SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees, an 18-year-old freshman, will make his first collegiate start Saturday against the Utah Utes.
Two weeks ago, Rees stepped in for injured starter Dayne Crist and completed 33-of-52 passes for 334 yards and four touchdowns in a 28-27 loss to Tulsa. He was intercepted three times.
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said Rees stepped into a tough situation and did a very good job.
"They obviously have a lot of confidence in his throwing ability, as evidenced by his numbers," Whittingham said. "And so we didn't see any discernible change of philosophy or approach offensively when the switch was made."
As always, Whittingham said the Utes will try to pressure the quarterback. It doesn't matter that Rees lacks experience.
"I don't think our m.o. changes dramatically because he was very capable when he did throw the ball," Whittingham explained. "He did a nice job. His numbers were pretty good."
Even more so, he added, when considering Rees didn't get as many reps in practice as did Crist.
"I think he's got a lot of ability and a lot of upside," Whittingham said.
Utah cornerback Brandon Burton, however, acknowledged the Ute defense is eager to apply pressure and find out more about the freshman quarterback's decision-making.
"I hope he throws it that much because that just means more opportunities for the secondary," Burton said. "So I hope he does come up throwing the ball 50 times. We've just got to capitalize when he does throw."
Utah's defense, he noted, differs from what Rees saw two weeks ago.
"Our pressure and our D-line is a little bit on another level pressure-wise than Tulsa's," Burton said.
LIVING THE DREAM: Before leaving for South Bend, Whittingham told reporters things were good.
"I've got a great job and I wouldn't trade being a coach. I can't think of anything else that I would rather be doing right now," he said. "And to have the opportunity to go to Notre Dame, yeah, I'm excited about it. Like I've said, it's the icon of college football."
NO COMPARISON: When asked what was the worst loss of his head coaching career — last week's 40-point home loss to TCU or a 27-0 setback at UNLV in 2007 — Whittingham made the difference clear.
"TCU is a fantastic football team and so I don't compare those two," Whittingham said. "UNLV was shame on us. Whereas this (TCU) game we played an opponent that was very, very good."
As such, he acknowledged, the Utes didn't play well against the Horned Frogs and would have needed a "near-perfect" performance to have prevailed.
There is, however, a common link between the setbacks.
"Every loss has a sting," Whittingham said.
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