Questions Remain Under Center for Irish Offense

Tommy Rees lost his second start of the season and raised some questions about Notre Dame's long term status at the quarterback position. (Photo / Icon SMI)

It only took Brian Kelly a half of football this season to decide he needed to make a quarterback change and while Notre Dame’s 2nd year head coach hasn’t given any indication he is even considering another one, questions still surround the position for the Irish after starting the second half of the season with a disappointing loss on Saturday night.

Ever since the quarterback derby for 2011 began in the spring, the physical limitations of Tommy Rees have been well documented.  Rees isn’t very big, he isn’t very fast, and he doesn’t have a very big arm.  He has a good understanding of the offense, however and for the most part is cool under pressure.

At times this season Rees has looked pretty sharp.  Against Purdue and Air Force Rees was almost unstoppable at certain points.  Against Pitt and again last night against Southern Cal, however, Rees looked ordinary and struggled to move the offense downfield.

The turnover bug came back to haunt Rees again last night as well after putting together two turnover free games.  One of the turnovers was not all Rees’s fault as Cierre Wood should have been able to catch what ended up being a lateral inside the Irish 20.  At the same time, that pass needs to be thrown forward so that USC doesn’t even have the option of picking that ball up once it hits the ground.

Rees is still very young, but the jury is still out as to whether or not he is the long term answer for the Irish under center.  He looks very sharp at times, but he struggles with consistency and against athletic defenses like USC’s his physical limitations severely affect his effectiveness.

Behind Rees we still don’t know what Notre Dame has either.  We have a general idea of what Dayne Crist is capable of which unfortunately is does not appear to be that much.  After stepping in for Rees when he got banged up in the 3rd quarter, Crist led the Irish down the field and on the doorstop of tying the game only to botch the snap and watch as Jawanza Starling picked up the ball and returned it for a touchdown.   The series was pretty much a microcosm of Crist’s career – he has the tools, looks the part, but just can’t quite put it all together.

The two wild cards here remain sophomore Andrew Hendrix and freshman Everett Golson.  It’s pretty obvious that Kelly wants a quarterback that can run the ball otherwise he wouldn’t be experimenting with using two quarterbacks right now.  Both Hendrix and Golson provide that ability, but both also remain raw and need to pick up the nuances of Kelly’s offense before we know what they are truly capable of.

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With five games remaining the number one priority for Kelly has to be to gain some clarity on what he has at quarterback.  Notre Dame simply can’t go into spring practice next year with another open quarterback race.

Some people will point to Rees’ 8-2 record as a starter as all the evidence they need to know he is the right quarterback for this offense, but when you look at those games, the only game that Notre Dame won in that stretch where the defense gave up 30 or more points was the Air Force game and most of those points came well after the outcome was determined.

In short, Rees has proven he can manage a game and lead Notre Dame to a win when the defense plays well and the offense doesn’t have to lead the way.  What he hasn’t shown is the ability to stap the team on his back and carry them when the defense is struggling.  No matter how good a defense is, there are going to be games where the opposing offense just has there number and when that happens you need to have your offense put up points.  To this point we haven’t seen this offense have that ability under the control of Rees or any of the current Irish quarterbacks for that matter.

Kelly needs to determine if Rees is his long term answer and to this point I don’t think the sophomore has provide enough evidence to answer that question in either direction.  He has done enough so far to be given more time to learn and improve, but at the same time he also hasn’t shown enough to be the unquestioned starter for 2012 either.

I doubt we’ll see Golson at this point of the season.  It seems fairly evident that Kelly would like to maintain his redshirt year, but I hope we see more of Hendrix over these final five games to see if can be the quarterback this offense needs to really hum.  We know he is bigger, faster, and has a much stronger arm than Rees, but Crist has all of those things as well and we’ve been down that road enough already.

The defense has not been great this season, but last night they played well enough for the Irish to win.  They allowed USC to march down the field early on them, but they stiffened in the second quarter and for the rest of the game, the only USC points that were scored came either on turnovers or because of turnovers.

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The difference between this year and last year’s USC game was the defense turned in an amazing performance last year in the Coliseum.  The offense sputtered even more so last year against the Trojans, but the defense picked them up.  This year the defense was just ordinary against Southern Cal and needed to the offense to pick them up.  The offense, no matter who was under center, just couldn’t do it.

