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Game Day: No. 5 Notre Dame vs. BYU

Oct 20, 2012, 12:09 PM EDT

Tommy Rees

With No. 5 Notre Dame preparing to take on BYU in a few hours, let’s empty the notebook and discuss a few last minute thoughts and questions I still have.

At this point, I’d be shocked if Tommy Rees doesn’t start. I’m not calling my shot, but I expect No. 11 to be behind center when the game starts. It’s as much because of Everett Golson’s concussion as it is BYU’s defense and Oklahoma around the corner. Does that mean he’ll play the entire game? Who knows. But I do think it’s time, especially with the Irish in rarefied air right now, to figure out how to use the team’s most effective quarterback each week, instead of just saving him for high-pressure, high-leverage situations.

While I just missed ESPN’s segment on Rees, Notre Dame’s “closer,” I’ve taken a lot of heat for supporting Rees as a quarterback. Do I think he’s the most talented QB on this roster? No. Do I think he’s got the highest ceiling of the quarterbacks on this roster? No. But is he the best guy Brian Kelly has right now? Absolutely. And I don’t think it’s all that close.

Bronco Mendenhall’s 3-4 defense is predicated on confusion, pressure, and making it tough on offenses. While they haven’t played the best competition, they have put up strong statistics, they’re stingy with first downs, and while they don’t force a ton of turnovers, they get after the quarterback.

I heard countless times that a mobile quarterback is the best thing against a blitzing team. Far from true. A quarterback that can process and make quick decisions and beat the blitz with quick throws can keep the Cougars off balance. Golson has already taken ten sacks this year, and really struggled pulling the trigger against Stanford.

Don’t expect the offensive fireworks to start early and often with Rees. Notre Dame will still do its fair share of punting. But with Golson slow to recover from a concussion and not get as much time with the game plan as Tommy, it only makes sense that the offense would lean on Rees to get through this weekend.

Even in success, recruiting is a roller coaster ride. You’d think the opportunity to wear No. 5 after Manti Te’o, and the opportunity to play in a defense that should be even better next year would be enough for a linebacking prospect. But Pennsylvania native Alex Anzalone, a four-star prospect and one of the top 100 players in the country, is struggling to keep his commitment to Notre Dame.

Per multiple reports, Anzalone cancelled his visit to South Bend this weekend, with his Wyomissing high school schedule making things logistically challenging with Saturday games. But his recent trip to Florida, where he has family and his father graduated from college, has complicated things for Anzalone.

The recruiting process hasn’t been easy for Anzalone. He made an early commitment to Ohio State and Urban Meyer in the spring. He flipped that commitment to Notre Dame after picking the Irish over his childhood favorite Gators. But Anzalone’s trip to Gainesville with his family last weekend, and the resurgent season under Will Muschamp has got him thinking, and it’s anybody’s guess what happens from here.

Notre Dame has back-up plans, with Stanford commit Isaac Savaiinaea, a rugged Hawaiian linebacker from Manti Te’o’s Punahou high school, taking an official visit to South Bend and enjoying himself. The Irish coaching staff won’t stop recruiting either player, and will have the ability to take Savaiinaea because Anzalone is early enrolling at the college of his choice.

It’s not all bad news for the Irish, with their No. 1 remaining offensive target visiting South Bend this weekend in Florida’s Tarean Folston. Folston is one of the few offensive recruits whose commitment Notre Dame would take right now, and getting him to campus was an important first step.

Will the Irish do a better job blocking off the edge? It wasn’t a banner Saturday for the Irish, as Stanford’s edge pressure created havoc all game with Chase Thomas and Trent Murphy impacting the game. Murphy had 10 tackles against Notre Dame and 1.5 sacks. Enter another dangerous edge player this weekend in BYU’s Kyle Van Noy, who already has 11.5 tackles-for-loss and 7.5 sacks. It’ll be up to Van Noy to get after the quarterback and make plays in the backfield, like he’s done all season.

Can the Irish offensive line dominate the line of scrimmage? I’d bet you that Harry Hiestand thinks they can. While the Cougars defense has been stout, they’re also undersized. A week after the Irish actually did a nice job running against a Stanford front that not many teams have run on, there’s every reason to think that the Irish should be able to succeed on the ground, especially if the weather plays a factor for the second consecutive week.

Looking for one blueprint to beat Bronco Mendenhall’s BYU team? Take a walk down memory lane. Back in 2005, a 4-2 Notre Dame team took on the Cougars in Notre Dame Stadium and faced a blitzing, attacking BYU defense. It was far from one of Mendenhall’s better teams, but Charlie Weis and the Irish put together a staggering offensive performance, throwing for 467 yards and gaining 27 first downs on the way to a 49-23 win.

