ANN ARBOR – Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees was on full display Saturday night at Michigan Stadium, not only in front of a record-setting crowd of 115,109 fans, but also with a national television audience tuning in on ESPN.
In that 41-30 Fighting Irish loss to the 17th-ranked Wolverines (2-0), Rees was everything that Notre Dame (1-1) fans have come to know about him over his four inconsistent seasons. He often looked good, even great at times. Yet he also made enough mistakes – as he is prone to do - to never let the Irish faithful get too comfortable in praising him.
Through 35 career games, Rees will forever be the guy that Notre Dame fans have fallen “in like” with.
Exhibit A of why this is the case was demonstrated on Notre Dame's first series of the second half.
Rees had just closed the first half with a stalled drive at the Michigan 11-yard line (with a pair of incomplete passes stymieing the progress), followed by a horrible pass that was picked off by a Wolverine defender and led to a later touchdown. However, Rees bounced right back following halftime with a 12-play, 90-yard drive, which culminated with a 20-yard scoring strike to tight end Troy Niklas.
“Tommy's a competitor,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. “He wants to win and wants to get out there and help his football team win. He loves to compete, loves to play, and that's always been part of his make-up.”
All true and that's why he is popular – to a degree – with much of the Irish Nation. This guy truly wants the best for the Notre Dame football program and he'll do anything, including sit the bench without a word publicly, in order to help the Irish. In that regard, Rees is incredibly mature and admired by everyone that follows the program.
Here are some things to like about Rees' performance:
Rees had 14 passes that traveled at least 10 yards (and could have been more if junior running back George Atkinson could hang on to the ball).
He completed 29 passes for 314 yards and a pair of touchdowns, and there is no player on the Notre Dame roster that brings the level of football intellect to the field that Rees does.
“I believe that Tommy can get us in the right run plays and do the things necessary for us to be effective,” Kelly said.
He showed toughness against Michigan pressure and had drives like the aforementioned one.
But there were also these things to remember when reviewing Rees' play:
Trailing 34-20 early in the final quarter, Notre Dame had advanced to the Michigan 15-yard line and had a 3rd-and-2 situation. Rees hit receiver DaVaris Daniels, who never had a chance to move and was drilled for a two-yard loss. He then closed the drive with no points after misfiring on a 4th-and-4 play to receiver T.J. Jones in the end zone.
After pulling to within 34-27 with just over nine minutes remaining, Rees had guided the Irish to the Michigan 25-yard line. He threw an incomplete pass to Jones and on 3rd-and-8 missed on a play to Daniels, which forced the Irish to kick a field goal instead of tying the game.
He didn't play poorly; he simply did enough things not well enough, to aid in the defeat.
“Tommy did some really good things,” Kelly said. “But we had some opportunities that we'd like to have back that cost us some points.
“He did some really good things. I'm really pleased. But we're still not where we want to be there, and he's going to have to get us there. I'm pretty confident he will.”
It sounds as if like everyone else, Kelly is “in like” with his quarterback.