For most teams that make it this far into a season undefeated, one exceptional, team-leading quarterback is an integral part of the formula. Not always, though. And not on the Notre Dame squad that faced Boston College Saturday night.
The Fighting Irish have seen Everett Golson lead them to wins. They’ve seen Tommy Rees lead them to wins. They’ve also seen both quarterbacks benched.
The future is Golson, the redshirt freshman who endured one of those benchings — for three series in the second quarter — last Saturday against Pittsburgh. The future, too, is an offense “driven by the quarterback, by his consistent play, by his decision-making, by his athleticism,” as coach Brian Kelly said.
That time is not here quite yet, but Golson’s ability to get there eventually is what Kelly is hoping for and banking on. For now, though, “he’s a freshman,” Kelly said. “I’m reminded of it every single day.”
It’s not the first time Kelly has relied upon a freshman quarterback in a season with the potential to be special. He won a national championship with one at Grand Valley State. It was a similar situation, in which the team focused on defense and the running game, and counted on the quarterback when needed.
As for Golson, the game against Pittsburgh — a triple-overtime comeback from a 20-6 deficit — led to Kelly saying he might just end up sticking with Golson more in pressure situations, instead of reaching for the security blanket of Rees, a junior.
“That spurred my comment, his ability to get back up off the bench,” Kelly said. “And it never happened before. He hadn’t been in that situation where I felt like when I looked at him he was ready to get back in there. He was ready to get back in the game and knew what he needed to do.”
Kelly has generally made his quarterback decisions on “feel” this season, and given that the Irish entered Saturday night 9-0, it seemed to have worked.
Against Pittsburgh, Golson finished with 227 passing yards and three touchdowns, including rushing for the score that won the game. He had 74 yards on 15 rushes.
Because of Golson’s uneven performance, Kelly has heard calls to start Rees consistently. So far, Kelly hasn’t listened, preferring to bring along his quarterback of the future.
The coach has had that luxury because Notre Dame boasts a fantastic defense, a championship-caliber defense, led by Heisman Trophy candidate Manti Te’o.
The offense? It gets the job done. Nothing more.
Among the things Golson has needed to work on is playing faster in order to speed up the offense. It was something he did in the fourth quarter against Pittsburgh.
Still, even as Kelly sees improvements, even as he sees Golson getting closer to being the quarterback he can count on for the next three years, there is still a long way to go.
“We just have a lot of development to do within the intricacies of the offense, the things that might not be seen quite as much,” Kelly said. “We want it to be a lot cleaner, a lot more efficient, and there are so many little factors in there.
“But it’s the big picture of what we want. Now we really want to start to refine that. That’s the next step for us.”
Amalie Benjamin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @amaliebenjamin.