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Tommy Rees Talks Fiesta Bowl, Oklahoma State, Continuity and Changes

Comments made by Notre Dame OC Tommy Rees in the opening press conference for the Fiesta Bowl

Comments made by Notre Dame OC Tommy Rees in the opening press conference for the Fiesta Bowl

Q: Tommy, do you have any information as regard Kyle Hamilton's health and possible availability for this game?

Rees: "Yeah, thanks, Eric. I think you know, a lot of those questions. I think Marcus, you know, will be prepared, prepared to field tomorrow. You know, I'd really like to focus on just our preparation for this game and specifics and I don't have the medical update for Kyle."

Q: Tommy you have a sort of a large group of younger players, freshmen in particular, that have improved throughout the course of the season. What kind of an opportunity is this for them to continue to sort of delve up but also to go against a defense comparable to like Wisconsin or Cincinnati in terms of their production? You know, where maybe they didn't have that opportunity earlier in the season because they weren't ready for it.

Rees: "Yeah, I mean, to be quite honest with you, Pete. I think it gives us a great opportunity offensively to kind of figure out where we're at. This is a barometer game for us where, you know, we felt a steady improvement throughout the year and now we're going to go against a great defense. Let's see how much we can prove. You know, I think when you look at the matchups with Wisconsin and Cincinnati, those were a couple of games early on where to be quite frank, we weren't playing our best football offensively. You know, as we've gotten to that point later this season, now we have an opportunity for a great group of guys to go against a great defense, not a good one, but a great defense to really see how we stack up."

Q: Notre Dame doesn’t play against a lot of Big 12 teams. What do you see playing against a Big 12 team? No offense but it seems like they play a lot of street football. You go to the mailbox and take a left and forget about defense.

Rees: "I think that’s flipped a little bit, to be honest. You know, I think when you watch Big 12 football days, a lot of really good defense has been playing. You know, I think a lot of the new wave of defensive football has been kind of that 3-3-5 structure that you saw from Iowa. State. We played them in 2019 in a bowl game. The conference has been very innovative that way because they've kind of stopped high-powered offenses. 

"So you see a lot of what they've implemented at that conference trickle over, across college football. So I think the defense in that conference and play that at a very high level over the last two years, probably here. We're excited for the challenge. You know, it's not a conference that we play a whole lot. Like I said when I was a player, we got to play Oklahoma a couple of times. Those were great matchups. We're definitely excited to get this opportunity and eager to know these bowl games are for right you get to play matchups that you don't typically get to play and for us to play this big of a game against an opponent like Oklahoma State who was nationally in the conversation every year. We're extremely excited for that opportunity."

Q: Just looking at the last couple of days since all the players found out about Marcus, what kind of energy Have you seen from them? Just from what His presence and what that meant to them and kind of how that might kind of carry you guys through this morning over?

Rees: "I think obviously you've seen the program and know the word rally is used a lot around Notre Dame but you've really seen the program rally around one another in the last five days. Look, I have not been around the team a whole lot since we've been traveling. But I mean, you see the videos and you see the reaction. 

"Certainly, I've had plenty of conversations with guys on the team. Just about the excitement and the energy and Hey, we haven't felt this in the program before you know this, this the excitement and the support for one another. They talked about their workouts this week with Coach [Matt] Balis just how much energy and drive there was through that. So I think you're gonna get a team that's extremely hungry. I think you're going to team it's gonna be extremely motivated to go out there and play their best football. 

"The other thing about bowl games is it's another opportunity to continue to improve you get, you get bonus practices here so you can continue to develop lot of young guys, and I think we're gonna get a lot of really competitive practices. I think you're gonna have guys, you know, unlike some years when you're prepping for a bowl game you get guys that are really motivated to go out there and play their best ball. So I'm really looking forward to the energy that this entire week is brought the program and continuing to build off of that."

Q: Remember back during the bye week season you guys talked about how there was a lot of like self-scouting that went on that you had some extra time. How much self-scouting will you guys do in preparation for this? And then what's the difference in focus and structure between like in-season preparation for games when it's back to back and then when you do have a little bit of a time off and an extra week to prepare for a bowl game?

Rees: "It'll be very similar. You split the season into two parts- the first half and the second half. So, you know, we'll self-scout you know, very similar to how we did over the bye week. You know, we'll look at tendencies, we'll look at some areas we need to approve. We'll look at some areas where you know, we've been successful and why that's been and try to find patterns or trends there. And, you know, maybe try to find a few trends that you can break. 

"In terms of preparation, you know, really the only change is you probably don't dive right into game planning. Your first couple of practices—we will be on the road, you know, all week. We’ll come off the road and start practice and there won't be a whole lot of time as a staff to get together beforehand. So you know, you'll have some good and good periods. It's a little bit different than a normal game week. We'll certainly have some opportunities to get some developmental periods. 

"For the younger guys in the program, and people that, you know, are either redshirting or who are still in the developmental phase. So you know, bowl prep really gives you an opportunity to continue to improve your roster from the top down, and then you kind of get into the game plan, you know, as you head into like the last two weeks."

Q: I think a lot of people are familiar with Mike Gundy because he's the head coach there for 17 some odd years back you may have been even playing at the time when he was already a head coach, but the main hot name on their staff has been Jim Knowles. You mentioned how defense has changed in the big problem. Are you familiar at all with Jim Knowles or seen any of his work through the years?

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Rees: "Correct me if I'm wrong, I believe he was at Duke for a little bit. So we have you know, there were some times there back when I was a player and then when I first got hired, so I remember going to Duke and like I said, we don't see a ton of Oklahoma State and cross-overs. We just don't often play a similar schedule. So we don't see it a whole lot. 

"I have followed him a little bit this year, and obviously, we got a chance to watch him yesterday. A little bit of prep in the last couple of hours here. Went over multiple and what they do defensively. They did present a lot of different you know, challenges. The thing that's intriguing when you look at their numbers, they're getting in there, you know, only given up 26% on third down. You know, that's an area where if you're not good on third down, it's hard to win games. So that's an area where, you know, I feel like it's critical in our matchup you know, obviously, you know, (Malcolm) Rodriguez is a great player. They highlighted him yesterday throughout the broadcast of the game, you know, in total defense, their third and they're only giving up less than 100 yards rushing this year. 

"So there's a lot of challenges that coach Knowles presents. You know, I think he does a great job in the early diagnosis of figuring out what teams do well and having answers for that. You know, I think he's gonna play tendencies and, and try to make sure that he has answers for kind of our core offense. So we're gonna have to understand that and make sure that we can play complementary football."

Q: About a week ago you probably would have assumed that Brian Kelly was coaching this game, not Marcus Freeman. With having a new coach, particularly one whose background is on the defensive side of the ball, does this change at all the way you go about designing a game plan or input seek or anything along those lines?

"I think you know, our process stayed pretty consistent all year in terms of how we approach a game plan week. You know, I say we have a great staff in place offensively that has worked in a cohesive way all year. You know, obviously, Coach Freeman now being the head coach and, you know, just the conversations with him during the week, you know about playing complementary football, you know, understanding you know, situationally, you know, his preference may be different than what coach Kelly's were. 

"And so that's something that over the next couple of weeks that he and I will have conversations on and make sure that we're on the same page and make sure that that we're playing as an entire team, not just two sides of the ball or three sides of the ball. So that we're playing football the way that Coach Freeman wants to play. And so, I'm excited to get to work with Marcus. You know, obviously, you said it's only been a week but it has felt like a month in the last seven days. So, I think as an entire program, we're just we're very eager for this opportunity and very eager to get back into football mode here."

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