(The Rock Report) – When Dayne Crist went down in the 2010 game against Tulsa, Tommy Rees, a true freshmen (ranked 31st by Rivals and 64th by Scout), was thrust into the game. Still sporting adolescent acne, Rees responded by throwing for four touchdowns and 334 yards. Most fans remember the interception throw that ended the game, but many forget that Rees engineered what could have been a game winning drive in his first start at a point in most quarterback’s careers where they were still figuring out if their helmets were the right size.
Despite losing the game, Rees proceeded to help the Irish win out, albeit aided by a much more conservative offensive approach and some incredible play by Michael Floyd.
Then came 2011. Kelly pulled starter Dayne Crist after a miserable first half against South Florida where Crist went 7 of 15 for 95 yards with one interception. In came Rees again and this time he was fantastic. In the second half he completed 24 of 34 for 296 yards and 8.7 yards per completion. He did throw two interceptions, but one was the famed “purple face” throw where Rees hit TJ Jones on the shoulder pad… yeah that one… the one where TJ forgot to look (he never forgot again).
Based off of that performance Kelly gave Rees the nod and he went to the Big House and helped stake ND to a 24-7 lead. Before a rowdy crowd of 110,000 Rees was outstanding for much of the game completing 27 of 39 passes (69%) for 315 yards for 3 touchdowns and two interceptions. Many remember Rees’s fumble in the early part of the 4th quarter (the oops) that cost the Irish a touchdown that would have all but sealed the game, but few remember that down by 4 with 1:12 to play, he drove the Irish down field for the go ahead score. If not for an unbelievable defensive collapse, that would have been viewed as a Montana-like performance.
Rees went on to have an very strong first year on the whole (see below) despite looking all but incompetent the last two games of the year to most fans as teams devised new strategies to stop him. And while the pain of the disastrous end is most remembered, the game before Boston College Rees was 30 of 38 for 296 yards for 2 touchdowns and no interceptions against Maryland. Against Boston College he completed 61% of his passes.
So, how to judge Rees’s season as a true sophomore starter? By any reasonable measure… excellent for his age. Outstanding for his relative recruiting ranking.
To backtrack, Rees was a very thin QB ranked no higher than 30 by any service. He’s the kind of kid you hope you don’t have to play until his Junior year at the earliest. Yet… despite his low ranking here’s how he compared to his (except for Holiday) much, much higher ranked peers at Notre Dame his sophomore year. In case anyone hasn’t yet seen this, Rees is the all-time leader in completion percentage in the history of Notre Dame football… built on his experience as a sophomore on an 8-5 team.
% Yds TD Int PE 1. Tommy Rees 65.5 2,871 20 14 133.4 2. Jimmy Clausen 60.9 3,172 25 17 132.5 3. Everett Golson 58.8 2,405 12 6 131.0 4. Brady Quinn 54.1 2,586 17 10 125.9 5. Dayne Crist 50.0 130 1 1 111.1 6. Andrew Hendrix 48.6 249 1 2 103.3 7. Carlisle Holiday 50.7 784 3 7 93.6
Now, you can make fair excuses for Clausen and Quinn as they theoretically had harder situations to deal with. I actually wrote almost this exact article for Clausen after writers started labeling him a weak armed disappointment .
Regardless Rees stacks up very well against his contemporaries (Golson, Crist and Hendrix) and his predecessors (Clausen, Quinn and Holiday). Does it mean he’s better than any of the above? Absolutely not, but what he’s “shown” you so far is the best completion percentage, the second best overall production, an on par TD/Int ratio and the best overall efficiency rating compared to his peer QBs at Notre Dame. Clausen and Quinn will be remembered as two of Notre Dame’s best.
Let’s take the comparison away from Notre Dame and compare him to the top ten recruits of Rees’s year as tabbed by Rivals. Surely Rees is lagging the best QBs of his year as he was only ranked 31st and 64th..