Until Kelly finds someone who can, Notre Dame will continue to struggle against quality opponents like USC.  It would also help if Kelly helped out his signal callers by calling more than nine runs for his dynamic duo at running back too, but that’s a whole other story.


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  1. chris 8 years ago


    What’s a grandpa like you doing in this forum ???

    I disagree. You are comparing Rees with Montana!!! Are you kidding me! Rees is an Interception machine waiting to happen. He locks onto Floyd too much. He’s lucky he has Floyd. Without Floyd, what is he going to do. Is he going to create plays ? Is he going to throw it deep or across his body ? Is he going to run for a first down ?

    There is nothing that Rees does another QB can not do ! Actually I see many things that he can not do. In the USC game, he was totally “out-classed” by Barkeley.

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    1. Shazamrock 8 years ago


      What am I doing in this formum?

      Obviously trying to enhance your overall knowledge of ND football.(Although you don’t make it easy)

      The only thing I was comparing was the “intangables” of 2 ND QB’s during their sophmore seasons.

      I am not comparing a Hall of Fame QB who had 16 years in the NFL to a sophmore QB playing in his 12th college game.

      ( “I’m not, by any means, saying Tommy Rees is the next Joe Montana”.)

      Maybe you didn’t read that part?

      If you can’t understand that, then maybe we should ask what you are doing on this forum?

      Too bad you never got to see Joe play in person. There are so many details of his game that went un-noticed by the “Me First” Generation.

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      1. Shazamrock 8 years ago

        By the way, when I attended that game in 1975 with my dad, I was 9 yrs old!

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      2. storespook 8 years ago

        I hear Joe is QUITE angry with ND about how his son Nate was treated while he attended ND. I suppose Nate’s off the field issues and not so great performance on the field weren’t issues Nate had any responsibility for, hmm. I don’t think he had the “old man’s” football genes too much, either. It’s too bad if Joe has this level of animosity towards his alma mater.

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  2. teo 8 years ago

    Okay, so I think I’ve probably waffled more than the average Notre Dame fan. But, I feel like I’ve seen enough of Rees. He’s a nice kid and understands the offense very well. He does. But he can’t seem to throw the ball down field and so the defense sneaks up on every down. Meanwhile Floyd (who could stand to learn a thing or two about intensity) is in one-on-one coverage but cannot get the ball because Rees can’t accurately toss it fifty yards down field.

    All of that said, I don’t know about Crist. He’s a head case. I mean a fumbled snap at the 1? Nuts. I don’t have the answer. But I have a pretty good feeling that running the ball a lot more and using a different quarterback is probably the best approach at this stage. Again I still believe that we play the best guys at every position. That has to be the goal. I just don’t think that Rees is the best quarterback we have.

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  3. Shazamrock 8 years ago


    I attended a whole lot of ND football games back in the 1970’s.

    There was one particular ND QB who didn’t garner much recruiting interest because they said he was too small, too slow, had a weak arm, and who’s skill set was average at best. He was buried 3 deep on the depth chart when new head coach Dan Devine called on him late in the fourth quarter of the third game of the 1975 season.

    ND was trailing 14-6 with 5 minutes left in the game. The offence had been “flat” all day. Buth this fresh faced sophmore came in and lead ND to 21-14 win in the final 5 minutes.

    He would, during his ND college careed, go on to post some of the most amazing come backs in ND history, while also winning a national Champoinship in 77′.

    His Name was Joe Montana.

    Now I’m not, by any means, saying Tommy Rees is the next Joe Montana.

    But I have seen both in action, at similar points in their careers, and I can tell you the similarities, in terms of the intangables, are amazing.
    Both have a knack for leading late game rallys, both have a knack for getting the players around them to play better. Both seem to play pretty well under pressure. Both had the rap that they had weak arms and were just average.

    Now Joe didn’t win a National Championship until his senior season, so Tommy still has some time to get there.

    I hope he does, and I hope the similarities between the two continue.

