Notre Dame vs. Pitt: The Old Tommy Rees Seems to Surface at Wrong Time for Irish

Adam KramerNational College Football Lead WriterNovember 10, 2013

Nov 9, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish quarterback Tommy Rees (11) signals to his teammates in the fourth quarter against the Pittsburgh Panthers at Heinz Field. Pitt won 28-21. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports
Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Tommy Rees has been fantastic through much of the 2013 season. In fact, Rees is the primary reason the Irish were still in contention for a BCS bowl game in 2013—albeit one with only a small glimmer of hope.

But against Pittsburgh on Saturday night, Tommy Rees looked like the Tommy Rees of old, the one who turns Brian Kelly’s face into a Crayola crayon buffet and opposing defensive backs into All-Americans. A few brutal throws prompted a trip down bad-memory lane. 

Nov 9, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish quarterback Tommy Rees (right) passes under pressure from Pittsburgh Panthers defensive lineman Tyrone Ezell (50) during the fourth quarter at Heinz Field. Pittsburgh won 28-21. Mandatory Credit:
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

With Pittsburgh’s 28-21 win, the small glimmer of hope is no more. Notre Dame’s third loss of the year quiets the talk of a BCS bowl appearance, and the Panthers did what they were close to doing in 2012.

This time, they finished the job. 

The stat line for Notre Dame’s quarterback was not pretty. The two touchdowns were the good, so were the 318 passing yards. But two fourth-quarter interceptions—one that came in the red zone on an ugly throw across his body—were the difference in the game.

When Notre Dame has lost, Rees has not played well. That’s not exactly a shocking football development given the importance of solid quarterback play, but the difference in his production tells a story for the season.

Tommy Rees has 3 INTs in #NotreDame's 7 wins. Has 7 INTs in #ND's 3 losses.

— Bruce Feldman (@BFeldmanCBS) November 10, 2013

When Rees wasn’t turning it over on Saturday, he was simply off on many of his throws. His accuracy wasn’t there, even on some of his completions. That has not been the case throughout much of the year. 

Even on a night when he clearly didn’t have it, he showed glimpses. His 80-yard touchdown pass to T.J. Jones in the third quarter was a thing of beauty at a crucial moment in the game.

His overall game, however, was up and down, and the downs were emphatic. 

The Notre Dame defense battled—looking far better than it did against Navy’s unique attack—although it was not the same unit we’ve come to expect. Well, perhaps we have grown to expect this kind of game this year.

A few questionable calls, including a targeting ejection of star defender Stephon Tuitt early on, certainly didn’t help.

Following the game, head coach Brian Kelly refused to blame the loss on the ejection, and it certainly was up for debate. While this was a huge call that the Irish were on the wrong side of, this was not the reason they lost.

Brian Kelly: “Stephon Tuitt not playing, that’s not why we lost this football game.” #NotreDame

— Andrew Owens (@BGI_AndrewOwens) November 10, 2013

The blame for the loss will fall squarely on the shoulders of Rees, which is both appropriate and unfair, if such balance can be found with the two opposites.

Rees had his worst performance of the season at the wrong time. And really, there is no right time to have a bad game. But in a matchup that still had both schools buzzing from their three-overtime thriller a season ago, and with the Irish still hanging on to one final BCS push, it all came crashing down.

The narrative prevailed.

What is not fair, however, is that the bad will receive much more attention than the good. In a year where Rees has been overlooked for his positive play, the attention that he finally gets turns out to be negative. The criticism for his performance is valid, but the attention to his play is often one-sided.

The clunker came in the spotlight, and the negative response is not new when it comes to Notre Dame’s QB. Hopefully, however, the bigger picture is at least assessed before the masses set up to clobber Rees once more.