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Rees is still Kelly’s quarterback

Sep 27, 2011, 2:53 AM EDT

Tommy Rees USF

You can spend a day trying to analyze the Irish quarterbacking conundrum. I just did — spending a solid 18 hours with a draft open before ever successfully committing a word to page.

It hasn’t been for lack of effort. Or lack of dissenting opinions. But here’s the rub: Ask a thousand Irish fans what they think the solution is at quarterback and you won’t hear many good answers, you’ll just spend the next few hours hearing a thousand people repeating what problem is.

Such is life during a quarterback controversy.

And that’s with a quarterback like Tommy Rees, a sophomore that’s 6-1 in his first seven starts. I’d spend a few hours researching who the last quarterback was to win six of his last seven starts but it’s a waste of time. Those that are calling for Rees’ head will just tell you that the Irish have won games in spite of the sophomore, not because of him.

But here’s the thing: The Irish should be 3-0 with Rees at the helm. The sophomore calmly drove the Irish down the field for what should’ve been a game winning touchdown with just 30 seconds left on the clock against Michigan. It’s not the quarteback’s fault that the Irish defense played its one abominable quarter in the midst of 31 other good ones, giving Denard Robinson 80 yards and a winning touchdown in 28 horrific seconds.

But after the Irish won a closer-than-expected 15-12 game over Pittsburgh on Saturday, a game where Rees completed 58.5% of his throws, don’t expect head coach Brian Kelly to shake up his quarterback depth chart. (Rees’ mediocre game? His completion percentage was a shade better than Crist’s career average in South Bend.)

“Right now, Tommy is 6-1 as a starter,” Kelly said on Sunday. “He’s led two very huge drives for us late in the game against Michigan and of course against Pittsburgh. He’s obviously not a finished product, nobody is. He’ll continue to get better and better.”

Rees has certainly made some noticeable mistakes: six glaring ones in the form of interceptions. A couple more in the form of fumbles lost. Those certainly contributed to the Irish’s losses to USF and Michigan, though his five touchdown passes and 70 percent completion percentage might absolve him from the lion’s share of the blame — and from listening to Kelly you can assume it has with the coaching staff.

I’ve been implored by many to ask the difficult question to the head coach: Why does Rees get lenience when senior Dayne Crist got the quick hook? Kelly already answered that question once, and there’s little doubt his answer will change in the three weeks since Rees has been in charge of the Irish offense.

“Production,” Kelly said after the Irish’s 23-20 loss to USF. “We didn’t feel like we produced the way we should have. Mistakes were made. You know, it wasn’t a difficult decision to make. It was difficult because it threw us into an area where we weren’t thinking we had to go to.”

While fan’s might thirst for more explanation, Kelly’s decision on playing Rees still comes down to the same reason he gave just minutes after the Irish lost that bizarre weather-filled Saturday.


It might not quell the angered masses looking for a change behind center after Rees has failed to stop making critical mistakes, but it’s the only thing that matters.

In hockey, players are judged by their plus/minus rating. For Irish fans in need of a reminder, here’s how the two Irish quarterbacks measure out the last two seasons:

Crist: -2 (8+ games in 2010, 1/2 game in 2011)
Rees: +105 (5+ games in 2010, 3.5 games in 2011)

It’s probably one of the more simplistic statistical breakdowns you’ll ever see between these two quarterbacks, but the results are staggering. With Rees at quarterback, the Irish are 105 points better than their opponents. With Crist, the Irish are two points worse.

(Others have attempted to do a little bit more in-depth analysis this week, and I credit them for trying to bring evidence to a debate that’s been framed by opinions and emotion, often time lacking much support.)

Dayne Crist only got 15 throws as the starting quarterback of the Irish in 2011, never strapping on his helmet again after the Irish came into that two-hour halftime in a 16-point hole. Is that a fair shake? Probably not, but there’s very little fair in the high stakes game of college football.

If we’re to believe that Crist won the starting quarterback job by the narrowest of margins, perhaps all Kelly needed to see in that first half against USF is what Dayne delivered, and Rees’ instant turnaround to the offense buoyed his bold decision and nearly salvaged a game the Irish should have won.

A little less than a season and a half into the Kelly era, we’ve gotten a hint at what the head coach can deal with and what he can’t. When it comes to his quarterback, he can deal with a guy that makes aggressive mistakes, if it means he benefits from that aggression as well.

A quarterback has one main job: Score points than your opponent. For the most part, Rees has done a pretty good job at that early in his career, and a 16-game sample size has shown he’s done it much better than Dayne Crist. Is he perfect? Of course not, and his turnovers are the most obvious sign of a work in progress, something all quarterbacks less than 10 games into their career are.

But there’s no reason to believe a guy that’s won 6 of his 7 starts at quarterback — and has only had a negative plus-minus in one game in his career, thanks to the Irish’s 4th quarter implosion — isn’t the guy for the job. It may not always be pretty, but Rees has earned his head coach’s trust.

Whether the fans get on board, that’s another matter.

