SOUTH BEND – There have certainly been enough occasions when Tommy Rees has taken his share of the blame. And rightfully so.
So it is only fair, that in light of the Notre Dame senior quarterback playing mostly impeccable football in guiding the 11th-ranked Fighting Irish to a dominating 28-6 victory over Temple on Saturday in front of 80,795 fans at Notre Dame Stadium, that he also be drenched in his share of praise.
“Tommy does a great job of taking what's there,” Temple coach Matt Rhule said. “We had hoped that he would throw the ball to us once or twice and he didn't.”
That would have been indicative of the old Tommy Rees, who lost his starting job a year ago due to a propensity for throwing interceptions. Based on Saturday's performance, that player has been thrown into Saint Joseph's Lake (or Saint Mary's would do, as well) and the Irish faithful are hopeful that he is gone forever.
On Saturday, Rees had complete command of the Notre Dame (1-0) offense from the outset. On the fourth play from scrimmage, he hit sophomore wide receiver DaVaris Daniels in perfect stride and Daniels strode in for a 32-yard score and the rout was on.
That touchdown was an indicator of not only Daniels' growth, but Rees' as well. After spending last year on the sidelines, Rees got back his starting job when Irish freshman Everett Golson was expelled from school for academic fraud. Rees then was able to spend the entire summer and training camp knowing that he would be the starter and he has been the leader of this offensive unit ever since.
“It wasn't as much of a double move as much as Daniels was reading the coverage,” fourth-year Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly explained of the scoring play. “I think (Daniels) is a lot more experienced and he and Tommy now have a better relationship in terms of where to be.”
Rees completed 16 of his 23 passes for a career-best 346 yards to go with three touchdowns and nary an interception. He wasn't perfect, there were a couple of overthrows that he and Kelly wished they could have back. However, Rees looked more comfortable and confident than Notre Dame fans could remember seeing him in a long, long time.
“I think that helps,” Rees said of knowing the job is his. “I think that I've learned a lot in my three years. I've got a great understanding of what's going on out there. All of that adds to confidence.”
No one is saying that Rees has come all the way back in this athletic journey; this was Temple, after all. However, you'd be hard-pressed to find an Irish coach or player that doesn't have Rees' back to the fullest extent. In addition, Saturday's display went a long way in cultivating the relationship that he had with the Notre Dame fan base as a precocious, yet successful freshman. His coaches, the Irish players, and maybe even a good portion of the Notre Dame Nation, now have confidence in Rees to lead them to greatness and if Saturday's game was any indication – they are right.
“I saw some really good things,” Kelly said, “and some things that we're going to have to get better at. We had six possessions in the first half and I think we missed a couple of throws. But we had four or five chunk plays of over 30 yards. Obviously, a lot of the questions coming in was could we push the ball down the field?
“I think we answered a lot of those questions right away with Tommy's ability to push the ball down the field. I thought his patience was better and it will continue to get better. I was pleased with his performance.”
Kelly wasn't the only one.