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Monaco: Appreciating Tommy Rees (Oct. 20)

Mike Monaco | Sunday, October 20, 2013

 

As he lay there, flat on his back, it was anyone’s guess how the rest of the game would shake out.

Tommy Rees got smacked into the turf at Notre Dame Stadium, and Andrew Hendrix began to get loose on the sideline. The Irish were leading 14-10, and Rees had been playing well, completing 14 of 21 passes for 166 yards and two touchdowns. The next man in, Hendrix, had completed one pass all season. Twenty-two plays later, Hendrix has still completed one pass.

As Rees stood there, surrounded by a bevy of medical personnel closer to the stands than the huddle, it was anyone’s guess if Hendrix could step up. The senior was certainly not lacking support, as some fans had clamored throughout the first half of the season for Hendrix to supplant Rees as the starter. But without Rees on Saturday, Notre Dame didn’t tally a first down until the third drive. By the third Irish drive of the game with Rees, Notre Dame had already chalked up 148 yards and nine first downs.

As Rees jogged gingerly into the locker room, it was anyone’s guess if Hendrix could spearhead the offense and provide a new look with the read option. The offense had been rolling, and the game appeared to be an up-tempo, high-scoring shootout. USC playmakers Silas Redd and Nelson Agholor were carving up the Notre Dame defense, which didn’t appear capable of winning the game. The Rees-led offense, meanwhile, was potent with the new-look fast pace. Hendrix could do the same, fans said. Just give him a chance.

As Rees reemerged from the tunnel, hoodie replacing helmet atop his head, it was anyone’s guess if Notre Dame could hold on to win. In total, the Irish ran 22 plays after Rees left the game. They gained 23 yards. Before the injury – what Irish coach Brian Kelly termed a neck strain – Notre Dame had notched 274 yards on 41 plays. Fans went from thinking Rees was the problem to realizing he was the much-needed solution.

Before reaching that conclusion, though, hardly any attention was paid to his résumé. In the first quarter, Rees fired a touchdown pass to junior tight end Troy Niklas and, in the process, became just the fifth Irish quarterback to pass for 6,000 yards in his career.

“I’m sure he’ll look back on that a little bit later and be able to point out, ‘Hey, I did play at Notre Dame and I wasn’t that bad,'” Kelly said after the game.

Far from bad, actually. The same touchdown pass was the 48th of Rees’ career. He’s the first Irish quarterback to defeat USC multiple times since Rick Mirer did so in 1991-92. The underappreciated Rees is now 19-6 as the starting signal-caller for Notre Dame, good for a .760 winning percentage. He’s one victory away from entering the top 10 in program history for most wins by a starting quarterback.

So as Rees’ status remains up in the air – Kelly said Sunday his quarterback is “day-to-day” – there’s no guesswork needed anymore to figure out the answer under center.

“As you can tell with our performance in the second half [without Rees], it was a little difficult to adjust,” Niklas said after the game. “But I think we were able to make do with what we could, I guess.”

I guess. What shouldn’t be questioned, anymore, is that Tommy Rees is Notre Dame’s best chance to win.

Contact Mike Monaco at jmonaco@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.