At least for a week, any worries about Tommy Rees at quarterback have subsided. Rees had a couple very minor hiccups, but the senior looked downright smooth throughout most of Saturday's season-opening 28-6 win over Temple. That has not always been the case.
"I think I've learned a lot in my three years previous," said Rees of his confidence level. "I (have) a great understanding of what's going on out there. All of that adds to the confidence."
Fighting Irish fans had barely settled into their seats before Rees had completed his first four pass attempts for 131 yards and a pair of touchdown passes to DaVaris Daniels - each of the scores going for 32 yards. By the time all was said and done, Rees had a career-high 346 yards for three touchdowns and had completed 16 of his 23 pass attempts (just a shade under 70-percent).
"The pleasure for me was being able to go out there and play well enough to get a W," Rees said. "Playing for my teammates, playing for the coaches, playing for the university - the student body was great out there. They had unbelievable support."
It is quite a difference from Rees' home debut in relief against Purdue last September when a chorus of boos rang from the student section when he relieved Everett Golson to help engineer a comeback win. He was never forced to heroics against the Owls, but the most important thing he did not do is turn the ball over.
Rees's turnover-prone past is well documented. His 24 career interceptions and half dozen career fumbles coming into the season have been the biggest stumbling block for a quarterback who now owns a 15-4 career record as a starter.
"Not turning the ball over gives you the best chance to win," said Rees after his turnover free game. "That's been a point driven into me for a long time. I'm a senior now. I understand the nuances of playing. That's something you've got to continue to strive for."
Rees completed passes to six different receivers on Saturday. Six of them went to senior captain T.J. Jones for 138 yards.
"I think this year he is just a lot more comfortable at his position," Jones said of Rees. "He owned the offense, he owned his checks (and) he was confident in knowing what the defense was going to do before they did it. It allowed him to kind of just play football again. There wasn't as much thinking. He was a lot more relaxed."
"You could sense his body language," Jones continued. "The speed at which he makes checks when he reads the defenses and when the ball is in the air he puts the ball away from defenders - he knows where they're going to be and how to put the ball away from him."
Rees threw balls of various varieties - short outs, comebacks and curls with zip, a beautiful back shoulder pass, the 32-yard post to Daniels as well as the 32-yarder in the front corner of the end zone after Daniels made a read on a Temple defensive back. He also hit tight end Troy Niklas in the seam with 1:01 to go before halftime. Sixty-six yards later the Irish were up 21-6 at intermission.
"We knew we were going to be one-on-one," Rees said. "Troy did a great job winning with speed down the middle. After he caught the ball he made a great play for us breaking a couple of tackles."
There were a handful of passes Rees would like to have back - he did have four overthrows, including one that landed between Niklas and Chris Brown - the sophomore receiver whose three catches Saturday eclipsed the two he had all of last year.
"I think we've got good balance and good consistency," Rees said of his group of targets. "We have confidence in everyone that runs out there we can get them the ball and they'll run the right route and catch it."
Rees knows there is more work to be done. Legacies are not built in wins over the Temples of the world. Michigan now awaits and Rees has seen action in each of Notre Dame's last three clashes with the Wolverines.
"We've got a lot of guys that played there two years ago," he said of going to Michigan Stadium this Saturday. "We know Michigan is a rocking place and a rivalry game. Everyone's going to be up for it."
Rees was 27-of-39 for 315 yards and three touchdowns two years ago at Michigan Stadium, but he also threw two interceptions and fumbled in the red zone in the heartbreaking loss. His numbers weren't flashy last year, but he redeemed himself by relieving a struggling Golson, passing for 115 yards with no interceptions and rushing for a touchdown in a 13-6 victory.
Rees will now lead Notre Dame into another night game at Michigan Stadium in front of 110,000 fans in the last currently scheduled game between the two bitter rivals in Michigan.
This is where legacies are built.