Much was made of the quarterback change at Notre Dame earlier this week as Brian Kelly named Tommy Rees the starter over Dayne Crist.
It wasn’t much of a surprise after Rees came into the game for Crist in Notre Dame’s 23-20 opening week loss against South Florida, and was much more productive. But for the first night game in the Big House, against a defense like Michigan’s, Rees is the perfect choice.
Rees is unflappable, meaning the moment of playing under the lights in front of 110,000 screaming banshees won’t bother him. Rees’ first three starts were at Notre Dame, Yankee Stadium and USC. He’s used to big-time environments. Then again, anyone who plays at Notre Dame is.
He also doesn’t get down on himself when he makes mistakes. A year ago, he threw three interceptions against USC, but he never got down on himself, and made plays down the stretch to help the Irish pick up their first win against USC since the Bob Davie era. It’s part of the reason Notre Dame fans have taken to subtly comparing him to Joe Montana (this is beyond a stretch, but when you haven’t competed for a national title since 1993, sometimes you stretch).
Rees is going to make mistakes, but Crist would have made them, too. Rees will be able to overcome those mistakes in front of 110,000 people, while Crist hasn’t shown the ability to do that, even on his homefield.
But Rees being the right pick goes beyond the mental aspect of the game. Crist has the bigger arm and is a better runner than Rees, but he isn’t quick to make a decision as his three-star counterpart. Against Michigan’s secondary, there are going to be openings, and Rees will see them early and exploit them. A less decisive quarterback would miss those. Michigan’s also going to bring a lot of heat, which again forces the quarterback to make quick decisions.
Rees is likely to be the guy for the rest of the season, but even if Crist had played well against South Florida, I feel like Rees would have been a better choice in this game. Does that mean Notre Dame is going to win the game? That will depend more on their defense than anything, but it definitely gives them a good shot.