Rees Keys the RunA chief complaint among Irish fans through nine games of the 2011 season is starting quarterback Tommy Rees' inability to run the football. Tacticians point out that the read-option (fake hand-off) presents no second option, as Rees won't run for positive yardage if he keeps the football. Others note that Rees' inability to escape trouble and scramble from the pocket limits what the team can do offensively.
Few realize that Rees has a major role in the team's 5.54 yards per carry average – the best at Notre Dame since Jerome Bettis and Reggie Brooks graduated in 1992.
"He was outstanding in his management of the running game against a team that played a lot of one safety, a lot of similar pressure looks that we had to see against Pittsburgh and USC," Kelly said of Rees' running game role vs. Wake Forest. "They pretty much took the same game plan, and Tommy was tuned in to getting us in the right play. He did a great job.
"A lot of that credit in terms of the running game is always placed on the offensive line first and foremost," Kelly continued. "But when the quarterback can get you in the right looks, it helps immensely."
Kelly, for the second time in as many seasons, admits his team's offensive strength lies in the more prudent approach of running the football.
"I think each year, as the season unfolds, as you continue to practice, as players mature and develop, you have to be ready to move towards where your strengths are. It's pretty clear that (strength is) our offensive line and Tommy (Rees) getting us in the right place," he explained.
"He's very smart, very connected to the run game; the ‘backs have continued to develop. I think it's just been the process during the year that we have developed into (the type) of football team that feels like we can close out the game on the road with five and-a-half minutes to go in the game."
Asked if it was the identity he sought, Kelly offered, "I'm hired to develop our players and win football games in any fashion necessary. That's on me, to find a way to win football games for this university.
"That's how we developed this year."
That time of yearAfter training camp, more than three months, and nine games of football, the question at this time of the college football season isn't "if" a player is hurt, it's "how badly, and can he play?"
Kelly offered a quick rundown of those who took a few extra body shots this week.
"I would say that we'll look at (Aaron) Lynch, Manti (Te'o), and Braxston Cave, all ankle injuries," Kelly said specifically of Saturday's casualties. "Manti probably the same ankle, but turned it again. Obviously he's back to where he was probably two, three weeks ago. Lynch has got a lateral sprain, so not a high ankle sprain. He'll be back. Cave, we're still waiting for some more information. He has a mid-foot sprain. But it was a lot better today than it looked sometimes last night."
Cave's injury opened the door for classmate Mike Golic, Jr. to earn his first significant playing time at center.
"I think he's made great progress. I think one of the things that he has really helped him out as a football player is his strength. In the weight room, it's really translated, his ability to control his body movements, stay on his feet, and control a very good nose at times last night," Kelly said of Golic's effort vs. cat-quick Nikita Whitlock.
"I think his biggest strides have been made in the weight room and then just really understanding the center position as it relates to being in a shotgun offense. Those two areas for him were very, very much the needed areas for growth," Kelly continued.
Also sidelined briefly Saturday was sophomore wide receiver T.J. Jones. As with Lynch, Jones returned to the contest after evaluation.
"It was a helmet-to-helmet kind of situation," Kelly said of the hit that felled Jones. "I think our doctors wanted to make sure there were no concussion symptoms. They sat him down, he was evaluated, and cleared to go back in the game. We'll put him through a battery of tests again this week just to make sure he's good to go."