SOUTH BEND – The outcome was easy to predict.
After leading three scoring drives in a row against Wake Forest last Saturday, Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson was so confident that he tried to wedge a touchdown pass to 5-foot-9 Robby Toma between two defenders. The 24-yard attempt ended up in the hands of the Demon Deacons’ Allen Ramsey II.
What couldn’t have been predicted when the season started was how Golson would react to the mistake after things had started so well. The first-year starter delivered a perfect pitch to running back Cierre Wood on the game’s fourth play to lead a 68-yard touchdown run. He followed that up with touchdown passes to former Bishop Dwenger stars Tyler Eifert from 2 yards out and John Goodman from 50 yards out.
Instead of moping and dreading a tongue lashing from coach Brian Kelly, the 6-foot, 185-pound sophomore came to the sideline and acted like a quarterback who had played in more than his 10 career collegiate games.
Those are the foolish and careless mistakes that he made earlier in the year, Kelly said. But he’s so much further along that those are ones that he comes to the sideline and says something before you say something to him, and then you know he’s on that right trend in terms of understanding.
Golson’s development from raw rookie to a quarterback that can lead an offense to match Notre Dame’s outstanding defense is a major reason why the No. 1 Irish (11-0) enter Saturday night’s game at USC (7-4) a win away from the national title game.
After missing the Irish’s 17-14 home win over BYU on Oct. 20 while recovering from a concussion, Golson has completed 72 of 121 passes for 950 yards with six touchdowns and two interceptions. He has also run for 177 yards with three touchdowns.
I think I’ve progressed a lot and that’s with the help of these coaches, Golson said. Being that I am on offense, you want to kind of pull your own weight. But like I said, my development with the help of (offensive coordinator Chuck) Martin and Coach Kelly has come a long way.
Golson had come along way before his latest four-game tear. In Notre Dame’s 20-13 overtime home win over Stanford on Oct. 13, he threw for 141 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions and ran for 41 yards before being knocked out of the game with a concussion.
That was a far cry from his first five games when he 67-of-111 passing for 827 yards with three touchdowns and three interceptions and running for 40 yards. He was replaced by Tommy Rees in wins over Purdue and Michigan and didn’t start in the victory over Miami because he was late to a meeting.
Notre Dame’s offense has gone from being ranked No. 71, averaging 398.4 yards, through the first five games, to No. 50, averaging 419.7 yards, in the last five games with Golson staring four of the five during the Irish’s offensive climb.
I think his biggest thing is his confidence level is very high, center Braxston Cave said. At the beginning of the year, it wasn’t. It is hard to have a lot of confidence when you don’t have a lot starts or a lot of meaningful playing minutes. Now he has seen it all and been through every situation and knows how to react.