A third of the way through the 2012 season, Notre Dame offensive coordinator Chuck Martin is just as interested to see how the quarterback situation shakes out as everyone else. Head coach Brian Kelly refuses to say it’s a two-man approach, but more of a whatever-works-that-day attitude.
Irish head coach Brian Kelly, left, and offensive coordinator Chuck Martin are constantly communicating on game days and monitoring the quarterback situation
With a 4-0 record and No. 10 national ranking, the Fighting Irish, which are idle this week, have gotten by with some uncertainty on offense. Martin said he’ll have a clearer idea of what should be expected of first-year starter Everett Golson after the sophomore competes against Miami on Oct. 6 at Chicago’s Soldier Field.
“If you had a crystal ball and could tell me that would be awesome,” Martin said Wednesday in his first meeting with media members since fall camp. “We’re all just trying to figure out a way to beat Miami. To plan for the future, or try to figure out how it’s going to shake out … obviously you’ve got an interesting situation. You’ve got four good quarterbacks.
“Obviously one quarterback plays at a time. To me, I wouldn’t have predicted that the first four games would go this way. We played two different quarterbacks in every game. The first game made sense [with junior Andrew Hendrix] because the game was lopsided. The other three games, two quarterbacks played and we’re 4-0. We’re doing whatever we can to try and win the game. We’ll figure out what’s going to happen against Miami. We’ll see what happens after Miami and we’ll move forward from there.”
Unlike against Purdue, when Golson was replaced by former starter Tommy Rees on the team’s final drive, which resulted in a 55-yard march and game-winning, 27-yard field goal with seven seconds remaining, Golson’s quick exit against Michigan last Saturday had nothing to do with a lack of game management experience in a tight game. Golson completed just 3 of 8 passes for 30 yards and two interceptions and was benched for Rees at the 6:10 mark in the second quarter with the Irish clinging to a 3-0 lead.
“That was different,” Martin said. “[Golson’s] had some hot and cold moments. He doesn’t really have an explanation and we haven’t dwelled on it. I did ask him, like, ‘Hey, you were off, you knew you were off, Coach [Kelly] knew you were off.’ Was it Saturday night [vs.] Michigan? Was it a couple midterms? I’m not a psychologist. It’s just part of life. You learn from it and you move forward. He knows he wasn’t locked in like he should have been locked in, and he knows he can’t let that happen again. I’m pretty confident he won’t.”
Rees finished 8-for-11 passing for 115 yards and a rushing touchdown. Though it’s not his mobility that gives him an edge over Golson in certain situations, Rees’ ability to identify defenses quickly and make checks at the line has been of significant value late-game circumstances.
“I think his experience certainly helps in the management of our offense,” Martin said. “He’s got a lot of experience under his belt and a lot of calmness. That certainly is a factor anytime he comes in. Even the two-minute drive against Purdue, did we not feel comfortable with Everett going out and throwing the ball? No. It more had to do with just the management of the drive than the skill set.
“We felt good about both of them throwing the ball. That’s certainly something a more experienced guy brings to the table. You’ve got experience, you’ve played, you’ve got talent, you’ve seen it before a 100 times, so you don’t flinch. Everett’s at the point where he’s understanding it, he’s seeing it, but he still flinches sometimes.”
Fans’ expectations of a player, particularly a rookie quarterback, aren’t often in lockstep with those of the coaching staff. As much potential as Golson offers, Kelly and Martin knew it would be a gradual process.
“He’s made some great run checks this year, and other times he has kind of hesitated,” Martin explained. “The nice thing is you know the knowledge is there and you know he’s getting it. It’s just about experiencing it. The kid is going to get experience.
“I look at the schedules of the teams we play, and we don’t get … we could have had some easy teams roll into town and it would be a lot easier for not only a young quarterback, but a young receiver, a young tight end and a young safety to get those where you have nice scrimmages like some of these people.”
For now, it’s about monitoring a variety of factors within the game and making a determination as to which quarterback fits the situation best.
“You’re still just making an educated guess,” Martin admitted. “We brought Tommy in last week and on the first drive and we go down and score. It looks pretty good after we go down and score. It’s also the feel of having a young quarterback and how’s he doing within that moment in time? He can make a mistake and understand immediately, ‘Hey, I saw it; I screwed up.’ Or it could be more of a mistake based on being confused. If it’s more based on confusion, they’re you’re more apt to maybe play somebody out there that’s not so confused.
“It just depends on the flow, the situation, what [the defense] is doing, the game score, how our defense is playing; there are all these factors of managing a football game, which we’re really trying to do a good job of because we felt like in the past we didn’t always manage the game as well as we could have based on the circumstances.”