The Calendar YearQuarterback Tommy Rees will start his 12th game Saturday; add to that a full-game appearance vs. Tulsa last October 30 and a half of action vs. South Florida this fall and the sophomore signal-caller can boast the experience equivalent of a full season plus bowl game.
The numbers show 279 completions in 435 pass attempts, 26 touchdown passes vs. 16 interceptions and five lost fumbles…plus the bottom-line record of 9 wins and 2 losses as a starter and a 9-3 mark in games he's been the principle triggerman.
That's what we on the outside know. What does his head coach, Brian Kelly, see?
"When you look at it over the long haul, I don't think there's any substitute for game experience," he said of Rees' one-year equivalent. "Clearly the No. 1 thing that he has is when he plays on Saturday, he has a confidence in his ability to go out and lead our team. That development has been game experience first of all, and then through that, all the nuances in terms of playing the position.
"There's only so much you can do in practice, you've got to experience it in the games," Kelly continued. "I'm very confident moving forward in a lot of the things that have not gone his way, things that he's learned and gotten better will improve. Just experience has probably been the biggest thing for me."
Of relevance: Notre Dame has won four games during the 21-game Brian Kelly era without Rees as its starting quarterback.
Trying for turnoversThe Irish defense, an otherwise solid, sound group through eight games, has stripped just six ball carriers of the football this season, recovering only three of those fumbles (only six teams have recovered fewer). Additionally, only seven teams have lost more fumbles than has Notre Dame (11). Couple that with just six interceptions for Bob Diaco's group (tied for 83rd nationally) while mis-firing on nine of their own, and the Irish rank where you'd expect: near the bottom of the 120-team FBS pack.
"Sometimes the other team is doing a good job taking care of the ball," Kelly offered of the dearth of fumbles caused in particular. "When we get to it, we saw how we react when (Jamoris) Slaughter got a shot (against Air Force), and we were able to get a stand up and get a rip at it.
"We're practicing the same things, trying to rip at it and get the ball out. Just teams have not put the ball on the ground. When they have, go back to the Michigan game, we did a great job at the goal line, popped the ball out, (but) it lands in the hands of the quarterback and he walks in. We don't make much of it other than we work on those strip drills in practice."
The Irish picked off an eight-year program high 18 passes last season while recovering seven fumbles. Notre Dame lost just eight fumbles in 13 games last fall. As noted previously, eight of Notre Dame's 11 fumbles through eight games this season have not included opponent contact.
Wake Forest committed just five turnovers prior to last week's loss to North Carolina. The Demon Deacons lost the football five times to the Tar Heels, a 49-24 defeat.
"You've seen us play and our turnovers have changed games where we've really physically dominated in certain areas, but they've changed the game because we've turned it over," Kelly said of the team's two-month Achilles Heel. "That changed the game last week (for Wake Forest). You just hope that your preparation detail, and (that) you're organized and your kids understand how to take care of the football. But that's the game. That could change the outcome."
Young GunsGame Nine (vs. Tulsa) marked the debut of then-freshman Kona Schwenke for the Irish last season, the defensive end recorded a fumble recovery in his first career contest, but played just 33 snaps over the course of the season.
Kelly noted yesterday it's unlikely any of his untested freshmen will see the field over the 2011 season's final month, but he did take a moment to note the progress of a handful of rookies who've excelled in scout team action.
"This week on offense we recognized Everett Golson for his work," Kelly said of the freshman quarterback. "We've recognized (cornerback) Jalen Brown for his work; he's been matched up with Michael Floyd, so it's been somebody different. (Outside linebacker) Ben Councell has been great. I can tell you that also on the offensive line (Matt) Hegarty has had some very productive weeks for us.
"Although (Justin) Utupo has been playing a lot for us on special teams, he was the nose guard, Wake Forest's nose guard (Nikita Whitlock, a 5'11" 260-pound dynamo), who's been a very active player, he was on that position for us and did a good job," Kelly continued of Utupo, a linebacker by trade for the Irish.
"Our guys have done a great job of pitching in, rolling into positions and helping us out. DaVaris Daniels, we needed a (Chris) Givens kind of receiver. We popped him down there and he did a great job. So our guys are all on board with helping."
Kelly added that safety Eilar Hardy, who tore knee ligaments in August, is expected back ready to compete in the spring.