Everett Golson

Announced or not: Golson is the man for the job


With classes at Notre Dame started and preparation for Navy underway, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly will meet with the assembled meeting for his weekly Tuesday press conference at noon. And while there’s no indication that he’s ready to name a signal-caller for the season opener against the Midshipmen, it’s time to give up the worst kept secret in South Bend: Everett Golson is going to be the starting quarterback.

The talented sophomore has been locked in a camp battle with junior Andrew Hendrix, who worked his way into the rotation last season at quarterback as Tommy Rees struggled down the stretch. But Golson, who sat out last season and saved a year of eligibility, has captivated Kelly with his skill-set, and answered many of the questions the head coach had about his maturity and ability to lead a football team, prerequisites for the quarterback that’ll likely determine Brian Kelly’s fate as the head of the Fighting Irish.

Golson’s redshirt season was one spent adjusting to the college game and the academic rigors of Notre Dame. It was also a season where the young talent needed a healthy dose of humility. Eric Hansen, in the Sunday edition of the South Bend Tribune, wonderfully encapsulates Golson’s freshmen struggles, where is lack of attention to schoolwork and the playbook cost him a chance to contribute last season.

Midway through the 2011 season, Golson and Hendrix were competing for a minor role in the Irish offense — the change-up quarterback.

It was a concept Kelly began toying with, at least in the meeting room, the previous spring after talking to Urban Meyer, who tag-teamed then-freshman Tim Tebow with senior Chris Leak in a national title run at Florida in 2006. But Kelly was slow to employ the concept in a game in the fall of ’11, and had a tough time separating Hendrix and Golson as the top candidate for that role — until Golson sort of did it for him at midseason.

He began to struggle in the classroom, more of a sign of lack of maturity than anything else, and his attention to detail when it came to being on time and focused for meetings, for example, was far from perfect.

“I can admit I wasn’t the best at that,” he said.

Golson then was demoted to scout team for the remainder of the season. His job, at that point, was to learn the opposing team’s plays and run their offenses in practice against ND’s No. 1 defense. The decline, though, started to gain traction all the way back in August training camp in 2011.

“I thought I was ready to compete for the starting spot,” said Golson, the sixth-most prolific TD thrower in U.S. high school history. “Going through fall camp, I kind of saw my reps go down a little bit. I was a little bit discouraged at first.

“It kind of humbled me. Now, that I look back at it, I’m glad I went down to the scout team, ’cause it made me realize I have to start at ground zero and work my way back up.”

The way back up included a breakthrough performance in the annual Blue-Gold Game, where Golson was the most impressive of the four quarterbacks and seemed to show a solid mastery of the offense while also flashing his prodigious physical gifts. But up until that final televised practice of spring, Golson quietly struggled with his role at Notre Dame, so much so that one source tells me he considered transferring for much of the offseason until that performance.

Those concerns are in the past now, with Golson’s work and commitment to football this summer getting him up to speed with the offense. (Also fortuitous to his candidacy was the offseason arrest of incumbent quarterback Tommy Rees, allowing Kelly and offensive coordinator Chuck Martin the ability to hit the hard reset after two seasons in South Bend.) That commitment has shown during training camp, where Golson has slowly taking control of the position battle.

Kelly has done his best to stay mum about his quarterback choice — whether it be for strategic advantage or because he’s not ready to make the decision. Yet clues all around the program point to Golson. Whether it’s teammates past and present raving about his athleticism, in-depth profiles like the one Hansen wrote, or the mobs of media surrounding the sophomore at Media Day, if it’s not announced today it’s only a matter of time before the Irish are led by Golson when they step onto the field at Aviva Stadium in Dublin.

The announcement would be the culmination of ND Nation’s hopes for the young quarterback with dynamic running and passing ability. It will also be the cherry on top of a really impressive fall camp where Golson played his way into the role of starting quarterback.

“We’ve had 126 throwing opportunities with Everett,” Kelly recounted last week, talking about the live 11 on 11 passing snaps for the young quarterback. “He’s had one interception. You build trust. You don’t just give it, you build trust.”

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.”