SOUTH BEND, Ind. — A year ago, Tommy Rees made his season debut at Notre Dame Stadium with a chorus of boos echoing in the background.
On Saturday, there were nothing but cheers.
Rees completed 16 of 23 passes for 346 yards and three touchdowns, picking apart Temple's defense with ease to lead Notre Dame to a 28-6 win. He didn't turn the ball over, he didn't fill a rap sheet with poor decisions, and he didn't look like the same guy who quarterbacked the Irish to an 8-5 season in 2011.
All eyes are on Rees this fall, as he returns to a starting role for a team coming off a berth in the BCS Championship Game. His detractors point to the 14 interceptions he threw two years ago, while his supporters see a more experienced, calculated senior.
On the first Saturday of the season, Rees proved his detractors wrong. But doing so didn't make his team's win over Temple any sweeter.
"The pleasure for me was being able to go out there and play well enough to get a 'W,'" Rees said. "Playing for my teammates, playing for the coaches, playing for the university, the student body was great out there. They had unbelievable support. There is no added benefit for me for some of the hard times I've fallen on, but it's gone well."
It took Notre Dame just three plays to find the end zone. Running exclusively out of the pistol, Amir Carlisle dashed 45 yards on the first play from scrimmage, and after George Atkinson ran for five, Rees found DaVaris Daniels over the top for a 32-yard touchdown.
Notre Dame's second drive had a similar makeup: T.J. Jones picked up 51 on a swing pass, Atkinson gained four on a rush and Rees connected with Daniels — who later left the game with a mild groin tweak — for another 32-yard touchdown.
"I think we answered a lot of those questions right away with his ability to push the ball down the field," coach Brian Kelly said. "I thought his patience was better, and it will continue to get better. So I was pleased with his performance, and he knows he can play better."
After a seemingly deadly 1-2 punch, Notre Dame let Temple back into the fight. The offense stalled just a bit, and following missed field goals on back-to-back possessions, Temple found the end zone late in the second quarter to cut Notre Dame's lead to 14-6.
Rees and the Irish then immediately swung back. With just over a minute left in the half, Rees hit Troy Niklas over the middle, and the 6-foot-7, 270-pound tight end rumbled to a 66-yard touchdown, putting the Irish up 21-6 at the half.
"We kind of slipped up there a little bit in the second quarter before Troy's long score," Rees said. "We had some missed opportunities. But I'm really proud the way the guys kept chugging along and didn't let a couple of drives and stall or get us down. We kept moving forward, and it worked out."
Notre Dame all but secured a win when its defense stopped Temple six yards from the end zone to open the third quarter. Under pressure, Temple quarterback Connor Reilly's pass fell incomplete on fourth-and-goal, and Notre Dame drove into the end zone on the ensuing possession to coast to a 28-6 win.
Rees' 346 yards were a career high, while his 66-yard strike to Niklas was the longest he's thrown. Jones reeled in six passes for 138 yards, the latter a career best, and Daniels' two touchdowns were the first two of his career.
"I got a great understanding of what's going on out there," Rees said. "All of that adds to the confidence. I have all the confidence in the world in my teammates. My offensive line, the guys out there that make plays for us — I've got confidence in anyone that we're running out there, and that helps an offense a lot."
Nobody generates more buzz on Notre Dame than Rees, as the question remains unanswered: Can he be the guy to sustain Notre Dame's success? Throwing for three touchdowns and 346 yards on Saturday was a step toward answering that question. And while those numbers are nice, given what Rees did in 2011, there's a single stat that stands out above the rest: Zero turnovers.
"Here's what I know, to win football games at the BCS level, you've got to take care of the football," Kelly said. "We took care of the football today."