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Career days from Rees, Jones power balanced offense

Vicky Jacobsen | Monday, September 2, 2013

For many Irish fans, it might be difficult to decide on a favorite moment in No. 14 Notre Dame’s 28-6 season-opening win over Temple on Saturday. 

There was junior running back Amir Carlisle’s “Welcome to Notre Dame” moment, when he broke free for a 45-yard gain in the first play of the game, which was also his first play as a member of the Irish. There were also the two 32-yard touchdown passes from senior quarterback Tommy Rees to junior receiver DaVaris Daniels and junior tight end Troy Niklas’ 66-yard run-after-the-catch touchdown before the half, to name a few. 

But Daniels and Niklas were far from the only two Irish players to deliver significant contributions on a day highlighted by offensive variety. The Irish offense had six plays that gained over 30 yards, and five of those came from different receivers or rushers.

“I thought you saw what I was hoping for,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said after the game. “You had Daniels catch a touchdown; you had [senior receiver] TJ Jones and obviously [sophomore receiver] Chris Brown. You had Troy Niklas and the running backs catch footballs. You had [freshman running back] Tarean Folston catching a nice ball coming out of the backfield. I think you’re going to see great distribution of the football across the board, and it’s going to be somebody new each week.

“TJ Jones is going to be in the mix every single week, because he’s one of the best wide receivers in the country. But you’re going to see a lot of guys contribute offensively. I think it’s for the better, I really do. I think it gives us great balance across the board.”

Jones said the offensive output on display offered a glimpse of what could turn out to be a highly efficient offense. 

“Today we showed a little bit of our ability to move the ball down field in the way that we want to,” Jones said. “There are definitely some things we need to work on, but I think we got a glimpse of where our offense can go today.”

Rees, who completed 16 of 23 pass attempts and threw three touchdowns with no interceptions, said he wasn’t surprised by how well the offense gelled during the game.

“I had a lot of confidence in those guys.  I’m with them every day, so I know the ability that they have,” Rees said. “I knew they had the ability to make plays for us, and I’m happy they did it.”

Even in a game filled with highlight-worthy plays from a number of different sources, experienced seniors Rees and Jones stood out and set the tone for the offensive unit. Jones led the team with career-high 138 receiving yards despite not scoring a touchdown. Jones also made his debut as a punt-returner, gaining 23 yards on three returns.

“He made one bad decision where he did not field the punt, and I thought he made a great play late in the game where he fielded it in traffic, which we’ve struggled with over the last few years,” Kelly said. “I think he’s going to be really good at it as he continues to get more live playing time at that position. I’m pretty excited about watching him back there.”

Rees also set a new personal record by throwing for 346 yards. It was also the first time Rees has thrown over 300 yards in a winning effort (his two previous 300-yard games came in losses to Tulsa in 2010 and Michigan in 2011.) Communicating with his targets was the key to Rees’ strong performance, Jones said.

“Any time there were checks, Tommy relayed them to the receivers and we relayed them to each other in case somebody didn’t see it,” he said. “When there was a bad play, he put us in a good play. And I think our communication was great.” 

That Rees and Jones peaked in the same game is a result of both experience and luck, Jones said.

“Tommy and I lived together for two a half years,” Jones said. “We came in together, so we have a connection there. You have time to build on that since we enrolled. And definitely today the play calling came my way.”

Contact Vicky Jacobsen at vjacobse@nd.edu