Notre Dame football: Rees shows heart, not enough arm
PALO ALTO, Calif. -- Under-thrown and intercepted.
Notre Dame's last offensive snap of the 2013 regular season kinda summed up the whole frustrating mess.
Down 27-20, less than 3 minutes to play, the 25th-ranked Irish had the ball first down on their own 32. Irish quarterback Tommy Rees had solid protection. He dropped back and let it fly. Maxed out. About 50 yards in the air.
Freshman receiver Will Fuller had Stanford cornerback Wayne Lyons beat by a couple steps. Problem was, Rees just didn't have the arm. Nobody's fault, just a fact.
Lyons, despite having his facemask yanked and arms mauled by Fuller, came down with the interception and the Irish regular season ended with a whimper.
Rees, who was sacked just once by the No. 7 sacking team nationally and with a makeshift line in front of him, was the primary Irish weapon. While Notre Dame's run game netted just 64 yards on 24 carries, Rees connected on 16 of 34 passes for 199 yards. He had touchdown passes to TJ Jones (4 yards) and DaVaris Daniels (14).
Still, it was the last pick of two fourth-quarter interceptions that epitomized how this year got to 8-4 — opportunity unfulfilled.
"I love the way the kid competes out there," Irish coach Brian Kelly said of Rees. "He's not going to go in the College Football Hall of Fame. He doesn't have those incredible skills. He just puts his heart and soul into what he does.
"As a coach, what you appreciate is when somebody gives you all he has."
Kelly's voice raised and the conviction was evident.
"He threw that ball as far as he could throw it," Kelly said, re-enacting the toss. "He couldn't get it any further than that. That's just Tommy. He gives you everything he has. I don't know if that's a 'legacy' answer. He just gives you all he has."
"We've got man(-to-man defense)," Rees explained of the pick. "We're trying to take a shot at tying the game up, getting (Fuller) one-on-one outside."
"It was a 'go' route (by the receiver)," Lyons said. "(Fuller) was pretty fast. I had to catch up a little bit. I was in position. It was a question of if I was able to come up with it. I was in the right place at the right time."
On top of everything, Rees spent Friday hooked up to an IV to help him get over "a bug that's going around," he said.
"It's just part of the season," Rees said of the treatment he received. "It didn't affect me at all today. I felt fine."
No bad turkey for the senior QB.
Actually, Lyons' interception on that last snap was his second of the fourth quarter. His thefts ended Notre Dame's last two drives.
"The first one, third down and they're dropping eight, we're trying to make a play in the seam," said Rees, who had C.J. Prosise as the target. "The defense did a good job of re-routing TJ. I probably should have brought it down."
"We were in a cover-three, so I had a deep defense," Lyons said. "I was able to see the ball in the air. It was under-thrown. That was pretty easy for me to come back and scoop it."
The Irish offense generated just 263 yards but was a respectable 5-of-12 in third-down conversions along with 19 first downs.
That meant the Stanford defense kept the big play from happening. Notre Dame's longest play from scrimmage was a 22-yard pass to Corey Robinson.
The Cardinal defense was confusing. Rees was constantly changing plays at the line of scrimmage to try to counter the attack — a tough proposition for new guys like guards Steve Elmer and Conor Hanratty (filling in for the injured Chris Watt) and center Matt Hegarty.
"I'm so proud of (the offensive line)," Rees said. "They played their tails off. A makeshift lineup, we're going through a ton of checks. The way they played was awesome.
"(Stanford has) a tough defense. They tried to counter a lot of the changes we were making. I'm really proud of the way the offense handled it."
The Irish just came up short.
Like three other times this year.
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