When Tommy Rees is finally done at Notre Dame following the 2013 season—after what will feel like an eternity of eligibility—his legacy will generate a mixed response. Buried beneath the interceptions, the narrative of the interceptions and the countless Brian Kelly facial expressions and color changes will be surprising production, especially at a time when Notre Dame needed it most.
And if the Irish plan to make any legitimate noise for the rest of the season, they need Tommy Rees.
Against USC, this was abundantly clear.
Life with and without Notre Dame’s starting quarterback was on display in the team’s ugly 14-10 win over USC. Rees was the only quarterback to complete a pass for the Irish, although he wasn’t the only one to log snaps. Therein lies the concern.
In the second half, Rees was hit awkwardly around the head and left the game. He returned to the sideline in street clothes after going to the locker room, and backup quarterback Andrew Hendrix took over.
Before Rees went down, he completed 14 of 21 passes for 166 yards and two scores. He threw a handful of beautiful balls, and in doing so, he hit a rare milestone at a storied program:
Tommy Rees just became the 5th ND quarterback to ever throw for 6,000 career yards #NDvsUSC— Michael Bertsch (@NDsidBertschy) October 20, 2013
As soon as Rees went down against USC, it all changed. Hendrix filled in and struggled, completing zero of four passing attempts. He also ran for just five yards on six carries.
The offense shut down. USC stacked the box with nine defenders, and Notre Dame could not move the ball, nor did it attempt to. Brian Kelly did not get aggressive after Hendrix looked out of sorts early. Going forward, there must be concern at the position depending on the status of Rees.
Following the game, Kelly spoke to reporters and provided an update on his starting quarterback. At the moment, there is little to update, although his immediate status for the coming week is certainly in doubt.
Neck strain for #NotreDame QB Tommy Rees. Brian Kelly: "We'll see where we are in the next 24-48 hours when we get a full eval on Tommy."— Brian Hamilton (@ChiTribHamilton) October 20, 2013
The good news for Notre Dame is next week’s opponent shouldn’t present much of a problem. The Irish will travel to 1-6 Air Force in Week 9 and should make quick work of the Falcons regardless of who’s under center.
After that, however, the Irish will need him healthy for the home stretch. It's a stretch that includes a contest at Pittsburgh, a home game against BYU and a finale at Stanford.
Will a BCS bowl still be within reach at that point? At this rate of upsets, it’s certainly possible. At the very least, Notre Dame has done a nice job of bouncing back after two early losses despite glaring issues.
The defense has struggled at times, while the running game has sputtered for much of the year. Through it all, however, Rees has been the constant.
He’s made mistakes—primarily in one ugly afternoon against Oklahoma—but Rees has played exceedingly well outside of this forgettable stretch. If you told Notre Dame fans that their starting quarterback would have 15 touchdowns and only six interceptions (three of which came in one game) heading into Week 9, they would have gladly accepted this production.
There’s no need to break out a Heisman campaign or prepare a parade for a quarterback who has been through plenty. But there is an appreciation lacking for the embattled QB at a time where it is most certainly warranted.
Despite the bad that Rees has delivered over the years, some of which has been magnified to an unfair degree, he's delivered plenty of good. And for Notre Dame to stay productive in 2013, it will need its starting quarterback healthy and under center for one final run.