Tommy Rees is the absolute right choice against Michigan

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.

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Notre Dame’s high hopes crash and burn in Week 1

Coach Brian Kelly (L) leads his Notre Dame team onto the field before their NCAA football game with Army, at the first football game at the new Yankee Stadium, in New York November 20, 2010. REUTERS/Ray Stubblebine (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

Everything that could have gone wrong for Notre Dame today did. Fumble on the 1-yard line that was returned all the way for a touchdown? Check. A pair of interceptions inside the 10-yard line? Check. Seventy-three yards of penalties? Check.

All this added up to a 23-20 loss to South Florida in the Irish’s home opener. It wasn’t the start to the season Notre Dame expected. It wasn’t the start anyone expected, as several pundits had the Irish headed to a BCS game this year. That’s still not completely out of the question, but it sure seems like a longshot that this team can find a way to win 10 games.

Notre Dame was horribly prepared for this game, that’s the only way to explain what happened. If there’s one or two fluky/bad plays that cost you, that can be blamed on individuals. When it’s permeated throughout the entire team, that rests on the shoulders of the coaches. Brian Kelly didn’t have his team ready to play today, for whatever reason, and now the Irish are 0-1 in a season they were supposed to “return to glory.”

Making matters worse, Notre Dame dominated nearly every statistical category. They out-gained South Florida 508-254. They held the Bulls to three yards per rush (in reality, the defense played well, only allowing one touchdown despite being put in a bad spot multiple times).

One positive that comes from this is that Notre Dame found its starting quarterback for the rest of the season: Tommy Rees. The negative, Kelly maybe should have realized that before naming Dayne Crist the starter a couple of weeks ago. Rees led the Irish to a 4-0 finish last season. He’s more accurate and 10-bazillion times more poised. Crist struggled in the first half, throwing an interception in the redzone (Rees threw one there, too, but that one was on the receiver) and making a handful of poor throws that stalled drives. Rees took over in the second half and was 24-of-34 for 296 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.

Yes, there were two weather delays in the game, but if anything, those were beneficial to the Irish. There is nowhere other than Kelly and the coaching staff to pin this loss. When you’re Notre Dame, you have to be ready to go every week. This team clearly was not.

Notre Dame’s Crist out, probably for a long, long time

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - OCTOBER 23: Dayne Crist  of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish rushes against the Navy Midshipmen at New Meadowlands Stadium on October 23, 2010 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)

Dayne Crist tore his ACL on Halloween a year ago, playing mop-up duty against Washington State. Now, 364 days later, the Notre Dame quarterback has suffered another devastating knee injury.

Crist ruptured his pattellar tendon in today’s game against Tulsa, according to NBC. If that’s accurate, it likely means Crist’s season is over, and the Irish will have to finish out the season with true freshman Tommy Rees taking the snaps. Rees took over after Crist was hurt today, and looked very solid early on in leading three touchdown drives and throwing two TD passes (the other came on a hook and ladder play). But he also threw an interception at the end of the half which was returned for a touchdown which brought Tulsa to within two points.

Crist was 174-of-292 for 2,033 yards and 15 touchdowns this season. He had also thrown seven interceptions, and his 59.6% completion percentage has been pointed to by many as a big reason the Irish haven’t yet gotten Brian Kelly’s high-octane spread offense into full gear.

It’s a huge setback for Crist and the Irish, who are in danger of not being bowl eligible this season with games remaining against Utah and USC.

Dayne Crist injured, Irish in serious trouble

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 04: Dayne Crist  of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish looks for a receiver against the Purdue Boilermakers at Notre Dame Stadium on September 4, 2010 in South Bend, Indiana. Notre Dame defeated Purdue 23-12. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Notre Dame’s season hinged on a few things, but by far the most important thing was the health of starting quarterback Dayne Crist.

Behind the third-year quarterback on the depth chart was a walk-on with a famous name, and a bunch of a freshmen. Well, now the Fighting Irish are finding out just how good those guys behind Crist are. Or bad.

Crist drove Notre Dame 72 yards for a touchdown on its opening drive against Michigan, but his quarterback sneak for a score was his last play. True freshman Tommy Rees entered the game and threw an interception on his first attempt. Michigan scored one play later. After another three and out, Rees was lifted for Nate Montana, who hasn’t had much better luck.

The only hope for the Irish in this game was to outscore Michigan. And now that the defense is not only going to have to stop Denard Robinson, but is going to have to spend most of the day trying to do it, it would be a miracle if they pulled this one off.

In other news, Virginia Tech goes down to James Madison. Sorry, Boise.

Joe Montana’s son leaving Notre Dame

Nate Montana, son of former NFL legend Joe Montana and walk on quarterback at Notre Dame, has decided to transfer from his old man’s alma mater to transfer to Pasadena City College.

It is nothing nefarious or worthy of hand-wringing, but Notre Dame football once again will be without a Montana at quarterback this fall.

Nate Montana, son of Irish and NFL legend Joe, has elected to spend the fall semester at Pasadena City College in order to get playing experience at the quarterback position.

Team spokesman Brian Hardin said the departure has nothing to do with grades or discipline issues — it is simply a matter of Montana, a walk-on, knowing he’d be buried on the depth chart and in practices this fall. Montana is expected to return to Notre Dame for the spring semester.

Not that the Irish are hurting for talent under center. Jimmy Clausen returns as a third-year starter, ballyhooed sophomore Dayne Crist is the backup and Evan Sharpley, a former starter fresh off a summer of minor league baseball, is expected to return for a fifth season as insurance at the position.

I don’t know the entire situation, but this sounds like a smart move by Nate. If he’s going to be stuck behind Clausen, Crist and Sharpley, he might as well transfer and get some much-needed playing time. I hope it works out for the young man.

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