a someone who can run a Kelly style offense look for similar results up and down the schedule. Golson is more of what we need….sit back and bite your nails for a few more years then watch out!!!!

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