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Where Rubber Meets Road: Tommy Rees and the 2023 Offense

By: Michael Blough | Writer | Twitter: @MichaelBlough12

Photo Credit: On3.com/Chad Weaver


It is often in sports that we hear the words "make or break year" uttered to describe a team, coach, or player. It is used when someone must prove themselves worthy of their position or they will be rescinded of their job. Whether the person we discuss today is worthy of this situation or not is negligible, because the situation was created for him. In this article I will make a point to why Tommy Rees should not be on the "hot seat", but also make note of why fans/media have some good points when coming after Tommy Rees. Now, before we get started, lets break some things down really quick. This article is going to focus on Tommy Rees, the offensive coordinator and play-caller, not the QB coach (and begin in 2020, when he was officially promoted to OC). Necessary? Yes. Cherry-picking? Maybe, I'll let you be the judge of that.


Quick Facts

PPG By Year:

2020: 33.4, 2021: 35.2, 2022: 31.8

Passing YPG By Year:

2020: 237.4, 2021: 282.5, 2022: 207.1

Rushing YPG By Year:

2020: 211.1, 2021: 143.8. 2022: 188.9

Total YPG By Year:

2020: 448.5, 2021: 426.2, 2022: 396.0

(All stats from espn.com)


The Narrative

Unfortunately for Tommy, the narrative will almost always be that "Brian Kelly really liked him, and he was lucky to be on the staff." While this narrative is somewhat true, it is not the reason Tommy has kept his job. Rees has a deeper understanding of football and play-calling than most of us realize, and even before his short stint as an offensive assistant with the San Diego Chargers, he was ready for this position. Rees knows exactly what it's like to be on the field playing in South Bend. The simple facts of the matter are that Tommy has kept this offense afloat (mostly with less talent than he would've liked). Tommy has kept this offense in the 30 points per game range regardless of the circumstances. Now, people will point to specific play-calls that they didn't like, but you simply cannot judge an OC by a play-call here, and a play-call there. An OC (or other coaches) has to be judged from a holistic standpoint, including recruiting, development, game planning, and situational play-calling.


Early Season Struggles

Since 2020, you can really only say the QB situation has been in a good place for one year, and that was Ian Book in 2020. In 2021, the staff really wanted to make Tyler Buchner the face of the offense, but it was quite clear he was not ready. So, the staff took a graduate transfer in Jack Coan. Coan started the year in shaky fashion, and the offense was simply not good enough in the first few games as it barely escaped from games against Purdue and Toledo. In 2022, Tyler Buchner would be "the guy", but only for a short time as he was injured, and Drew Pyne finished the season off. The shortcomings of the offense in the early parts of the season caught up to them, as they could only muster 10 points in a loss against Ohio State (all in the first half), 21 points in a loss against Marshall (14 in the 4th quarter), and 24 (10 in the 4th quarter) in an escaping win against a bad Cal team. The Irish offense simply cannot reciprocate this in the early parts of the 2023 season. We learned our lesson last year, even lesser opponents can come into Notre Dame Stadium and beat us.


Photo Credit: Sports Illustrated

The Case For Rees

As a former player and coach, I really like Rees. I think his play-calling is second to none, his ability to use/disguise players in the offense is amazing, and the way he isn't afraid to lean into the teams obvious strengths is something that some OC's are afraid to do. Where we have seen struggles in the past, namely development and recruiting, seem to be taking a turn. If you would have asked me in week 3 of this year, I would have said there is a developmental issue between Rees and Buchner. Tyler simply didn't look ready to run the offense, and the rest of the team reflected that as well. But after the bowl game performance, I am ready to say that Buchner could have a fair shot at being the starter. However, with the news of Sam Hartman transferring to Notre Dame, Buchner might have to take a backseat to him. As far as recruiting goes, I think Rees has improved as well. Getting Hartman here as a transfer was admirable. Also, stealing Kenny Minchey (4 star QB) from Pitt in the later recruiting cycle was great as well. Not to mention, one of the most important (if not the most important) players in the 2024 class, CJ Carr was mainly recruited by Rees. Carr's impact on the 2024 class continues to grow as he is an integral part in talking with other perspective signees and has been on campus to join others on visits numerous times. So, while the jury may be out on Rees as of now, I think he now possesses the pieces needed to run the offense how he wants and to be more proficient in developing younger QB's in the system.


Photo Credit: 247Sports


Projections:

Looking ahead to 2023, I really love this offense. Returning all 3 core running backs will be integral for this offense. There's no secret that Notre Dame will look to establish the run every game. To help with that the Irish will return both tackles, Joe Alt and Blake Fisher, who were great this year and posses the potential to be even better next year. As for the Wide Receiver room, Jayden Thomas, Lorenzo Styles, Deon Colzie and Tobias Merriweather, and maybe even Kaleb Smith will be the headliners. Furthermore, look for Braylon James and Jaden Greathouse (both incoming freshman) to get some looks throughout the year as well. Lastly, Sam Hartman is the quarterback the Irish have needed. He possesses all the talent to take advantage of a stacked offense that will feature a strong running game backed by what looks to be a solid passing game. I think by the end of the year, Hartman will be a Heisman finalist so long as the Irish win the games they are supposed to. To sum it all up, I think this offense could post 40 points a game (or more). And even if they don't, my guess is that it will be because of style of play, not a lack of proficiency or talent. For the first time in a long time, it finally feels like the pieces are there. We aren't "waiting" for someone to develop or "needing" a certain guy to have a break-out year. If the staff can simply take advantage of the talent that currently sits in front of them, this will be a year for the history books on offense.

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