Here’s Rees against the top ten recruits of his class as rated by Rivals:
C A % TD Int PE 1. Tyler Bray 147 247 59.5 17 6 144.8 2. Tommy Rees 269 411 65.5 20 14 133.4 3. Jake Heaps (#1) 144 252 57.1 9 8 111.0 4. Phillip Sims 18 28 64.3 0 2 98.9 5. Connor Wood 21 42 50.0 1 4 91.8 6. Brett Nottingham 5 8 62.5 1 0 185.7 7. Jesse Scroggins 0 0 0.0 0 0 0.0 8. Blake Bell 1 4 25.0 0 1 -8.2 9. Paul Jones 0 0 0.0 0 0 0.0 10. Zach Lee Baseball 11. Scotty Young 0 0 0.0 0 0 0.0 * Rees threw for 2,871 yards, Bray had 1,849.
Bray gets the nod based upon his TD to INT ratio, but Rees threw for a substantially higher completion % and for over 1,000 yards more. His year towers over those of the best recruits in the country. Okay, could be an off year. Let’s compare him to an acknowledged great year for QBs. How does he compare to the Newton, Mallet, Marve, Korn, Brantley, Clausen class?
The answer: even better.
PE Yds TD Int % 1. Tommy Rees 133 2,871 20 14 66% 2. Ryan Mallett 10 892 7 5 42% 3. Tyrod Taylor 103 1036 2 7 57% 4. John Brantley 111 235 3 1 64% 5. Aaron Corp 58 14 0 0 50% 6. Stephen Garcia 113 832 6 8 53% 7. Logan Gray DNP 8. Clint Brewster Transfer 9. Cam Newton 72 14 0 0 50% 10. Jarrett Lee 116 1873 13 16 53% 11. Robert Marve 107 1293 9 13 54% 12. Willy Korn 119 216 1 1 68% 13. Chris Forcier 55 22 1 1 27% 14. Pat Bostick 97 270 1 4 53% 15. Mike Paulus 21 33 0 2 31% *Note that different formats were chosen based on data availability
A lot of those guys turned out to be very good/great quarterbacks. Lee and Newton ended up battling for the SEC titles and NC. Mallet was arguably among the top 3 QBs in the game. We all know about Clausen. As sophomores? Not so much. Rees’s 20-14 TD to Int ratio suddenly looks pretty good.
What to make of all of this?
1. Rees performed, not just okay… not just average, but at the top of his peer classes as a sophomore. Remember, these are 25 of the very best recruits over two years.
The pump fake for most Irish fans who were frustrated with Rees was this:
- Rees completes run of the mill passes like you drink water so you didn’t mentally give him credit for those passes, yet those are the exact type of passes that sunk Crist at ND and Kansas. If you can’t do that, the rest doesn’t matter. He received very little credit for the passes that “moved the chains”
- He was asked to carry the offense when Kelly should have put the burden on Gray and Wood (most know I had a man crush on Gray and now Hood.)
- Rees has the fortunate misfortune (like that, I coined it) of having Floyd and Eifert. That’s great in this sense: if you have them to rely on you can always throw it in their direction. It’s poor from another perspective which is this: if you have easy outs then you’re not being forced to see the field and make hard choices as there is an “ah screw it” out in Floyd and Eifert. Try this experiment in anything in life. Given an out, people will take the easy way. It’s normal, not a judgement.
- GIVEN HIS PEDIGREE, HE SHOULDN’T HAVE BEEN PLAYING AT ALL UNTIL AT LEAST HIS JUNIOR YEAR.
2. Rees has an enormous amount of improvement to be made mentally. If you look at most of his mistakes, they were not physical, but mental mistakes. Very few true sophomores know the offense like the back of their hands and see the field, most are struggling like hell to just stay alive. If you look at most sophomores, even the very best, they’re almost universally terrible. That’s not to say that all are and always will be, but T. Smith, Newton, Palmer, etc…. many of the best quarterbacks (Heisman winners) were terrible or non-existent in their sophomore years. There are many exceptions of course, but on the whole, even the top recruits are rarely ready to play. Manziel was great… on the field, that head may never be read for prime time.