Brady Quinn threw six touchdown passes on the afternoon, and while the Irish only ran for 64 yards on 23 carries, Weis, in vintage form, didn’t seem to mind.

“If they want to bring seven or eight on every play, we’ll throw it on every play,” Weis told NBC’s Lewis Johnson at halftime.

This Irish team doesn’t have the playmakers that the ’05 team had, and doesn’t have Brady Quinn, but it’s a good reminder on how to beat pressure with a quick passing game.

  1. 9irish - Oct 20, 2012 at 12:20 PM

    Apparently the Chicago Tribune is saying the same thing. And I agree, the best way to beat a blitz is to know where to throw instantly, not try to run for your life.

  2. tersignind - Oct 20, 2012 at 12:23 PM

    I believe its confirmed, Rees to start.

  3. tersignind - Oct 20, 2012 at 12:26 PM

    To piggy pack on my comment above, I wonder if this is just a temporary thing or has Rees taken the spot for the rest of the season?

    • 9irish - Oct 20, 2012 at 12:32 PM

      I kind of doubt it, but probably depends on how well he does. I think it is convenient this week, especially with the PC factor about concussions. It will be tough if Rees shows that he is a truly reformed QB that doesn’t give it up 4 times a game.

  4. dudeacow - Oct 20, 2012 at 12:32 PM

    I wouldn’t play Golson this game. We need him for the OK game and should be able to win without him. As for Anzalone, I would be surprised if he didn’t decommit. One thing working in our favor, though, is he and Hueurman being really close friends. If we get him, great. If we don’t, we never had him.

    • 9irish - Oct 20, 2012 at 12:36 PM

      That’s my attitude, too. All this recruiting stuff, it’s still so far away, not worth the worry.

  5. joeschu - Oct 20, 2012 at 12:42 PM

    This is absolutely insane.

    In my mind, if your starting QB is healthy and ready, you play him. The argument for keeping Rees in the game used to be his stellar record. Golson is 5-0 (really 6, he took the snaps against Miami, but I’ll hold the logic that was used to keep Rees in the game when performance merited the bench).

    I’m glad Keith admitted his stance has been pro-Rees, so I’ll match that with my own pro-Golson admission. This feels like a massive failure of coaching. Can’t the check come from the sideline (call 2 in the huddle)? Why is it taking this long to coach up the young man? He’s been making plays that show a tremendous upside, and he needs experience to improve. Getting jerked out of the starting lineup isn’t going to help that development.

    I’ve been trying so hard to buy in on Kelly, but this strikes me as nuts. Where is this offensive genius? I hope to hell I’m wrong. I hope there’s something more to Rees than tossing up a flutter ball against 1:1 coverage and hoping the other team’s d-back sucks. I pray this works out. By “works out,” I don’t mean just that ND wins today. If Rees can continue the trend of not being a turnover machine, then spectacular, ND should win this afternoon. However, where does that put the Irish down the road? It is one less week that ND’s “best” offensive gameplan, personnel, and quarterback have a chance to get in sync before going to Norman.

    If ND plays in the national championship game (or finishes undefeated and gets screwed), then please run a big flashing headline that I’m an idiot. I hope I’m wrong, but this just seems beyond stupid (unless, Golson is too hurt to play).

    • cameronemclaughlin - Oct 20, 2012 at 1:13 PM

      Insane would be continuing to put Golson out there, despite seeing no improvement from him at all. Has he had flashes? Yes. He also looked pretty good during the spring game.

      But the vast majority of his playing time this year has been erratic and flustered.

      I understand your argument that one should play their starting QB if he’s healthy. But if he’s not starting, well, then he’s not your starting quarterback. By virtue of playing himself out of the starting job, he no longer qualifies through your logic.

      • 9irish - Oct 20, 2012 at 1:23 PM

        I will furthur that by saying I really don’t think they have a starting QB. Unless you define it by who takes the first snap. He’s using both of them, and as long as they win, I really don’t care. Neither one of them is head-and-shoulders above the other.

      • joeschu - Oct 20, 2012 at 1:47 PM

        Rees played himself out of the job numerous times but was still in there.

        There’s no right or wrong here. I just believe Golson gives the program the best chance of developing and that Rees is better as a backup and assistant coach.

        Of course, all bets are off if the guy is hurt.

        Please don’t try to say Everett has played himself out of a job. That’s absurd.

    • joeschu - Oct 20, 2012 at 7:43 PM

      So Golson was hurt and unavailable. In this day and age, you have to admire a coach willing to play it safe with a young man’s future.

