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Football:Backup plan

Douglas Farmer | Thursday, September 16, 2010

When freshman quarterback Tommy Rees took the field to begin Notre Dame’s second possession Saturday, his appearance surprised many Irish fans.

Two possessions later, junior Nate Montana replaced Rees, and confusion reigned among Notre Dame fans.

In due time, they learned starting quarterback Dayne Crist had suffered a head injury, but they still had questions about Rees and Montana. Rees only attempted two passes, completing one to a Michigan defender, while Montana completed eight of his 17 attempts for 104 yards, along with an interception and one costly overthrow.

“There were things I did right, and there were things I did wrong,” said Montana, a former walk-on. “I’m learning from both, so that next time I’ll probably do it right again, and hopefully correct the bad as well so there is more right than wrong.”

Whenever “next time” comes, Montana can expect to only handle a portion of the playbook, Irish coach Brian Kelly said. After the 28-24 loss Saturday, Kelly said the blame for the backups’ poor performance belonged on his shoulders for not preparing them properly.

“I just have to do a better job getting them ready,” Kelly said. “Maybe [I could have] created a package that was just for them and had that been the case, maybe they could have managed the game a little bit better.”

In his Tuesday press conference, Kelly said that package was becoming a reality already, in preparation for any unforeseen circumstances that may arise during this weekend’s game at Michigan State.

“We’re going to settle on a package that suits both of them. I think we have to have something that really allows both of those guys to feel comfortable out there and still run our offense in a productive manner,” he said. “We focused a lot on that in our preparation and in our meetings. I’m certain we’ll be in a much better place this weekend if we have to go them when they go in the game.”

But Montana and Rees agree — their success depends on more than a limited package.

“It was good experience going in there and getting a couple of reps,” said Rees, who enrolled in January to participate in spring practice with the team. “Now that’s behind me, I need to look forward and keep working hard every day in practice.”

Working hard in practice would not have inherently prepared either of them for what they faced Saturday, Montana said.

“There is nothing like a live game, especially against Michigan at home,” he said. “I don’t know if you’ll get a bigger rush anywhere else.”

After that baptism by fire, Montana said he sees practice in an entirely different light than he did before.

“I definitely feel a little bit more comfortable in practice,” he said. “It is a little slower now that I have seen the game speed … Now that I have a taste, I know exactly how much more time I need to spend in the film room, mentally preparing for practice as well.”

Kelly emphasized the importance of practice for the two backup quarterbacks, both before, and even more so after, Saturday’s game.

“They’re competitive kids. They want to learn. They want to get better,” Kelly said. “I think they’ll understand that practice for them is absolutely crucial, staying locked in all the time.”