“He just missed some open receivers,” Fighting Irish coach Brian Kelly said. “We had guys open. He just didn't hit them.”
Up until Saturday, Rees had played pretty well in guiding the Irish offense. He had totaled at least 309 yards passing each outing and managed to throw multiple touchdowns. He did neither against the Spartans.
The most galling statistic, however, was what Kelly alluded to, which was his inaccuracy. After completing nearly 61 percent of his passes through three games this fall, Rees misfired on 20 of his 34 attempts (41.2 percent) Saturday.
“Tommy isn't going to shy away from it,” Kelly said. “He had guys open and he didn't connect.”
Kelly said that the style of defense that Michigan State (the Spartans led the nation in pass efficiency defense entering the game) contributed to Rees' low completion percentage, so he wasn't overly concerned when looking at the box score afterward.
“This was not a hitch, spot, screen, bubble, high-percentage game,” Kelly explained. “This was grip it and rip it. That's what kind of game it was. You're going to hit big plays. You're going to score some touchdowns. So throw the completion percentage out.”
You'll have to take Kelly's words at that, because Rees made bigger plays in his first three outings (his longest completion against Michigan State was 37 yards), while he also threw just one touchdown, as opposed to three, two and two in his earlier games.
As Kelly mentioned, Rees was accountable following the game. He owned up to his play and understood that he – and the entire Notre Dame offense for that matter – need to improve.
“Obviously we weren't as efficient on offense as we wanted to be,” Rees said. “Michigan State did a lot of things to challenge us offensively.”
The positive to take from Saturday in regard to quarterback play was twofold. First of all, Rees led his team to a victory, and secondly, he did so with no turnovers for the third time in four games this season.
“That's what we are asking him to do,” Kelly said of protecting the ball, “against Michigan State, in particular. If it's not there, let's make sure that we don't give Michigan State an opportunity to have a short field.
“They had been so opportunistic defensively, that was so much part of the game plan of him making good decisions, making sure he could get the ball to where we could get to it.”