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Rees’ efficiency carries Irish in win

Chris Allen | Monday, November 15, 2010

In his 11 months on campus, Irish freshman quarterback Tommy Rees has undoubtedly heard all the names of Notre Dame’s quarterbacking legends — Bertelli, Lujack, Theismann, Montana and Quinn.

Of all those names, and the many others, none accomplished Rees’ feat of throwing three touchdown passes in his first career start Saturday.

“You know, in the beginning running out there you get [butterflies], but all positive butterflies,” Rees said. “You’re anxious to play, and once the first series comes, they’re all gone.”

Rees turned in an efficient performance in his starting debut, throwing for 129 yards on 13-of-20 passing. Though the statistics did not compare with Rees’ 400-yard plus performance in relief of injured starter Dayne Crist during Notre Dame’s 28-27 loss to Tulsa on Oct. 30, Irish coach Brian Kelly said Rees did a good job within the designed game plan in beating No. 14 Utah 28-3.

“Tommy is a young man that really understands the game of football,” Kelly said. “Whether you’re in the spread and five wides or you’re running tackle pull or power, which we ran probably more times than I think we’ve run power here in a long time, he can handle the adjustments that are made. We felt the game plan was such that he could handle what we gave them.”

Rees and the rest of the Notre Dame offense got off to a slow start, as an early stop on fourth down and a batted-down pass highlighted a first quarter in which Notre Dame struggled to move the ball. Rees said he needed some time to get acclimated to the game.

“Obviously the first couple of drives weren’t that great for us offensively, so it kind of just happened that way,” Rees said. “Just going with the pace of the game, and things started clicking there. That blocked punt for a touchdown really helped the offense out because we were struggling, and jump-started the whole sideline and the team. From that point on we started rolling.”

Notre Dame’s — and subsequently Rees’ — success offensively was built around a consistent running game and a passing game that gave Rees a number of high percentage throws in order to minimize turnovers. Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said Notre Dame’s game plan put Rees in position to succeed.

“I think they did a nice job with the freshman quarterback … Gave him not too much on his plate. Enough to move the football and get the points they needed to win the football game,” Whittingham said. “They did a great job of putting him in situations to succeed. They didn’t ask a bunch of throws of him down the field. When they did, they did a nice job.”

Rees’ rare forays into the vertical passing game resulted in two touchdowns to senior wide receiver Duval Kamara, as the senior caught Rees’ second and third touchdowns of the day.

Rees said he has built a rapport with Kamara in practice all season.

“Throughout the bulk of the season I’ve been working with Duval,” Rees said. “So we have a good chemistry and connection, and he’s worked extremely hard to put himself in this position.”

After his stellar debut, the freshman will move forward in the starting quarterback role and prepare for his second start. But he will not soon forget his debut.

“I couldn’t be happier,” Rees said. “Getting the win is the most important thing. To send the seniors off I’m ecstatic.”