Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly admitted Sunday that he was already planning on using Tommy Rees during the final drive of Saturday's 20-17 win over Purdue regardless of the slight thumb injury to Everett Golson.
Rees, suspended for the season opener due to a May arrest and the starter to end each of the last two seasons, led the Irish down field with two critical 3rd down conversions in the final two minutes with the game tied at 17. Kyle Brindza booted the game winning field goal in the final seconds as the Irish improved to 2-0.
"I had already begun the conversation with [offensive coordinator Chuck Martin] about installing Tommy into that situation," Kelly explained Sunday. "The knowledge of running our 2-minute trumped any kind of injury [Everett] may have had. [The injury] contributed at the end to make it an easier decision for me."
Now everyone is wondering whether Rees has found his role as the Irish closer and could be used in the situation moving forward.
"No, I don't see it as a role," Kelly said. "If we feel like Tommy can help us win a game or if he can come in in a situation where we believe it is the right fit, then he will be prepared to do so but we'd like our starters to finish the game. We want them to go all nine innings but occasionally you may need some help. Maybe you will need long relief, maybe you will need short relief. I don't want to take anything off the table but we would like our starter to start it and finish it."
Golson banged up his thumb on a fumble that led to Purdue tying the game late in the 4th quarter. Kelly said Saturday that Golson was having trouble gripping the football. Kelly said Sunday Golson is fine injury wise.
Golson was visibly upset on the sidelines Saturday night when he learned he would not be in the game for the final drive.
"I think anybody that gets taken out of the game is going to react in a manner that he wants to play and if they don't, I don't want them to be our quarterback," Kelly said Sunday. "I know Everett wanted to be in the game and that's a good thing. He has been supported by Tommy and Andrew and it was his chance to support Tommy in that situation. We won't have any issues moving forward."
Golson is just a sophomore but Kelly doesn't worry about Everett being confused about where things stand or having to worry about looking over his shoulder.
"We spend so much time together, he's going to know what we tell him is what we mean," Kelly explained. "We're not going to be sending him miss-messages. There has to be a trust factor. We eat dinner together every day and there is constant communication."
Communication to the media about players being limited for post-game interviews was lacking on Saturday night. Originally, Notre Dame staff said that both Rees and Golson would be made available to the media. But moments after Kelly's press conference ended, it was announced that just captains Manti Te'o and Zack Martin would address the media.
"I had to do what I thought was in the best interest of the team," Kelly said Sunday. "I know that at times put me at odds with you guys and I understand that but last night I thought it was best to have a couple of captains speak--I'll just leave it at that."
On the injury front, Kelly said all players who were dinged up on Saturday should be good for Notre Dame's next game at Michigan State in six days.
He said both Jamoris Slaughter and Tyler Eifert have already been cleared. He said Kapron Lewis-Moore had a calf strain but is doing better and should be ready by Monday. Manti Te'o bruised his sternum but will be fine by Saturday. Ishaq Williams has a elbow contusion and will be OK. Sheldon Day was cramping up.
The two to monitor this week are wideout DaVaris Daniels and kicker Nick Tausch. Daniels has an ankle sprain while Tausch is recovering from a groin injury that allowed Brindza to play Saturday. Kelly says they will begin to see where things stand with Tausch on Tuesday and that the job will be a competitive situation moving forward.
Cierre Wood will return for the Irish this week after serving a 2-game suspension for a violation of team rules. Kelly said they will work Wood back in the offense and that they want him to be on the field.
Kelly did say that Theo Riddick is the starter at running back.
Notre Dame is now 2-0 for the first time in four seasons. They go on the road to Michigan State next Saturday.
The Irish are now ranked 20th in the country by the Associated Press while Michigan State is ranked 10th. MSU is one of six future opponents the Irish will face that are in the top 25.