Rees Earns the Nod

4-0 as a starter and extremely productive in a pair of comeback efforts that ended in Irish defeats, sophomore quarterback Tommy Rees will lead Brian Kelly's offense into a crucial prime time matchup at the Big House Saturday.

Last November, freshman quarterback Tommy Rees took over for starter Dayne Crist and emerged as one of Notre Dame's key figures in a 4-0 stretch run.

Now a sophomore, Rees has been called upon again to change Irish fortunes following a sloppy 0-1 start.

"We're going to start Tommy Rees. Tommy was very productive in the second half and he'll get a chance to start against Michigan," said Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly at his weekly Tuesday press conference.

The expectation for Rees, as it was with Crist when the latter was named Kelly's starter in mid-August, is to start the remainder of the season. But at the game's most high-profile position, nothing is given.

"Nobody wants to go in and change quarterbacks each and every week," Kelly said. "That's just not the way you play this game. Our hopes are Tommy is productive and can play at a high level week in and week out. He's got a pretty good resume: 4-0 as a starter and he's come off the bench twice and played well in those circumstances."

Rees' career numbers as a starter include eight touchdown passes and four interceptions. In his two main backup stints – nearly a full-game vs. Tulsa in 2010 and the second half of Saturday's loss to South Florida – Rees fired a combined six touchdown strikes with five interceptions, totaling an astounding 630 passing yards in just six quarters.

(Of note: He also threw an interception in his first career pass – thrown to the fray off the bench for two snaps last September vs. Michigan.)

Kelly reiterated today that the decision to replace Crist wasn't easy, but necessary nonetheless.

"Those aren't easy decisions because they impact so many things that you're doing," Kelly said of replacing a starting quarterback. "It's very difficult but I felt it needed to be addressed.

"We believe Tommy is capable of leading this football team just as I believe Dayne is capable," Kelly continued. "Let's keep it in perspective now: the quarterback gets way too much blame and gets way too much credit. I think we all know that. Dayne Crist didn't have a lot of help Saturday. Unfortunately it falls on the quarterback as the leader to be productive. That's why we made the decision."

Rees embraced the leadership role early in his football career – earning the role midstream as a 15-year-old high school sophomore in 2007.

"I think as a quarterback you have to be a leader and as long as I've been playing sports I've always prepared myself as a leader," Rees said in an impromptu meeting with the media Tuesday afternoon. "That's something I think that comes natural to some guys, but the best way to gain respect of your teammates is to go out there and play well so they know they can count on you. If you can continue to do that, you'll gain respect."

Rees has already earned that respect at the college level. Still, his continued starting status is pending production.

"He knows what I've told him," said Kelly of the possibility that Rees will be looking over his proverbial shoulder Saturday in Ann Arbor. "You have to be productive. If you're not productive, you should be looking over your shoulder. If you're a productive quarterback and you're doing the things we ask you to do, you should just go out there and play the game the way you know how to play."

Though the prevailing outside opinion is that Kelly's offense runs at a higher tempo and with a much crisper pace under Rees' control, the Irish head coach wasn't ready to admit that aspect of the game is at the root of Crist's occasional struggles.

"I'm not here to cover Dayne's butt; that's not my job," Kelly offered. "But he did some really good things and the offense comes pretty easy to him. The difference between being good and great sometimes is being decisive. Not whether you can process and understand, but decisiveness.

"When you look at the film and really break it down, Dayne did some really good things for us in the first half."

No stranger to high-profile venues and charged atmospheres, Rees' start Saturday in Ann Arbor marks the first game under the lights in the history of the Big House. A prime time ESPN audience awaits.

Rees' four previous starts occurred in the following historic environments: Notre Dame Stadium on Senior Day; prime time in Yankee Stadium vs. Army; prime time in the Los Angeles Coliseum vs. rival USC; and most recently, in the 77th Sun Bowl vs. former hated rival, Miami.

The Irish finished 4-0 in those contests.

"I think the way I prepare and the way I've been brought up playing football," said Rees, a coach's son. "As a quarterback you can't really let the emotions get the best of you. You have to keep level-headed and be poised for the 10 other guys on the team, so when things go wrong, they know they can turn to you and you'll have things under control.

"It's not something I think about too much."


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