WEST LAFAYETTE -- Tommy Rees has accomplished much during his Notre Dame career. But there’s one achievement fresh on the Purdue players’ minds.
The quarterback led the Fighting Irish to a game-winning drive in last year’s meeting with Purdue. Rees was on point throughout the 12-play drive, helping to set up kicker Kyle Brindza for a 27-yard field goal. The Boilermakers fell just shy of an upset that would have shaken up the season.
“I have a bitter taste in my mouth,” Purdue cornerback Frankie Williams said when recalling the 20-17 loss in South Bend.
Now a senior, Rees is looking for his fourth victory over the Purdue. He has made a major impact in each of the last two matchups, including a three-touchdown performance in the 2011 meeting.
Rees has quietly put together a historic career at Notre Dame, throwing for more than 5,000 yards in coach Brian Kelly’s offense. He’ll be remembered for clutch moments like the 2012 comeback drive against Purdue.
"This guy’s good,” said Purdue defensive coordinator Greg Hudson. “Over 600 yards already [this season]. I think I read he’s fifth all-time in passing yardage at Notre Dame, and they’ve had some pretty good quarterbacks there.”
Purdue had an early game last Saturday, allowing the players and coaches to gather and watch Notre Dame’s contest with Michigan, a 41-30 win for the Wolverines. The Boilermakers were able to see Rees work with a slew of targets, namely receivers T.J. Jones, DaVaris Daniels and 6-foot-7 tight end Troy Niklas.
It became evident that Rees has some key pieces to work with within the Notre Dame offense.
“He’s a great quarterback and utilizes all of his weapons,” Williams said.
But Rees was far from perfect in his 314-yard performance. A second-quarter interception allowed Michigan to take a two-score lead before halftime. With time ticking away in the fourth quarter, he threw a costly pick in the end zone which secured the Wolverines’ victory.
In scouting out the detailed film, Purdue coach Darrell Hazell was still impressed with what Rees can do.
“I like him,” Hazell said. “I watched an hour and a half of him throwing the ball. He missed a couple guys, but when he throws it, he throws it pretty accurately.”
Nobody in Purdue’s locker room understands what kind of pressure Rees deals with quite like defensive coordinator Greg Hudson, a former Notre Dame linebacker and 1990 graduate. He knows it’s no easy job.
“If there’s a position in college football that’s tough to play, it’s being the quarterback at Notre Dame,” Hudson said. “Not only do you have to play well, but you’re going to take a lot of heat. We’re going to be challenged by him.”