121 Comments (Feed for Comments)
  1. nudeman - Sep 27, 2011 at 5:27 PM


    Well, I guess the debate is finished. Since you played AND coached, your opinion is all that counts.
    Thanks for settling things. What are your thoughts on attaining world peace?

    Guys like you are insufferable.

    First, you’re living in the past. Your coaching and playing days are over.

    Second, do you really think THAT qualifies you as the ONLY person here who really understands the game and “intangibles”?

    Third, how do you know the credentials of other people on this blog? Do you know if I played? Coached? notredamegrad? smurphdog? johnnd1985? The answer is “no, you don’t”. You have no clue. But I’ll give you a little hint/advice: You ain’t the only one here who coached and played. Trust me. So shut up. You might learn something.

    • domer77blowsgoats - Sep 27, 2011 at 6:04 PM

      Guess the mill didn’t reopen today….

    • NotreDan - Sep 27, 2011 at 6:40 PM

      blah blah blah.

      nudiedude… just stop being such a whiner and support your team, IF they are your team.

    • morriseyman - Sep 28, 2011 at 2:34 PM

      I’m not going to waste my time going thru all of this ” garbage ” . I find Kelly’s treatment of Dayne Crist disgusting and offensive both as a Notre Dame alum and as a man . Tommy Rees I am certain is a fine young man . He gets about all he can get out of his physical gifts and he gives effort . That said , he can’t carry Crist’s jock .

      I was at South Florida and I did actually coach at a very high level in a talent rich area for 11 years in thenlargest clss in high school .. I can read defenses and the nuances of the spread do not leave me with a headache . It’s just not that hard. Some obvious points which make the quick ( confidence destructive ) hok all that much more egregious .

      Did Dayne Crist call the ” heavy ” package on the goal line after marching the ball down the field thriowing the ball ( one of which passes completed by Crist could never have been even throw by Rees because of the arm strength required ) ?

      Did Dayne Crist fumble the ball on the one or was that Jonas Gray ( who has been allowed to keep playing and broke the longest run from scrimmage since Julius Jones greduated ) who scored in the Pitt game ?

      Did Dayne Crist get called for holding on Cierre Woods score in the north end zone or was that Michael Floyd ?

      Did Dayne Crist fumble the punt which hit Riddick in a bad place ( his stone hinds ) after months of hype of what a ” palymaker ” this kid was ? Where in the hell was George Atkinson ?

      Did Dayne Crist abandon the game plan ( run the ball ) after half time and go to a more natural up tempo offense the second half ( credited to Rees by those who have no idea what they are talking about ) ?

      Did Dayne Crist get thouroughly out coached by Coach Holtz ( the one who was acclaimed as ” not ready ” to coach Notre Dame ) ?

      Did Dayne Crist fail to spot Mike Floyed open one on one when he was in he wide side slot on a simple crossing pattern ?

      Find anyone who has been around a pro quaterback who sees Dayne spin it and ask them if he is a prospect ? Arm strength , intellect , character ( he has fifty times more character than his coach ) this kid has it all . I hope he stays off the field this year and goes somewhere next year who plays a pro set and has everyone asking ” what the hell was Kelly thinking ” ?

      Anyone else notice the resemblance of Rody Toma to Wes Welker in hands and style ? Another diamond in the rough being buried by a blind man .

      Take the stop watch and the tape measure away form this guy and he might get it right once in a while .

      • johnnd1985 - Sep 28, 2011 at 2:48 PM

        I agree with everything except I really hope that Kelly has an epiphany and starts Crist. I’d rather have him with us. Reading Kelly’s comments at his press conference sound like a coach who isn’t sure about his decision but wants everyone to think he’s sure.

      • nudeman - Sep 28, 2011 at 4:09 PM

        I agree with everything. Wish Crist was still in there.

        But I/we have beat the living hell out of this issue and I’m not sure there’s anything new to add.

  2. domer77blowsgoats - Sep 27, 2011 at 6:03 PM

    Holler page 2 of comments

    For those that don’t go to page 1 here is a recap

    6-1 as a starter

    • notredamegrad - Sep 27, 2011 at 6:10 PM

      There is just no getting past your airtight logic, domer. Holler, indeed. Let’s agree to disagree.

  3. Keith Arnold - Sep 27, 2011 at 6:19 PM

    Congrats, guys.

    You’re turned these comments into a pretty unreadable mess. In the future, please know there are plenty of places were you can spew out nonsensical biased arguments. Let’s keep it off this website.

    As for the varied levels of personal attacks on here, even though everybody but me is hiding under an internet monicker, don’t act like senseless message-board idiots. We’ve had three great seasons of semi-intelligent discourse on this website, and i don’t feel like having that change now, especially when you’re all arguing about a team that’s on a two-game winning streak.

    For the Pro-Crist fans out there: You have plenty of ammo on why you think Rees isn’t the right guy. BK said as much today. But don’t go cherry-picking single drives or throws out there, like the long TD pass to Rudolph against Michigan. If you’re going to cherry-pick plays, you’ll have a hard time saying that Crist has ever played a game where the highs were as high as Rees’ play.

    Play nice. Debate and conversation is good. Entrenching yourself in a single opinion and repeating the same thing over and over is not.

