Nov 11, 2013, 3:56 PM EDT
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.
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