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Golson key to Irish offense’s evolution

Apr 15, 2013, 10:55 AM EDT

Everett Golson

Early in the Brian Kelly era at Notre Dame, we spent obsessive amounts of time discussing quarterback performance. After watching Charlie Weis spit out two elite college quarterbacks, the Irish bringing in another “offensive guru” gave Notre Dame fans hopes that their new head coach would continue to develop quarterbacks, even if it was with a system different than the one the previous coach employed.

Three years ago to the day, here’s what we wrote when trying to predict how Dayne Crist would perform in Brian Kelly’s system.

While everybody seems to agree that Dayne Crist holds the key to the Irish offense, trying to predict how he’ll play certainly presents a lot of variables. The Irish will be breaking in three new starters along the offensive line, with both tackles and Eric Olsen gone at center. The receiving corp lost Biletnikoff winning wide receiver Golden Tate, a staggering blow for any offense. While the entire running back depth chart returns, Theo Riddick moves outside to the slot, where he’ll try to open up opportunities for Cierre Wood.

The key for Crist and the Irish offense will be its ability to absorb Brian Kelly’s offense. While philosophically divergent from that of Weis’, Kelly’s spread attack correlated nicely when it came to success in the air, as both the Irish and the Bearcats were elite last season when it came to throwing the ball. More importantly, Kelly’s system has proven to be very good for quarterbacks in general, not something you could say about Weis’ complex NFL offense. Since Kelly entered D-I football in 2004, he’s yet to have a season where quarterbacks threw more interceptions than touchdowns. Over six seasons, his quarterbacks have averaged nearly 62 percent completions while throwing an average of 27 touchdown passes against only 10 interceptions, pretty staggering numbers. The average passer rating of a Brian Kelly quarterback is 141.8, which would’ve put John Q. Average in the top 30 in the country last season.

On paper, Crist’s first season looked like we probably could have expected. (Though certainly not how we remembered it.) His numbers are actually pretty close to those Everett Golson put up in year one.

To complete the exercise, let’s take a look at the debut seasons of Crist, Tommy Rees and Golson:

174 of 294 (59.2%) 2,033 yards. 15 TD 7 INT

269 of 411 (65.5%) 2,871 yards. 20 TD 14 INT

187 of 318 (58.8%) 2,405 yards. 12 TD 6 INT

Those numbers all fit in the approximate window that Kelly’s past quarterbacks displayed at Central Michigan and Cincinnati, where guys like Kent Smith and Tony Pike had solid but not spectacular first seasons.

Of course, one benefit of a first-year starter is the progress made between their first and second seasons. After sitting out his freshman season, Golson is entering his third spring in Brian Kelly’s system. With that comfort, he’s no longer the confused rookie quarterback that wasn’t trusted to run the football for much of the first half of the season, for fear of fumbling. Now, he’s got the potential to be Kelly’s first star quarterback at Notre Dame.

“I don’t know that you could even put him in the same category with where he started last year to where he is now,” Kelly said.

That much has been evident even in our limited windows into the Irish this spring. If there was any question that this was now Golson’s offense, it has been answered resoundingly this offseason.

While in the past, Kelly and offensive coordinator Chuck Martin have had to pair back the offense to something Golson could handle, now it’s a matter of stopping him from taking on too much.

“He didn’t know anything relative to what he had for tools last year in terms of what he could do with the offense,” Kelly explained. “Now he wants to maybe do a little bit too much. We’re at a totally different point in his development.”

That point should be fascinating. While Golson loses All-American Tyler Eifert, he returns a wide receiving corps that while thin, should be ready to take a leap forward. TJ Jones will likely be a front-line player. Davaris Daniels is poised for a big season. And while we’re not quite sure what to make of the slot receiver position, there are intriguing weapons available that’ll now be ready to be properly utilized with Golson understanding his job, and the offense, better.

The last time Brian Kelly had a quarterback lead a team in passing for two consecutive seasons, Tony Pike exploded, throwing for over 2,500 yards, with a sparkling 29:6 touchdown to interception ratio. That’s likely more than the Irish can wish for with Golson this season, but his skillset is one that’s so diverse that the sky truly is the limit for the rising junior with three seasons of eligibility remaining.

With Gunner Kiel retreating and Malik Zaire most likely spending this season learning, the groundwork laid in a 2012 season that saw the Irish reach unprecedented heights could help Notre Dame finally have the offense many assumed would arrive in South Bend with Kelly.

All of that now possible with Golson’s continued growth.

“I think the thing that stands out the most to me though is his command,” Kelly said. “His communication and his command and his leadership has been evident as we start to evolve.”

  1. 25kgold - Apr 15, 2013 at 1:21 PM

    Golson and Montana will be used in the same sentence before this is all over with (and no that’s not apples and oranges). I’m talking about ND QB folklore as a whole here… Kiel saw the future himself, that’s why he left. I feel Golson is better than even we know him to be! Go Irish!

    • 808raiderinparadise - Apr 15, 2013 at 2:36 PM

      Lots of truth to Golson’s talent …. he is a special player, leader and play-maker.

      The Pitt game comes to mind when he caught fire through adversity.

      The passing games needs to be more dynamic, Eifert bailed him out a lot, he won’t have that anymore.

      TJ is his most proven, after that are some raw speedsters without real production.

      Should be interesting.

