Notre Dame Football: Why Tommy Rees at Quarterback?

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Notre Dame Football: Why Tommy Rees at Quarterback?
Tommy Rees and Brian Kelly have had a lot of conversations.

In the brutal aftermath of the Alabama game, I have finally fashioned a crude shelter from what’s left of my house following my aging mother’s response to three fifths of Jack Daniels mixed with her slightly negative reaction to the Tide’s 529 uncontested yards.

At 91 years old, Mom was slapped by the local authorities with a month’s worth of consecutive weekend county jail terms and a year’s community service for mayhem and malicious destruction of private property.

The family’s desperate pleas for less leniency and at least a tether with enough bite to take her down long enough to get the cuffs back on her fell on deaf ears.

Note to Reader: Unfortunately, our sissy judicial system evidently thinks that you can rehabilitate nine decades of unmitigated terror with eight nights on a cot and a firm disapproving stare, but I digress.

More germane to this article, after months of digging my way out of the basement debris living on a family-size bag of stale nachos and the scattered remnants of my cheap-ass neighbor’s beer cooler, I have emerged only to find out Tommy Rees is again Notre Dame’s starting quarterback.

To which I say, "I did not see that one coming."

Yes, according to Brian Kelly, the 2013 Notre Dame Fighting Irish will have Rees starting behind center.

So we have to ask: Why Tommy Rees? 

 

Rees Has Done Some Fine Work

 

The detractors that say Tommy Rees can’t play college football don’t watch much college football, or if they do, they like to watch because of the pretty uniforms.

In fact, Rees has been arguably one of the more successful signal-callers in the annals of Notre Dame football.

In four starts after being thrown to the wolves as a true freshman to finish out 2010, Rees was 4-0 and the first Irish freshman to start and win a bowl game in over 125 years of Irish football.

That means ever.

In 2011, Rees started 12 games for the Irish and passed for over 200 yards in eight games. He threw multiple touchdowns in six games and completed 65.5 percent of his passes, the second-best completion percentage in a season by any Notre Dame quarterback (behind Jimmy Clausen’s 68 percent junior campaign).

Rees tied a school record by completing 14 consecutive passes, and at one point completed 135 consecutive passes without an interception, the third-longest streak in school history.

For 2011, Rees ranked in the top five in school history in single-season passes attempted, passes completed, touchdown passes and passing yards. 

Note to Reader: Notre Dame has a lot of school history.

In his limited role in 2012, Rees led a late game-winning drive against Purdue and scored the only touchdown in a win against Michigan. With Everett Golson hurt, he stepped in and orchestrated a win against defense-crazed BYU, and tossed the game winning touchdown to T. J. Jones in an overtime win vs. Stanford.

Overall, in 30 games over a three-year career, Rees has passed for over 4,400 yards with 34 touchdowns and is 14-4 as a starter at Notre Dame.

For a quarterback reputed to be pretty damn awful, Rees is pretty damn good.

 

Rees Has Done Some Not-So-Fine Work

 

So with a resume that beats the hell out of anything I ever did, why did most of Irish Nation let out a collective groan when 2012 starter Golson brain-farted himself off campus this spring?

Truth be told, despite some solid stats and a 78 percent winning record as a starter, Rees has a few minor kinks in his armor.

If we’re brutally honest, some of those kinks are more like the truck dents you see after a head-on collision between a Ford F-150 and a tank.

 

2010 - Freshman Savior:

 

In the four wins to finish out 2010, a record-setting Irish D crushed offense after offense and the running game pitched in with more than 150 yards a game, despite a severely limited playbook.

During the late season run, Rees averaged an okay-ish 173 yards passing and a paltry 15 completions a game, and in the process was solicited to endorse the new Nike brand of concrete cleats.

Note to Reader: Rees’ career rushing total of -71 yards reflects every bit of the Olympic speed and cat-like elusiveness Rees possesses.

While Irish Nation was both surprised and excited to see its team salvage the season, quarterback play was understandably spotty to average. Even to the casual fan, it was clear that while Rees was not losing games, but he wasn’t exactly winning them either.

There is no clearer example than the 2010 road win against Southern Cal.

In an epic game against USC in the raucous confines of Coliseum, Rees played like he was in way over his head and he was.  Rees put in a flat out ugly performance with 149 yards passing and an equally ugly 4.9 yards per attempt.

Rees also tossed three interceptions and had at least three more easy drops by an uncharacteristically charitable USC defense.

Still, the Irish won 20-16 in the rain, on the road, against Lane Kiffin, so nobody complained, but Kelly definitely took note.

 

2011 - Sophomore Slump:

 

Shoved back in to a starting gig, Rees looked All-American-esque against the physically outmatched academy defenses, Purdue’s freshmen defensive backs, and whatever clown-circus Maryland called defense.

But more often than not throughout 2011, Rees looked physically overwhelmed.

Except for one drive, Rees was basically helpless against the blitzing Pitt defense and had no answer to the zone-flooding schemes of Boston College that forced him into throwing bullets at tight windows without the gun or vision to do it.

As the season wore on, Rees’ dependence on the talent around him became easier to game plan against and defend. In four out of Notre Dame's five losses, the Irish rushed for 117 yards or less (they had 154 yards rushing in the loss to Michigan).

