Everett Golson

With redshirt off, intrigue surrounds Golson


Just about every Irish fan wondered what the quarterbacks not on the field could do for the Irish last season. With the depth chart thrown into disarray after two quarters of football, a chorus of support erupted from all corners of ND nation, with calls for Rees, Crist, Hendrix and Golson heard amongst the shouting. With Crist graduated and set to play out his eligibility under former coach Charlie Weis at Kansas, and blue-chip quarterback Gunner Kiel brought in at the semester to replace him, four quarterbacks — each with a distinctly different flavor — will battle for another job that’s completely up in the air.

This time, however, Everett Golson will be in the mix.

Golson in many ways is the wild card in the competition. Gifted with a skill-set that sparkled during a record-setting prep career in South Carolina, Golson’s raw talent was on display during last year’s spring game, where he and Andrew Hendrix split time after cameos by Rees and Crist. The freshman showed elusiveness, a live arm, and a bewilderment that you’d expect from a early-enrollee freshman that should’ve been playing point guard for his high school basketball team, having some ball security problems but also making some impressive throws.

Now entering his second spring practice and his first shot at the starting quarterback job, Golson is legitimately one of the most intriguing stories in college football. Just ask friend-of-the-program Bruce Feldman, who said as much this week. In his weekly Top 10 list, Feldman listed Golson as the No. 1 most intriguing redshirt freshman in the country.

Here’s his rationale:

1, Everett Golson, Notre Dame, QB: Brian Kelly’s biggest headache in 2011 was due to shaky quarterback play. ND had some very capable weapons in Michael Floyd, Tyler Eifert and Cierre Wood, but the Irish were inept in the Red Zone and prone to momentum-crushing mistakes at the worst possible times. Tommy Rees started most of the season at QB and is back. So is Andrew Hendrix, a more mobile option with a stronger arm. Touted freshman Gunner Kiel is already on campus, but don’t underestimate Golson, a 5-11, 185-pounder from South Carolina. When we had Kelly on our Signing Day Central show a few weeks ago and the Notre Dame coach gushed when I asked him about Golson. You heard a completely different vibe from Kelly just as he started to describe the young QB who had led his high school to state championships in both football and basketball. While Golson does not have prototype size, he has a quick release, a strong arm and wonderful footwork. He also apparently has that presence about him that coaches love.

It’s doubtful any Irish fans have forgotten Golson, which might actually explain the somewhat muted enthusiasm that came from Gunner Kiel’s commitment, usually a “landed on the moon” type achievement in college recruiting. Sure, it’s hard to get too excited about prep highlights supplied by YouTube. But the addition of Chuck Martin as offensive coordinator, teamed with the move of Tony Alford to a hybrid coaching position working with both running backs and slot receivers, and you can’t help but feel like the stars are aligning for Golson, if only he can take advantage.

Upping Feldman’s cred, from his post at ESPN last spring, he pegged Louis Nix among his top ten redshirt freshmen, and I think it’s fair to say that Nix lived up to the billing. (Nix checked in at No. 7.) If Golson manages to earn the headline Feldman bestowed on him, needless to say Irish fans will be happy.

As we see spring practice in the horizon, it reminds me of the old Chinese proverb, “May you live in interesting times.” With four quarterbacks likely capable of being a starting quarterback at Notre Dame, we may have already surpassed interesting.

Evaluating VanGorder’s scheme against the option

ANNAPOLIS, MD - SEPTEMBER 19:  Keenan Reynolds #19 of the Navy Midshipmen rushes for his fifth touchdown in the fourth quarter against the East Carolina Pirates during their 45-21 win on September 19, 2015 in Annapolis, Maryland.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Notre Dame’s ability to slow down Georgia Tech’s vaunted option attack served as one of the high points to the Irish’s early season success. After spending a considerable amount of offseason energy towards attacking the option and learning more, watching the Irish hold the Yellow Jackets in check was a huge victory for Brian VanGorder, Bob Elliott and the rest of Notre Dame’s staff.

But it was only half the battle.

This weekend, Keenan Reynolds and Navy’s veteran offense come to town looking to wreak some havoc on a defense that’s struggled to slow it down. And after getting a look at some of the new tricks the Irish had in store for Paul Johnson, Ken Niumatalolo and his offensive coaches have likely started plotting their counterpunches days in advance.