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    1. JDH 8 years ago

      Here here! I see Tommy’s flaws just like everybody else. But I believe he is our man. I believe that because of the improvement I’ve seen from last year to this year. Yes, some of his turnovers have been just awful. But, in my humble opinion, we don’t have 3 losses because of Tommy.

      I would however like to see Hendrix utilized more in the red zone. Let opponent’s defenses keep on guessing whether or not he is going to run.

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    2. John1985 8 years ago

      Joe had a much better arm and was much more mobile. That was in an era of smaller and slower players. Rees is too slow and too weak armed to be more than a back up in today’s college game.

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    3. Irish 8 years ago

      Love to see that happen, but i really don’t see anyway that Rees keeps his job past this season. With Hendrix and Golson around I think we are coming to the end of the Rees era. He was a good band aid and seems to win a lot of games (could be better if the Michigan debacle doesn’t happen), but I think we all can see he is not the real answer.

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  4. Michael Merritt 8 years ago

    The only time I can remember a National Championship Team win with a very average quarterback was Oklahoma in 2000. Josh Heupel was the quarterback for Oklahoma that year. How did they do it? The Oklahoma Sooners of 2000 had perhaps the BEST Defense I have ever seen in College Football. That is what it tooks to win with a Championship with an average quarterback. Tommy Rees is a very gutsy kid but very average quarterback. There is not one skill he has that provides Notre Dame an advantage over our competitors. I am really encouraged by Coach Kelly’s commitment to building a great defense. Until that great defense arrives though, we have better be prepared for disappointment. With these defensive recruits Notre Dame is bringing, let us hope that Bob Diaco can develop a great defense.

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  5. GMoney 8 years ago

    I honestly believe that Matt Barkley’s comments were bush league and absolutely smack of front running. That said, I love Floyd, but this is your All-American wide receiver in a marquis rivalry game. He simply cannot disappear in a game like this. Demand the football..

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  6. Rockett55 8 years ago

    I dunno what it is with this team the last few years dig themselves into a whole with 0-2 start then knock off 4 wins in a row. USC has a really good team but to come out and play the way they did in a game against a team that owns them the last 10 years was truly disapointing. I will continue to support this team I would like to see Hendrix more because he is a true spread QB , Rees is a gamer and im not gonna sit here and say he’s not the answer because he has control of this offence and has looked good at times. Too fumble on the 2yard line foe the second time in the SAME!!!!!! season is just plain bad luck and mental mistakes on part of the players. Still think we have a shot at 8-4 im a realist just wanna see this team continue to get better

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  7. pete 8 years ago

    I agree about running the ball. I like Kelly very much as a coach but he sometimes does get a little pass happy. Still though when Kelly calls a pass play and the receivers are open and the pass is bad that is not his fault. Example, Eifert was wide open in the end zone and Reese threw a bad pass. Crist fumbles on the 1 yard line with a chance to tie the game late in the 3rd quarter, etc, etc. Finally, would like to see more of Hendrix. Also Notre Dame needs a handful of creampuffs on the schedule so that backup players can get meaningful playing time. Offense isn’t far away from being really good. Special teams and defense still have a long way to go.

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  8. Irish 8 years ago

    It’s sickening listening to the USC players talk about ND quitting Saturday night. It is a classless move and reeks of front running, but there is probably some truth in there. I think it was more of shrinking in the moment. That was the first really big game this program has played in 5 years. Sometimes the moment is too big for you and right now it’s too big for us. I optimistically think we will play better from here on out. Kelly rallied them last year under far worse circumstances after losses to Navy and Tulsa. It’s ironic that Navy comes to town this week and can be some sort of carthatic healing.

    Let’s hope for 8-4 and the Champs Bowl vs. FSU. I know that would have sounded horrible back in August but it is all we have.

    Go Irish!

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  9. Mike 8 years ago

    I like Dayne Crist and Tommy Rees and they have given their all for the team. BUT, they are not the future of the team. Hendrix and Golson are the future. We have nothing left to lose this year – all our initial high hopes have been dashed by turnovers and mental errors that well intentioned young men made. Kelly needs to make the hard decision and building for the future with a dual threat QB. It’s time to give the young guns some experience and prepare for year 3 of the BK era. If he doesn’t do it now, it will be even harder next year and how will we ever recruit another top QB? I feel bad for Tommy and Dayne but they had their chances and have not met the challenge. Tommy hasn’t performed well against tough defenses, has too many turnovers, and looks out of place on the field when he has to scramble. Dayne has the physical tools but just can’t pull it together when he needs to. BK needs to use a QB suited to his offense. If you want to have a top level program – you have to make the hard decisions.

