A year ago at this time, Notre Dame was 0-1 and a quarterback change already had occurred, with Tommy Rees supplanting Dayne Crist from the top spot.
So far, so good in 2012 for sophomore Everett Golson, who in his first start helped the Irish to a 50-10 victory versus Navy in Ireland. That doesn’t mean the 6-0, 185-pound Myrtle Beach, S.C. native is resting easy. Sixteen-game starter Rees is back after a one-game suspension, and an overall upgrade in competition is forthcoming.
This week brings Golson’s first BCS conference foe in Purdue. The week after it’s his debut against a top-10 caliber defense in his first road trip to a hostile on-campus site at Michigan State. The ensuing week is Michigan, with counterpart Denard Robinson having posted 948 yards total offense by himself against Notre Dame the past two years …
“My job is not certain right now,” replied Golson when asked if he now feels more settled in as the starter. “I still have my foot on the gas pedal. As I said early, I’m just going to keep working and try to be the best I can be.”
It’s been business-as-usual to Golson with Rees this week even though the dynamics might be changing in regards to pushing the sophomore.
“He’s lending a helping hand,” said Golson of Rees. “If he sees something I don’t see, he’ll let me know about it. We just really communicate.”
Overall, Golson’s Wednesday evening meeting with a horde of media was as conservative with comments as the Irish passing attack against the Midshipmen, although he did say, “I think I did a great job of just managing the offense,” at the outset. That was quickly amended to, “I thought we did a great job as a whole of just coming together and playing as one.”
His numbers were efficient but unspectacular. Most of his passes were confided to a limited radius, and seldom did he go downfield while finishing 12 of 18 for 144 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He was not called up to run the zone read option play either because there was no need to against Navy. His highest marks came in the departments of poise and pocket presence, the same areas head coach Brian Kelly cited as strengths during the pre-season.
“He did exactly what we thought he’d do,” said senior offensive tackle Zack Martin, one of four team captains. “He was very calm and controlled the tempo of the game. We thought he did a great job. We were able to run the football and that calmed him down a little bit. He didn’t seem like a first-time player.”
“He’s really calm,” agreed senior offensive guard Chris Watt, who was especially impressed to see Golson not go into a shell after tossing a red-zone interception on a misread in coverage. “He was good at getting us up to play after his interception. He was like, ‘My bad, but we’re going out there next play and score.’ He’s really a positive guy in the huddle.”
Taking on a leadership role is hardly foreign to Golson, who took over as a high school freshman and posted a 44-5 career record as the starter, and he received high marks from Kelly for his communication on the sidelines with his teammates.
“To have a great offense, you have to be on one call with the other players, you have to have that chemistry, so that was kind of the reason that I come over and ask wide receivers what the corners are doing or ask the o-line what they’re doing up front, just so we can be on one call,” Golson said.
“One of the main things as we were coming into it was just be calm. They realized it was the first game of the season, so mistakes are going to happen. But you want to make them full speed … and move on to the next play.”
The offense was 7-for-7 on third-down conversions when Golson was at the throttle, with only two of those plays requiring a pass. When Navy began to build momentum with a three-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to begin the second half, and then made a tackle on kick coverage at the 13, Golson & Co. answered methodically with an 87-yard touchdown march for a 33-10 advantage to all but seal the game.
Although there was “a little bit” of a desire on Golson’s part to maybe air it out more, the 293-yard rushing effort was the ideal prescription for a novice starter.
“It helped me out,” said Golson of Notre Dame’s highest rushing output in a game in nine years. “The coaches felt that it was the best scheme for us. Also, it’s kind of one of those things that if it’s not broke, don’t fix it. We’re running the ball pretty good and we were showing no signs of slowing up, so why stop?”
Kelly has emphasized to all his quarterbacks that sometimes “zero is a good play,” meaning damage control is imperative on a play gone awry. In Golson’s case, one of his more impressive plays was not fumbling the ball on a blind-side sack early in the contest that resulted in an eight-yard loss (Irish QBs lost six fumbles last year).
“I actually saw it coming,” said Golson of the sack. “I’m looking into the boundary, but I kind of felt him on my backside, so I knew it was coming and kind of braced for it a little bit.”
Receiving the signals from the sidelines and processing it — an issue during the spring game — also came off without many hitches.
“It also helps that those other 10 guys are out there with you,” Golson said. “We’re always echoing the plays. So if maybe somebody misses one of the hand signals, you have the other person right there just telling him the call. That really helps us out.”
When asked what he needs to improve on the most, Golson responded 1) better decisiveness on his reads and 2) much more consistent footwork, an area Kelly consistently harps on. The Irish head coach pointed to poor footwork as the genesis of the one interception toss.
“I can remember many throws where I was falling off my throws and off-balance, so Coach Kelly has always been on my mechanics very hard,” he said. “I’m glad I got that first game out of the way. Now, for me it’s more of just really settling down and trying to lead this team, try to be the quarterback for Notre Dame.”
To do it in front of the home crowd for the first time holds a new special excitement.
“It’s going to be tremendous. It’s going to be real crazy,” he said. “Playing in Dublin … you didn’t really know anybody in Dublin, or at least I didn’t. So playing in front of 81,000 fans that you actually know, the nerves are still going to be there but I’m just going to be calm.
“One thing about me, I don’t really try to ride the highs or ride the lows … I don’t think I’ll get too nervous about it. I’s good to have those coaches and have those veterans around you.
“I really try to stay out of [the hype and attention]. I know it’s kind of hard to do … stay focused on the goal.”
So far, so good.