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A Team Effort

Nov 11, 2013, 3:56 PM EDT

Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Craig Chval, the official 2013 football beat writer for the Strong & True blog, is currently a junior at the University of Notre Dame. Over the course of the year Craig will bring you insight from within the student section, interviews with Fighting Irish players and previews of each game. You can follow Craig (and the rest of the Notre Dame student beat writing staff) on twitter at @JrNDBloggers.

First of all, I’d like to offer my apologies for posting this so late. I usually write a blog the Sunday after each game, but my Sunday was spent driving from Pittsburgh to South Bend.

When I arrived home last night, I checked social media for the first time since the game. There was general weeping and gnashing of teeth, but I noticed a certain trend in the targeting (see what I did there?) of complaints: the officials and Tommy Rees.

Did Rees have a rough game? Of course, and he’d probably be the first one to tell you. But to heap all the blame on one player simply because he is the most visible is absurd. The amount of vitriol spewed at this guy is shameful.

This would be the case even if Rees were to blame for Saturday’s game, but there were so many reasons for that loss. After several games this year, I expressed concern about the play of the team. A few people asked me why I did not seem ecstatic about an Irish win, even if it was by a touchdown over Purdue – their closest margin of defeat against an FBS opponent this season – or by four against Navy.

Notre Dame had won 10 straight close games in a row. As impressive as it was, that’s not really a sustainable trend. Many of those games came against vastly inferior opponents and were the reason for my angst.

Those same concerns that gave me pause over the course of the season culminated in a loss to 4-4 Pittsburgh. Saturday’s game was not an isolated incident – as much as fans want to scream that Tommy Rees blew the game for us.

While I’m not usually one for extolling the virtues of ESPN, their documentary “Catching Hell” is a fascinating look at scapegoats in sports, specifically Bill Buckner and Steve Bartman. Instead of looking at the Cubs’ collapse in Game 6 as a team effort – Gonzalez’s error, the pitching performance in the eighth – everyone focuses on Bartman. They ignore facts and direct frustration at a single entity in a situation that’s far more complex than that.

It’s funny because last year the Irish scored 25.8 points per game on 412 yards. This year, they’ve scored 29 points per game on 405 yards. But hey, let’s blame Tommy Rees.

Don’t get me wrong – I think this team would be much better served with Everett Golson. But the issues on display Saturday go far, far beyond Rees’ limitations.

Rees had an off game. But his issues are magnified when he drops back to pass 25 times in the second half. More is put on his shoulders when the defense misses tackles and special teams surrender field position. A lack of the running game in the red zone makes it easier for defenses by the goal line.

These aren’t the problems of just one game. Notre Dame is 85th in rushing (110th in attempts), 105th in red zone offense, and 117th in kickoff coverage. There are 123 teams in the FBS.

And people wonder why I’m not happy after a close win against a bad team. When you don’t pay attention to the details of a game and only worry about the outcome, this is the result. You blame the first person you see after a loss, and that person is Tommy Rees.

Tommy Rees is a 21-year-old college student who has been constantly forced in and out of Notre Dame’s starting role – the most scrutinized player in the country. He’s not paid millions of dollars; this isn’t his full-time job. He’s performing up to his ability on a team with flaws in all three phases of the game. He’s handled the playing situations and criticisms with more class than I can fathom. Some Notre Dame fans need to take the cue and act likewise.

  1. thephantom225 - Nov 11, 2013 at 9:25 PM

    I agree 100%. Although Reese has limited athletic ability he has more guts and more class than these fans deserve. The kid works to prepare himself and it seems to me Kelly just put’s too much on this kid. It would ne a big help if Kelly had the patience and vision to develop a run game.

  2. jameskharris2013 - Nov 12, 2013 at 1:18 AM

    I also agree. Unfortunately, Tommy Rees continues to be the scapegoat for ND troubles as he did in previous years, minus 2012. But let’s look at the real trouble. Although Brian Kelly and his staff have made progress in the recruiting battle, ND still displays a significant drop off in talent when compared to the elite programs in the country. There is some young talent (Folston, Smith to name a couple) with obvious signs of promise, but across the board, ND cannot compete with ‘Bama, FSU, OSU, Oregon, the majority of the SEC, etc. Brian Kelly spoke of player development upon his hiring and although it also is much improved, the Irish continue to play down to the level of teams they should defeat by a significant margin. And when matched against the big boys, the Irish continue to show they don’t belong on the same field. Lack of speed, poor tackling, poor fundamentals, maybe it’s just me, but once again it appears the critics are right. ND is just not a top tier program any longer. Trust me, that’s hard for me to even say, but all signs would indicate it to be true. It’s time to stop pointing to history and tradition and time to start proving it on the field. Until then, hard to argue with the ND haters.

  3. irishgal - Nov 12, 2013 at 4:43 PM

    I agree completely what with Craig has to say. I also agree with James above. I became so frustrated on Saturday afternoon and kept wondering why the ND football team can’t be just a little bit better. They are always just barely good enough. Then I realized when I talked to my ‘Bama brother why the Fighting Irish aren’t an elite football program. We have to recruit first for academics and then for sports. University of Notre Dame has the highest standards of any BCS school in the country, and the graduation rate shows it. Do we want to be ‘Bama, FSU, OSU or Oregon with their issues and low graduation rates or do we want to be proud of what ND is all about, including a pretty darn good football team? My decision is we need to continue to support these 20 year old boys in all they do, especially by maintaining the academic rigor and expectations that the University of Notre Dame has and is recognized for and then go enjoy a little fresh air and exercise on Saturdays out on the gridiron. Love thee Notre Dame.

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