3. Rees’s physical limitations won’t be reached until he’s 26, if he’s average. That’s not to say he’ll get exponentially stronger, no one knows. We do know that Brees increased his arm strength measurably in the NFL, an improvement he said came from focusing on one weak muscle in the chain and flexibility (and yes, you can buy his arm strengthening workout online.) I’d suggest Kelly have his agent to call Brees’s agent ASAP.
4. Coaching matters. It’s no secret that I thought Molnar was the weakest link in the coaching chain and I can’t express how happy I am he is gone. Much of last year’s improvement can be explained by Martin’s focus on field position and less turnovers. I expect “Martin for Molnar” to yield a substantial improvement in the ratio of interceptions per passing attempt.
5. Kelly should not have played Crist or Hendrix over Rees. Crist seems like a future CEO, but he never excelled at ND and was pulled by Weis at Kansas after a miserable year. Hendrix has a gun for an arm and Tebow-esque running ability, but that doesn’t mean he’ll almost always complete the right pass at the right time. Nothing in his record supports that. I hope nothing but the best for Hendrix or Crist in whatever they do, which I suspect will be exceptional. I’m not writing Hendrix off, either. But the biggest gripe about 2011 from most was : Kelly mishandled the QB situation. With hindsight, that rings hollow. You have to play the clubs in your bag and Weis screwed the pooch by only recruiting two QBs over three years.
What does it mean for 2013?
I’m not predicting “Clausen greatness” for Rees, but I do think there are many factors that will help him make a considerable jump this year.
- A better all-around receiving corps. There will be many options on every play, not just two and those options all have YAC (yards after catch) potential. I think this year’s wide receiving corps will be better all around than any Kelly has had since he’s been in South Bend.
- Martin for Molnar. Molnar only saw “production”, Martin understands tradeoffs and how deadly turnovers are. He also appreciates the run.
- Tempo. Maryland was the only game in 2011 that Rees ran at Tempo and it was his best game. Rees tended to perform better under pressure to move the ball.
- Awareness. As a sophomore most are trying to just to not make mistakes. It’s helpful to note that Kelly relies on unconscious-competence (see Tony Dungy for more). His goal is to have his players make plays without thinking and “rep” them to that end. Rees will be making many pre-snap reads correctly, getting the ball out quickly and, hopefully, staying out of trouble.
- Decision-making. Rees has to make better decisions, particularly in the red zone. The mistakes he made should have been expected as a sophomore, but he should play at a much higher level this year. Kelly’s made it a focus.
“I think our red zone play is what we have focused on. It has been so much better and a lot of that has to do with Tommy (Rees) and his experience. He has been really good taking care of the football and giving us the opportunities to score touchdowns rather than field goals. I would say that stands out the most.”
- Running. Okay, okay make your “can’t out run a South Bend Policeman” joke, but Rees’s ability to run for 5 yards instead of taking a sack or throwing up an interception is a small adjustment that could have an enormous impact. If you can take just a third of Rees’s interceptions and sacks and turn them into 5 year gains, Rees in 2013 will look radically different from Rees circa 2011.
Rees hasn’t been given enough credit for the job he did after getting thrust into a role he was nowhere near prepared for in 2011. He should have been a clipboard holder drinking protein drinks. He also hasn’t been given enough credit for his clutch throws and ability to take the team down the field in adverse situations. I love Golson’s potential, but also I respect the hell out of Tommy. There would be nothing more satisfying than to see the young kid thrown to the wolves early in his career return to lead an underdog Notre Dame team to another BCS season. And to see a quarterback who was introduced as a boy, leave as a man and a winner.