Brian Kelly names Rees starter
Allan Joseph | Wednesday, September 7, 2011
Two weeks to the day after naming senior Dayne Crist the starting quarterback and after only two quarters with Crist as starter, Irish coach Brian Kelly announced Tuesday that sophomore Tommy Rees would be the starter moving forward.
“Look, nobody wants to go in and change their quarterbacks each and every week. That’s just not the way you play this game,” Kelly said. “So we don’t come to this decision thinking ‘well, he’ll give us one game and we’ll go back to Dayne.’ That’s obviously not why we made this decision. We believe that Tommy is capable of leading this football team, just as I believed strongly that Dayne is capable.”
Rees threw for nearly 300 yards in the second half of Notre Dame’s 23-20 loss to South Florida Sept. 3, and Kelly cited that production as the major reason Rees earned the nod for Saturday’s clash at Michigan.
“Tommy was very productive in the second half,” Kelly said. “The quarterback gets way too much blame and way too much praise … [Crist] didn’t have a lot of help on Saturday. You know, it wasn’t all Dayne Crist. Unfortunately it falls on the quarterback as the leader to be productive. That’s why we went with the decision.”
Kelly said the decision was not an easy one to make, especially following a protracted battle for the position that started in the spring and continued throughout most of fall camp.
“Any time you take your quarterback out, those aren’t easy decisions, because they impact so many things that you’re doing,” Kelly said. “Any time you take your starting quarterback out, that’s not a good situation. [It was] a very difficult situation that I felt needed to be addressed.”
Fixing the mistakes
A number of Irish players made uncharacteristic mistakes against South Florida, but Kelly expressed confidence that those players would be able to rebound come Saturday.
Irish junior wide receiver Theo Riddick lost one fumble on a punt return and looked uncomfortable returning punts all game. Riddick also struggled as a receiver, dropping a number of passes. Kelly said the key for Riddick was not allowing himself to get down mentally.
“We will continue to go to Theo,” Kelly said. “The thing that he has to work on, obviously, is his body language. You know, he can’t get down on himself. We’re going to keep coming to him. He’s going to be our guy. He’s got to fight through a very difficult set of circumstances that were presented to him.”
Irish senior running back Jonas Gray lost a red-zone fumble early in the game that was returned for a touchdown. Despite the mistake, Gray will continue to see the ball.
“He’s got to go back out there,” Kelly said. “He’s got to play for us. He’s physically able to do it. Mentally he’s got to be able to do it. We’re not sitting him down. He’s got to play for us against Michigan, and he’s got to play for us all year.”
Irish junior punter Ben Turk also struggled against the Bulls, averaging only 27.4 net yards per punt. Kelly is working with Turk on translating his success in practice to game situations.
“Ben’s got to go and do it, simple as that,” Kelly said. “He’s the best, most talented guy we have. He’s just got to find himself out there and be more consistent. And based upon what I’ve seen, he can do it. He can hit it down the fairway. We’ve just got to get him to do it on Saturday.”
Preparing for Ann Arbor
Kelly said his players have already put the opening loss behind them and are looking forward to taking on the Wolverines.
“There’s nothing like getting back to work for our football team, especially after a loss. So our focus has been Michigan,” Kelly said. “Getting our players focused on Michigan will not be difficult at all. We know the challenge in front of us.”
Kelly also discussed some of the unique challenges inherent in preparing for Saturday’s game, which will be the first night game in Michigan Stadium history.
“It’s going to be a great atmosphere, [and] it’s exciting to continue this rivalry. We need to start winning some of these games in this rivalry,” Kelly said. “We’re excited about obviously getting an opportunity to play [on] a grand stage in a great atmosphere.”
Saturday’s contest is the first of five night games the Irish are scheduled to play this year, and Kelly said he has optimized a routine to get his players through the long wait before the game.
“I think I have a pretty good system in place on how to keep the guys moving, you know, but not to the point they’re using up a lot of nervous energy prior to the game,” he said. “We want them to peak at that 8:05 [p.m.] start.”
With over 110,000 fans expected to be on hand at Michigan Stadium, Kelly does not believe there is a single thing he can do to prepare his team for the hostile atmosphere.
“I don’t know of any way [to simulate the atmosphere],” he said. “You’ve just got to do it. You’ve just got to overcome.”
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