Whenever the running game couldn’t carry the Irish hopes, Rees usually did not have the necessary skills to make defenses back off, despite having the best receiver in the country to throw to.

Note to Reader: For 2010 and 2011, Michael Floyd caught 40 percent of Tommy Rees’ passes, often despite the fact that most of mainland China was billion-teaming him.

Predictably, Rees’ “run-like-a-sloth and chuck-it-at-a-big-guy” strategy worked well against out-matched defenses and got used by the better ones, as teams were able to game plan effectively against a one-dimensional Irish pass offense and a running game that was a man short.

By the end of 2011, Rees’ glaring lack of arm strength, mobility and pocket presence became more and more obvious until he was ultimately pulled when Stanford’s punishing defense ate him alive.

He got the hook again when an uber-aggressive Florida State defense forced him into a panic stricken 16-for-27 day with a touchdown and two interceptions that was way uglier than the bad numbers indicated.

If Brian Kelly needed any convincing, the horror game film courtesy of the Cardinal and the Seminoles made sure he understood in vivid detail what happens when Rees stands behind center against a top-rated defense.

As 2011 closed out, it was abundantly clear that Rees was capable of playing college football but he was not the answer to the elite defenses Notre Dame meets four or five times a year.

 

2012 - Junior Fill-In:

 

As we all know, Rees' primarily physical shortcomings, culminating with a bad race against a 50-year-old South Bend cop, resulted in Rees losing his starting gig to redshirt freshman Everett Golson.

Rees' sporadic 2012 campaign had very mixed results.

Rees was 3-6 in a late drive for the winning field goal against Purdue, but in extended playing time against the tough defense of the dreaded Michigan Wolverines, he passed for a miniscule 115 yards and was generally ineffective all game long.

Rees also struggled all afternoon in his one meaningful start against an aggressive BYU front to net a similarly paltry 117 yards through the air–throwing a bad interception that nearly cost the game.

Of course, the Irish defense only gave up two field goals to overcome Rees’ poor performance against Michigan, and the Notre Dame O-line and running backs put up 270 yards rushing when the Rees-led passing game did next to nothing against the Cougars’ defense.

Overall, when you look at Rees' statistical success, the greater majority of his stats have come against lower tier defenses, and his 34 touchdowns are not nearly as impressive when offset against the 24 interceptions and five fumbles that have earned him the moniker “Turnover Tommy.”

So while Notre Dame has won many a game Tommy Rees started, it is equally clear that many of those games were won despite his play, not because of it.

 

So Why Tommy for QB?

 

When Tommy Rees hit campus in 2010, 5th-string quarterback Matthew Mulvey was the closest thing on the roster to Rees’ skill set of a 30-yard arm.

So how on God’s green earth has Rees started 18 games for the Fighting Irish?

In many respects, it’s been a matter of circumstance.

As we all know, when Dayne Crist went down in 2010, Kelly had a team that already had five losses. Legitimately looking to the long-term future of his program, Kelly did not want to burn a redshirt year of the talented but still inconsistent backup Andrew Hendrix.

Instead, Kelly explained the convoluted details of his massive playbook to true freshman Tommy Rees: go in there and throw it at Michael Floyd and hand off a lot.

Rees obeyed and the Irish were undefeated for the rest of 2010.

So how does Kelly reward his undefeated starting quarterback?

In the fall, Kelly named Dayne Crist his 13 game-starter halfway through fall camp.

Luckily for Rees' career, however, Kelly doesn't know the difference between two quarters of football and thirteen games. After one half of the opener with South Florida, Kelly’s solemn seal of approval of Crist as his 2011 starting quarterback was ditched altogether.

Note to Reader: If you are named starting quarterback for Notre Dame this year, do not sell your house and move to South Bend.

Re-enter the more-seasoned Rees only to relive another 8-5 year crushing undersized academy defenses and looking mediocre to painful against top-50 defenses. Rees finished the year with a 12-4 record as a starter with almost 4,000 yards passing and 32 touchdowns under his belt.

So how does Kelly reward his two-year starting QB?

An undersized, redshirt freshman that had never thrown a football in a college game was given the starting job for 2012, and Rees was given a red baseball cap.

Anyone out there think Coach Kelly may have a few issues with Rees' skillset?

So despite the recent announcement of another ride on the Tommy Rees’ tour bus, what all of this says is that while Kelly appreciates what Rees has done, he recognizes Rees’ limitations and has been desperately looking for something more.

But between Andrew Hendrix’s continued inconsistency and Malik Zaire’s inexperience, Rees is still the lesser of three evils.

 

Summary

 

Although Kelly publicly supports Rees, the coach's past actions speak volumes that Rees is not his preferred solution for running the Irish offense.

You can bet that if dual-threat freshman Malik Zaire lights up fall practice, Rees will be back in the bullpen in a heartbeat.

Or if Andrew Hendrix starts reading defenses as well as he reads fourth-year organic chemistry textbooks, Rees will be a former starter once again.

Yes, for now, Rees has won the quarterback battle, but for the most part it has been a simple battle of attrition.

Hope you’re reading this, Gunner Kiel.

So while Kelly continues to look for a quarterback for the future, for the time being he’ll have Rees to fall back on, if not look forward to.

So to answer the question, "Why Tommy Rees?"

For right now, there is no better answer than the solemn words of Delta House legend John Blutarsky: Why not?

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