NOTRE DAME, Ind. – What a difference two weeks makes. Just two weeks after being booed when he took the field prior to leading the game-winning drive against Purdue Tommy Rees was greeted by cheers on the same field against Michigan Saturday night.
The end result was the same in both cases – Notre Dame points and Notre Dame victories. The latest being a hard fought 13-6 win over Michigan. The only audible differenced was the reception Rees got when he ran onto the Notre Dame Stadium field.
“I try not to pay too much attention to that,” Rees said when asked if he heard the cheers from the Irish partisans Saturday night. “They were a little more accepting, I guess, when I went in, but the fans were good all night and it was a good atmosphere. I’m just happy to get the win.”
Fighting Irish head coach Brian Kelly heard the boos Rees received two weeks ago and he heard the cheers in his favor this past weekend as well.
“He’s a pretty tough-minded kid,” Kelly said when asked if Rees was affected by the reception one way or the other. “I mean, I’m sure it’s better than getting booed, but he’s a tough-minded kid. He handled it pretty good when he didn’t receive a warm reception.”
In both cases Rees was immediately able to take Notre Dame down the field to score. His only drive of the Purdue game was not a masterpiece (he was 3-of-6 for 35 passing yards), but it culminated with Kyle Brindza’s game-winning 27-yard field goal in the 20-17 victory over the Boilermakers.
Rees was also able to take the Irish offense right down the field for a score on his first drive of the Michigan game as well. The junior entered the game after Everett Golson threw his second interception of the first half and he promptly led the Irish on an eight-play, 48-yard touchdown drive that ended with his first career rushing touchdown.
“The coaches trust me and I knew I could get yards when I needed to with my feet – getting a good look,” Rees said of his two-yard TD dash. “It was a good play call and it worked well.”
Rees had a fairly rare display of emotion as well after crossing the goal line.
“It was a good feeling,” the junior said of his first touchdown run. “Anytime you score, let alone run one in, it’s pretty high emotion and I guess I let the emotions get the best of me there.”
The touchdown run was the only carry of the night for the quarterback. He played the rest of the game after entering on what was Notre Dame’s sixth offensive possession of the first half, going 8-for-11 for 115 yards through the air.
Kelly made the decision to pull Golson after he threw his second interception of the first half. The sophomore never looked comfortable in the game after throwing an interception on his team’s first offensive play of the game. Rees says his teammate still had a positive reaction after being benched for the remainder of the night.
“It was good. He was real supportive,” Rees said of Golson’s attitude on the bench. “He talked to me about some things he was seeing and he couldn’t have been more positive.”
It has been well documented throughout fall camp that Rees supported Golson and fellow quarterback Andrew Hendrix as well as they battled for the starting job Rees lost after last season. The relationship Rees and Golson have could easily be awkward at best, but instead it is one that is continually developing.
“It’s really grown,” Rees said after Saturday’s win of the bond the two have after rooming together during fall training camp. “I didn’t know him all that well before spring ball and camp, but he’s a great kid and he’s got high character. I really enjoyed getting to know him and being close. I think our relationship is continuing to grow.”
“We’re such a tight knit group. Everyone cares about each other and everyone supports one another. Speaking on the offensive side, the offensive line does a great job of running the guys. We’ve got some senior leaders that have done a great job.”
That “tight knit” feel of the 2012 Irish is what appears could make this year’s team truly different from any team in the past decade. Kelly and the entire team have continually talked about the bond they have since the start of camp nearly two months ago.
“I think it even transcends both of them,” Kelly said of the chemistry that the two quarterbacks have. “It’s throughout the entire team. Each one of these guys has been a supporter and it’s not just the quarterbacks. It’s the receivers, offensive line, defensive backs and so forth.”
“But, that relationship uniquely is that Everett has a lot of respect for Tommy and, particularly, his knowledge of the offense. So, any time Tommy can help him with that it makes for a very, very good relationship. Then on the other hand, Tommy has a lot of respect for Everett’s skill set, so I think it’s more about respect for each other and I think that’s really been key for us moving forward.”
How Kelly and the Irish move forward for the remaining eight games of the regular season could be a slippery slope. The head coach reiterated over the weekend that Golson, who is now just 50-for-89 (56 percent) for 641 yards with three touchdowns and three interceptions passing, will remain the starter when Notre Dame faces Miami in Chicago on Oct. 6.
Kelly has also ruled out any kind of planned two-quarterback system. He also says the growth of his sputtering offense is dependent on the growth of his young signal caller.
“I’ve made this pretty clear every time this has been brought up,” Kelly began when asked about the idea of using two QBs on game day. “You want to go with one quarterback, but we have a freshman (in eligibility) quarterback who’s experiencing being a young quarterback. Any time I can prop him up with a veteran to win a football game, because we’re in this to win it, then we’ll do that.”
“Characterize it any way you want…that’s it – two quarterbacks. I look at it as supporting Everett with Tommy and if we need to do that we’ll continue to go that way, because it’s been pretty successful.”