Kelly names Rees the starter for Michigan
By Neil Hayes
Brian Kelly hopes he's done making changes at quarterback after naming Tommy Rees the starter for Saturday night's game at Michigan.
"Nobody wants to change their quarterbacks each and every week," Kelly said. "That's just not the way you play this game. Our hope is that Tommy is productive and can play at a high level week-in and week out. He's got a pretty good resume. He's 4-0 as a starter and has played well coming off the bench."
Crist won the preseason quarterback competition but the offense failed to score any points with him under center as the Irish fell behind South Florida 16-0 at halftime. Turnovers were the main culprit. A Jonas Gray fumble inside the 5-yard line was returned for a touchdown and a Crist interception in the end zone foiled two potential scoring drives.
Rees threw for 296 yards and two touchdowns in the second half of a 23-20 loss to the Bulls.
"I want to win right now," Kelly said. "I believe Tommy gives us the best chance to win against Michigan."
Rees stepped in when Crist injured his knee in the ninth game and led the Irish to four straight wins to end the season. The Lake Forest product completed 61 percent of his passes with 12 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He completed 24 of 34 against South Florida.
"It's on both of them," Kelly said when asked about the first of Rees' two interceptions, which came after the ball bounced off the helmet of receiver TJ Jones, who was not looking for the ball. "When it comes down to it the quarterback can't throw the ball to a receiver who is not giving him his eyes. At the end of the day, the responsibility of the football goes with the quarterback. They just weren't on the same page. It's one of those things were you scratch your head because we've run that route so many times and that hasn't happened but it happened Saturday."
Crist completed seven of 15 passes for 95 yards. Kelly was quick to point out, however, that the lack of offensive production wasn't all the senior's fault.
"I'm not here to cover Dayne's butt," Kelly said. "That's not my job. But I'll tell you that he did some really good things. The difference between being good and great sometimes is being decisive. When you look at the film and really break it down Dayne did some really good things for us in the first half."
While Kelly is hopeful Rees can perform at a high enough level to maintain the starting job throughout the season, he won't hesitate to make a change he feels it's warranted. What he told Rees when informing him of his decision Monday is the same thing he told Crist when he was named the starter.
"You've got to be productive," Kelly said. "If you're not productive you should be looking over your shoulder. If you're productive just go out there and play the game the way you know how to play it."
Rees has been thrown into some pressure-packed situations during his first two seasons at Notre Dame, including a start at Yankee Stadium, a Sun Bowl appearance against Miami and Saturday's bizarre, storm-delayed contest against South Florida, but has always kept cool.
It's a trend Kelly hopes continues during the first night game in Michigan Stadium history on Saturday night.
"I'm not really sure to be honest," Rees said when asked why nothing seems to phase him. "I prepare in practice like it's going to be a game. Obviously, in the game there is more at stake and more going on and adrenaline is rushing but I try to keep my mentality the same whether it's a game or practice."
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