Is it time for Notre Dame football fans to panic?
Perhaps not quite yet, but sweaty palms certainly would be understandable at this juncture.
Fighting Irish quarterback Tommy Rees – yes, the ever-criticized Tommy Rees – got waylaid by USC linebacker Lamar Dawson midway through the third quarter of Notre Dame's 14-10 victory Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium, and the hit not only knocked the Irish senior out of the game, but it could have knocked any hope for respectability out of the season.
Rees suffered a strained neck on the play, but Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly delivered some (somewhat) promising news Sunday when he announced that “(Rees) is feeling better.”
The fact that Rees – yes, the guy that Notre Dame fans have ridiculed for four years – can possibly play again this season should send the entire Notre Dame student body to the Grotto this morning.
“He's still a little sore,” Kelly said. “But it will be a day-to-day situation.”
That's not a whole lot different than Rees has been his entire career in South Bend. He hasn't just been a day-to-day quarterback, he's been a play-to-play performer.
Rees has demonstrated the ability to lead the Irish to big wins when he plays well. But on a moment's notice, he has also been prone to throwing either inaccurate passes or, worse, passes that are accurate, but to the wrong team.
But make no mistake about it, Rees provides the only possibility that this Irish team can achieve anything at all. That fact became indisputable late Saturday night with each pass thrown by backup junior Andrew Hendrix. After watching Hendrix attempt to lead the offense, Rees may never get booed again.
“We've kind of gone through this (criticism of Rees) before,” Kelly said. “We just really talk about what Tommy does for us. We let our fans and those that evaluate, we let them come up with their own conclusions.”
Here's a conclusion: If Rees can't play, this team can't win. At all.
In 24 minutes of playing time, Hendrix couldn't complete a single pass. And to compound matters, he had difficulty (again) in simply getting the ball snapped to him on the right count without drawing a false start penalty.
“I could give you a couple of reasons,” Kelly said of the penalties with Hendrix in the game. “But it's inexcusable and it shouldn't happen.
“I don't think Andrew, nor myself or (offensive coordinator Chuck Martin) could expect him not to perform at a higher level. Those are basic things he's got to do better.”
Rees is going to undergo treatment today, and for the sake of the Notre Dame program, he better be able to practice at some point this week.
If Rees cannot practice, Kelly said true freshman Malik Zaire will be evaluated, as well as Hendrix.
“Malik will have to get some reps, obviously, if Tommy can't practice on Tuesday,” Kelly said. “(But) we're expecting that he can. If he couldn't, hypothetically, Malik would have to get as many reps as necessary to get him ready to compete.”
Just to be safe, Irish fans should get to the Grotto first thing today.