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  10. DeltaIrish 8 years ago

    Crist isn’t the right type and, for some cosmic reason is the unluckiest bastard on the college football world.

    Rees is a “game manager” (techinical term for a QB that can’t throw the long ball or run). Unfortunately we don’t have the other aspects of the game in such an order that we just need an Alabama style “game manager”. We need the QB to win us a few.

    That leaves us with Hendrix and Gholson. Both are reportedly the epitome of what Kelly’s offense needs to be as prolific as it was at Cincy. I understand that neither is the guy that “gives us the best chance to win now.” But, given that Kelly has said at ND the goal is a BCS bowl, those pants have been shat. Time to build for the future. Crist should transfer and find some new karma. Tommy should be back-up with the limited playbook we are supposedly running now. Save Gholson’s redshirt year and start Hendrix.

    Without a conference, ND’s only goal is BCS. That goal has been missed this year. Time to start building for next.

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    1. fxm 8 years ago

      I could understand the “game manager” thing if he didn’t turn it as much as anyone in the country. How could Hendrix possibly cough it over any more? What is the risk?

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  11. Chris 8 years ago

    It’s time Kelly has to think seriously re-evaluate the type of offense he wants to run. He has a MAC conference caliber QB, and his limitation was on full display vs USC. Rees has been struggling against any decent defense, he’ll be totally lost against the defenses of LSU or BAMA. If Kelly still thinks he’s the one, then help him out by running some more. Jonas Gray need running hard all season, pound the ball more. Kelly was trying to copy the Arizona State game and was throwing too many screens. But we don’t have the personnel to catch n run.

    If Kelly wants to install the spread, then give Hendrix more opportunity to see what he can do on the field .

    Also, about the defense.
    Over 1 1/2 yr, I have not seen anything exciting from Diaco’s defense.
    Why r we always having someone on the job training.
    The outside backers are the most exciting players in a 3/4 defense. But our backers can’t even tackle Barkeley out in the flat n allowed him to run for first down. And it happened more than once. what is going on with coaching with 2 weeks to prepare. We are not improving going in second yr already.

    I was only excited what Akinson return another one.

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  12. Shazamrock 8 years ago

    Coach Kelly said at the beginning of the year, that since ND does not belong to a conference, that a 10, 11, or 12 win season and a BCS bowl game was the goal.

    With those things out the window at only the mid point of the season. I think the coaches should take a step back and re-evaluate their priorities.

    I would start with finding a way to get the lads to play with a fire and intensity that used to be the mark of ND football.

    If I paid the big bucks for a USC-ND night game ticket, and was given the dead fish of emotion displayed on Saturday night, I would be asking for my money back today.

    I can deal with a loss if there was passion and fire. Pride and toughness.
    (see the 2005 USC-ND game)

    I want to see the guys flying around, knocking the snot out of people, jumping around, inspiring each other, whooping it up, cutting it loose, making plays all over the field, and having some fun.

    That’s what Saturdays are supposed to about for a ND football player.
    All week long they tow the line. Saturdays are for cutting loose on someone. Sure there will be a few 15 yard penilties involved, but we have all seen the alternative and it isn’t pretty.

    I sure as heck don’t want to see us lose to Navy, Maryland, Wake, BC, or Stanford. But I especially don’t want to see us lose to any of those teams becaue we were “flat” emotionally.

    I say at this point, whip the players up then cut them loose. Turn them loose. If you lose, you lose playing “ALL OUT”. And in doing so, maybe they will find their true identity.

    Because right now they look like they are more concerned about making, or not making mistakes, than making plays and having fun.

    From here on out, the team should be on a ‘search and distroy mission”.
    This is a mentallity that is needed and one we are currently missing.
    Winning is important, but at this time, playing with fire and passion every time out is more important.

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