      At least I’ll have something good for confession this week. My “I hate BK feelings” throughout most of that game were unfounded as he was doing the right thing and protecting his player.

      However:
      Can we please dispense with the Legend of Tommy Rees? He is who he is – a competent backup, a great guy and an asset to The University. We still burned TO’s. He checked in to negative plays. It wasn’t like having a coach on the field. I’m hoping the idea of this guy being our first, best option can finally be put to rest.

      Can we buy a playbook of someone? How many plays do you estimate are in our game plan every week?

  6. 1notredamefan - Oct 20, 2012 at 1:06 PM

    Turning young men into boys since ’08…

  7. 1notredamefan - Oct 20, 2012 at 1:10 PM

    “If ND plays in the national championship game (or finishes undefeated and gets screwed), then please run a big flashing headline that I’m an idiot. I hope I’m wrong, but this just seems beyond stupid (unless, Golson is too hurt to play).”

    Would be more than happy to oblige!!!!! GO IRISH!!!!

  8. shamrocknroll - Oct 20, 2012 at 1:40 PM

    Would you all please calm the heck down? Everyone seems to be ignoring the fact that Golson had a concussion… this seems to be largely due to him not being ready. Either way, easy on the drama.

  9. heisenbyrg - Oct 20, 2012 at 2:48 PM

    According to Alex Flanagan, only Rees and Hendrix are warming up. This would seem to indicate that Golson isn’t physically ready.

    • heisenbyrg - Oct 20, 2012 at 2:51 PM

      But I just read (via an Irish Illustrated tweet) that Rees is taking snaps from Cave while Golson is taking snaps from Golic Jr. Who the hell knows? Should be interesting.

  10. tommynacc - Oct 20, 2012 at 3:10 PM

    If I know Kelly well enough, I think Rees will be in there unless he can’t get it done after two or three series, then Golson comes in.

    Keith, hopefully your doing the live blog. Really enjoy that!

  11. ndfaithful - Oct 20, 2012 at 3:16 PM

    “But is he the best guy Brian Kelly has right now? Absolutely. And I don’t think it’s all that close.”

    Watch the comments explode in 3, 2, 1….

  12. irishpuma - Oct 20, 2012 at 5:16 PM

    Typical Kelly BS and typical results, Tommy at the helm, errant passes, pics, confusion and no timeouts. Then it spreads to the team….weak Defense and now shanked kicks….8-4 season here we come…..If golson is coherent enough to call plays in from the sideline he can play…BK being BK……

    • joeschu - Oct 20, 2012 at 7:47 PM

      Nope.

      7-0.

      I sympathize with this feeling and the frustration with Kelly. However, Golson was injured and out. He held a higher standard than the doctors. If you believe him at his word (and you don’t really have a choice unless he comes out and says he was lying and holding him out for other reasons), he was looking out for Everett’s health.

      I was ready to pull my hair out all day. I had to watch the game on DVR after a kid’s soccer game. When we were down, I was cursing Kelly’s name, but the reality of this is that he’s holding a high standard, and sticking to “the process” he’s asking his guys to buy in to. So far, it is working in 2012.

      • irishpuma - Oct 20, 2012 at 8:40 PM

        Did you believe Kelly when he said Golson was too injured to to play the first time he pulled Golson on the last drive aka the ascension of Tommy the Closer? Cause that was a lie as well. What QB has Kelly ever developed or groomed? His whole history is musical qb’s based on his whims…It was funny though when he almost made Turk cry at the end of the game….#worst 7-0 team of all time….well better than louisville….

  13. irishpuma - Oct 20, 2012 at 5:17 PM

    We are getting it handed to us by a 4-3 team that is not very good!

    • paiten34 - Oct 22, 2012 at 12:33 AM

      Dumbest comments I’ve read in a long time. A win is a win no matter how it comes. As many coaches have said (including Lou H.) “to go undefeated during a long season you need a little luck on your side.” Coaching a team of teenagers it’s difficult to get them up and playing in top forum week in and out.

      BYU is a tough team that plays tough defense. ND was able to wear them down with their size and ND’s own tough defense. However the best way to beat BYU would have been to beat them over the top like OSU did. That’s no what ND does well especially with Tommy at QB. Of the three QB’s at ND who are eligible, Golson throws the best deep ball but he was injured and unable to play having missed most of the practice time this week.

      Yes, I trusted what Kelly said about Golson not being ready to play Saturday. Just because a doctor clears you to play doesn’t mean you should play. If you’ve ever had a concussion you know what I’m talking about.

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