How did Notre Dame’s defense slow down Georgia Tech? Brian Kelly credited an aggressive game plan and continually changing looks. So while some were quick to wonder whether Notre Dame’s scheme changes were the biggest piece of the puzzle, it’s interesting to see how the Irish’s strategic decisions looked from the perspective of an option expert.

Over at “The Birddog” blog, Michael James utilizes his spread option expertise and takes a look at how the Irish defended Georgia Tech. His conclusion:

Did the Irish finally figure out the magic formula that will kill this gimmick high school offense for good?

Not exactly.

The Irish played a fairly standard 4-3 for a large chunk of the game. James thought Notre Dame’s move to a 3-5-3 was unique, though certainly not the first time anybody’s used that alignment.

But what stood out wasn’t necessarily the Xs and Os, but rather how much better Notre Dame’s personnel reacted to what they were facing.

Again, from the Birddog Blog:

The real story here, and what stood out to me when watching Notre Dame play Georgia Tech, was how much faster the Irish played compared to past years. I don’t mean that they are more athletic, although this is considered to be the best Notre Dame team in years. I mean that they reacted far more quickly to what they saw compared to what they’ve done in the past.

Usually, when a team plays a spread option offense, one of the biggest challenges that defensive coordinators talk about is replicating the offense’s speed and precision. It’s common to hear them say that it takes a series or two to adjust. That was most certainly not the case here.

James referenced our Media Day observations and seemed impressed by the decision to bring in walk-on Rob Regan to captain what’s now known as the SWAG team. And while VanGorder’s reputation as a mad scientist had many Irish fans wondering if the veteran coordinator cooked something up that hadn’t been seen, it was more a trait usually associated with Kelly that seems to have made the biggest difference.

“It wasn’t that the game plan was so amazing (although it was admittedly more complex and aggressive than we’ve seen out of other Notre Dame teams),” James wrote. “It was plain ol’ coachin’ ’em up.

“Notre Dame’s players were individually more prepared for what they’d see. Notre Dame is already extremely talented, but talented and prepared? You can’t adjust for that. That’s more challenging for Navy than any game plan.”

Irish prepared to take on the best Navy team in years


Brian Kelly opens every Tuesday press conference with compliments for an opponent. But this week, it was easy to see that his kind words for Navy were hardly lip service.

Ken Niumatalolo will bring his most veteran—and probably his most talented—group of Midshipmen into Notre Dame Stadium, looking to hand the Irish their first loss in the series since Kelly’s debut season in South Bend.

“Ken Niumatalolo has done an incredible job in developing his program and currently carrying an eight-game winning streak,” Kelly said. “I voted for them in USA Today Top 25 as a top-25 team. I think they’ve earned that. But their defense as well has developed. It’s played the kind of defense that I think a top 25 team plays.”

With nine months of option preparation, Notre Dame needs to feel confident about their efforts against Georgia Tech. Then again, the Midshipmen saw that game plan and likely have a few tricks in store.

As much as the Irish have focused their efforts on stopping Keenan Reynolds and the triple-option, Navy’s much-improved defense is still looking for a way to slow down a team that’s averaged a shade over 48 points a game against them the last four seasons.

Niumatalolo talked about that when asked about slowing down Will Fuller and Notre Dame’s skill players, an offense that’s averaged over 48 points a game during this four-game win streak.

“We’ve got to try our best to keep [Fuller] in front of us, that’s easier said than done,” Niumatalolo said. “We’ve got to play as close as we can without their guys running past us. I’ve been here a long time and we’re still trying to figure out how to do that.”


Navy heads to South Bend unbeaten, defeating former Irish defensive coordinator Bob Diaco‘s team just two Saturdays ago. And while Diaco raised a few eyebrows when he said Navy would be the team’s toughest test of the year (they already played a ranked Missouri team), the head of the UConn program couldn’t have been more effusive in his praise.

“I have been competing against Navy for some time and this is the best Navy team I have seen for, let’s say the last half-dozen years,” UConn coach Bob Diaco told the New Haven Register. “I could click on footage from three years ago and see a lion’s share of players who are playing right now in the game as freshmen and sophomores. They have a veteran group, a strong group, a talented group and they look like the stiffest competition among our first four opponents.”

As usual, there will be those who look at this game as the breather between Clemson and USC. That won’t be anybody inside The Gug. So as the Irish try to get back to their winning ways in front of a home crowd, a complete team effort is needed.

“I’ll take a win by one,” Kelly said Tuesday. “That would be fine with me.”