During the week of preparation for Oklahoma, Irish head coach Brian Kelly was asked whether there was a gross disparity in the advantage the Sooners had at quarterback. Fifth-year senior Landry Jones of the Sooners is now sixth on the NCAA charts in passing yardage, while sophomore Everett Golson was making only his sixth career start. He had been replaced by veteran Tommy Rees on several occasions, and he also had missed the previous week while recovering from a concussion.
Brian Kelly said sophomore Everett Golson has been developing mentally and physically into a more complete quarterback.
“You would think so,” Kelly coyly responded.
On Saturday night, Jones threw for twice as many yards as Golson (356 to 177). But he also had to throw twice as many passes (51 to 25), whereas Golson operated a much more efficient, smoother and versatile offense that out-rushed Oklahoma 215-15 — with Golson gaining 64 of those yards.
With Golson at the throttle, Notre Dame was balanced and kept Oklahoma on its heels with 215 yards rushing and 188 passing. Most notable is the offense had no turnovers, no penalties and very few negative yardage plays, a testament to a lot of things a quarterback does that don’t show up in the final stats.
“What we’re most pleased with is he was smart and he was disciplined,” said Kelly of Golson. “He threw the ball away when he was under duress, he made good decisions.”
The Irish head coach added that it’s not about expanding the playbook right now with Golson but polishing where he excels most and honing his confidence in different areas. Mentally, it includes taking much better control of the offense or even in voice inflection. Observing how junior Tommy Rees took command of the team also benefitted Golson while he was recuperating from his concussion. Physically, it was about improving his mechanics and footwork.
“This is more about the realization that you have to have some discipline, real solid mechanics to move your play at the quarterback position,” Kelly said. “He’s beginning to realize that those detailed things we’ve been banging him on the head with will actually make him a better quarterback.
“By getting a chance to step back and see it, I think he realized how much more how important it is to be disciplined in those areas … I think he just flat-out made a decision that, ‘I know this coaching is going to help me and I’m going to take the part.' ”
Health & Personnel Updates
Kelly said the Irish came away “clean” in the health area after the Oklahoma game. Sophomore safety Matthias Farley did incur a hand injury but it will not cause him to miss any practice time this week.
• Six players at certain times last week battled the stomach flu, most notably sophomore running back George Atkinson III, who did not make the trip to Oklahoma. According to Kelly, GAIII was “weak and dehydrated. It didn’t make sense for us to put him on a plane. He’s cleared and feeling pretty good today.”
• Freshman quarterback Gunner Kiel did not make the trip because there were a number of administrators on the team plane going to Norman.
“We had to look at paring back our travel squad a little bit,” said Kelly, who admitted it was a “tough decision” to leave some people home, even though Kiel won’t be getting on the field this year.
• When asked what wowed him the most in the game, Kelly said the contributions of three true freshman — cornerback KeiVarae Russell, nickel Elijah Shumate and wideout Chris Brown. The open-field tackling of Russell (whose nine stops were second to the 11 by Manti Te’o) was especially impressive considering how much he had to play in space.
• Sophomore Ishaq Williams appears to have found more of a niche as a coverage man at the hybrid Cat position, while junior Prince Shembo excels more as a pass rusher who has his hand on the ground. Notre Dame often dropped eight into coverage against the Sooners.
• Kelly liked how sophomore wideout DaVaris Daniels, who hasn’t always “finished” plays, competed much better on a couple of tough catches versus Oklahoma and is getting better at “figuring out you have to compete at the highest level every single play.”
• Because the run defense is so dominant — none of Oklahoma’s 24 rushing attempts gained more than seven yards, and totaled only 15 — Te’o has already intercepted five passes at linebacker this fall because the defense can now do more in coverage schemes and Te’o can keep better eyes on the QB and get a better jump on passes.
News & Notes
Kelly said his current staff is the “best group of guys I’ve ever had on how they work together day to day.” He is especially pleased how the chemistry with defensive coordinator Bob Diaco and newly hired safeties coach Bob Elliott — who sits beside Diaco in the press box and used to coach him at Iowa — provides a strong rapport.
• Now that Notre Dame is a bona fide national title contender, Kelly said he’s not considered about “style points” to help gain more votes because then that detracts from the foremost priority of preparing to win the next game.
“It’s clear you want to win your games and you want to win them in convincing fashion, but there’s nothing that we will do practically that will emphasize that in any way,” Kelly said. “It kind of becomes a moot point for us.”
• Unlike last week against BYU when the Irish locker room was more subdued after a 17-14 win, Kelly said there was a little more celebration this week.
“They were very excited about the win, but they felt really good about how they won the game,” he said. “It wasn’t a giddy group. It was a group that felt like they had earned the win and celebrated accordingly."
He was also pleased how “you could hear a pin drop” once they boarded the plane for the late-night flight back and immediately went to sleep.