    Last I checked, everybody was cheering for the same team.

    • johnnd1985 - Sep 27, 2011 at 7:49 PM

      I’m not cherry picking one play i.e. long pass to Rudolph. Just using it as one example of Crist’s ability to stretch the field. Looking at the games that Crist has played, he has had passes of 95, 80, 53, and numerous throws of 30-40 yards. Rees hasn’t thrown a pass for over 39. His awful throw against MSU where Floyd bailed him out is evidence that he just doesn’t have an arm, and QB’s don’t suddenly develop great arms. Rees is not nearly as mobile as Crist. Crist throw INT’s at half the rate of Rees. I understand intangibles and “it” factors, but I can’t recall a QB in the last 30 years with such a lack of mobility and arm strength that was any good, even with great intangibles.

      Frankly, I don’t see the high’s in Rees’ play. I saw the defense play much better from Utah last year to the present. Maybe they know that they have to keep the score down. I’ve seen a much better running game during the same time frame. It seems to have been stressed more, and it seems that Rees’ passing has been limited. I’ve seen nothing spectacular from Rees. By that I mean, nothing where I’ve sat in amazement that a QB could make such a play. He makes routine throws and is lucky he doesn’t get picked more often.

      I would be curious about what Kelly said.

    • notredamegrad - Sep 27, 2011 at 10:25 PM

      Sorry for the bickering, Keith. Definitely, 100% for the Irish, along with everybody else here. Ready to move on to Purdue. Thanks for your patience. Go Irish.

    • Jennifer - Sep 28, 2011 at 12:49 AM

      Thanks for weighing in, Keith. I’m betting the vast majority of us who follow “Inside the Irish” are first and foremost, diehard ND fans. As such, we tune in for your insightful entries, along with reader responses, theories, perspective, and opinions. I’ve learned a lot from you, Keith, and many other contributors. But hashing the same things over and over (Rees/ Crist/ et. etc.) is above our pay grade and after awhile is an exercise in futality. Time to give this a rest and roll with this team and coach for awhile…Time will tell, and plenty can be said later. ..

      One more request..when we win, can we all agree to (please) allow one another at least a little time to enjoy the victory and celebrate with and for our players before the (hopefully) constructive positive/negative game dissection begins? Pretty please?

  4. tlndma - Sep 27, 2011 at 6:26 PM

    Keith, the stat you posted in this column is getting hammered, over at Irish Sport Daily.

  5. nddan1 - Sep 27, 2011 at 7:15 PM

    someone posted “kelly panicked when pulling dayne”… my take is that it wasnt a panicked move, more of an admission of making the wrong move in the first place. on my 4 year scorecard of kelly i gave him a demerrit. i think he gave dayne the nod out of respect to the upper-classman along with his apparent talent. i give kelly credit for pulling crist when he did. he new he would get flak, but he did the right thing….nip it in the bud.

    also, anyone knows that a good/great defense has always been a qbs biggest friend. it allows the qb more freedom to enhance his game.

  6. trbowman - Sep 27, 2011 at 10:51 PM

    It’s the right call. No more musical chairs at quarterback. Rees is still inexperienced as a starter, so there are gonna be mistakes. Give him rope.

  7. bphoward - Sep 27, 2011 at 11:23 PM

    2010 Season Averages:

    Crist: 8
    Rees: 5*

    *Tulsa goes to Rees even though he did not start, Crist was 0/2 before being injured

    Offensive Production:
    First 8 games: 395 yards – 25.9 pts – 1.9 Turnovers
    Last 5 games: 325 yards – 27 pts – 1.8 Turnovers

    Defensive Production:
    First 8 games: 390.4 yards allowed – 24.5 pts – 1.6 Turnovers
    Last 5 games: 301.1 yards allowed – 13.4 pts – 2.2 Turnovers

    First 8 games: 15 Turnovers; 9 committed by Crist (7 int / 2 lost fumbles) – 60% of teams total
    Last 5 games: 9 Turnovers; 8 committed by Rees (7 int / 1 lost fumble) – 88.9% of teams total
    Full Season: 24 Turnovers; 9 committed by both Rees and Crist – 37.5% of teams total by each

    2010 – 2011 Turnover Comparison:
    1st 4 games last season: 9 Team Turnovers; 5 committed by Crist
    1st 4 games this season: 15 Team Turnovers; 9 committed by Rees

    • bphoward - Sep 27, 2011 at 11:28 PM

      Only posted these stats to show how ridiculous the “+/-” actually is.

  8. papadec - Sep 27, 2011 at 11:45 PM

    I cannot, for the life of me, understand why anyone responds to the nude guy and/or the goat guy. It seems to me that they just throw stuff out here to get attention. They are like the ADHD kids I work with who want attention in class. I have reached the point with both of them – that I skip to the next post. You might want to consider doing the same, rather than rewarding them with a response.

  9. louisiana4horsemen - Sep 28, 2011 at 10:20 PM

    I think coach Kelly is just what Notre Dame needed! People want tommy’s head only when he is doing bad, the michigan game surely was not his loss. All I can say is go Irish!!!!!

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