  2. stedward - Apr 15, 2013 at 1:46 PM

    I’ll be really happy when we see Golson making the kind of pre snap adjustments that Tommy is allowed to make. Tommy could see what reads to make but making the right reads and having the talent of Golson opens up a whole new world. I also think it is hard to compare numbers from these different 1st seasons because the caliber of defense was so much better in 2012, leading to a different offensive philosophy.

    • nudeman - Apr 15, 2013 at 2:54 PM

      That “Tommy checks us out of bad plays” stuff is bullshit.

      To believe that drivel of BK’s you’d have to know what plays were called that he was checking us out of. My TV doesn’t transmit that info; maybe yours does

      The other thing is if he kept getting ND out of bad plays, why was the offense so terrible when he played?

      Sorry … have never bought that.

      • mcirish27 - Apr 15, 2013 at 3:27 PM

        Time to let it go, nude. We’re a year removed from talking about battling QB’s. Take some things at face value and let’s all move on knowing that we have a physically capable QB starting and an experienced backup with a good head on his shoulders.

      • stedward - Apr 15, 2013 at 3:59 PM

        I always saw it as Tommy making the right reads and adjustments but not having the required physical ability to exploit it. My tv transmits him moving around, saying stuff, and pointing at things. In football those are typically pre-snap adjustments. It doesn’t mean he is some kind of Peyton Manning changing plays but he could be changing to favorable protections and routes. The information we have is what we see and what Kelly says; I’m more eager to take things at face value over some elaborate pre-snap misdirection dance. Either way I would like for Golson to be able to read the defense and make good adjustments. I think he is capable of that this year.

      • bernhtp - Apr 15, 2013 at 5:04 PM

        He does check us out of bad plays, but he throws us into worse ones. We were really lucky last year surviving some of his comeback performances, e.g., that long wobbly pass to Goodman in the fourth Q of Purdue. Goodman came back to the ball and made a hell of a play to save our asses.

      • nudeman - Apr 15, 2013 at 5:56 PM

        Once again, you nailed it.

  3. brendanfitzgibbons - Apr 15, 2013 at 3:36 PM

    Hey Nude, I totally agree. I thought we gave up the “TR is a offensive mastermind ” stuff…

    I can not wait to see how Golston plays, and I agree with 25kgold, he is the guy. I think we only saw flashes of how great he can play last year. Once we cut him loose and use him even more in option, play action, bootleg style plays we will really see how talented he is. Im a little concerned about finding him some big play WR’s, especially with Neal gone. But hopefully CJ and Amir can bring some home run style threats. Im really excited!

    • dmac4real - Apr 15, 2013 at 7:34 PM


  4. cpfirish - Apr 15, 2013 at 3:59 PM

    Haha. Nudeman u can’t stand tommy!

    The only thing I worry about is an injury to golson. Then what? Tommy?

  5. dudeacow - Apr 15, 2013 at 4:12 PM

    Last year we were saying Golson would be great if he had Tommy’s mind. This year he might have Tommy’s mind. It looks like he’s BK’s first ND quarterback to have both the art and the science down, so watch out! Brains plus skill is unstoppable.

  6. flyboat44 - Apr 15, 2013 at 4:31 PM

    Bring back gunner kiel

    • dmac4real - Apr 15, 2013 at 7:34 PM

      That totally makes sense. You want to bring back the guy who couldn’t even beat out the guy you dislike. Infallible logic there…

  7. mediocrebob - Apr 15, 2013 at 4:58 PM

    I’m not sure about the “Tommy making right reads, just not able to make the throw” . There were a lot of instances where he would throw the ball into double / triple coverage. Nothing against the kid. I think coming into ND, he has exceeded expectations. He was more of an add on. And he does add value still.

    • bernhtp - Apr 15, 2013 at 5:09 PM

      Tommy is OK if he comes in as a surprise and the defense doesn’t adjust to his limitations. He makes easy decisions very quickly and his short/mid throws come out with a quick release. However, after the D realizes it no longer needs to cover the long throw or the read option, they shorten the field and make his decisions way more difficult. After that, it often gets ugly.

      • nudeman - Apr 15, 2013 at 6:01 PM

        There was an article I read about a year ago on another site (I think it was Subway Domer), complete with video. It analyzed the “Tommy checks us out of bad plays” thing.

        While you’d have to do an analysis of every snap to really be comprehensive about it, they didn’t want to write a 50 page article so they took maybe 10 plays, and I didn’t sense they had an agenda one way or another.

        The results were not flattering for the Tommy junta out there. Let’s just leave it at that.

  8. kiopta1 - Apr 15, 2013 at 5:37 PM

    OL Mustipher commits to ND

    • nudeman - Apr 15, 2013 at 6:23 PM

      Just watched a video of him
      He was either playing against 8 year olds or he is an absolute beast.

      • bernhtp - Apr 15, 2013 at 7:36 PM

        He certainly does push the bodies in front of him back and then aside.

        Dick will like that he has large man boobs.

  9. paulhargis53 - Apr 15, 2013 at 9:36 PM

    ND tops out at 9 wins this year.

  10. mediocrebob - Apr 15, 2013 at 10:57 PM

    Like last year right?

  11. onward2victory - Apr 16, 2013 at 2:24 AM

    Long time reader, 1st time commenter, love the site.

    But I wanted to get some input from you all. I’m not a betting man, like at all, but I’m really considering putting a few bucks down on Golson to win the heisman this year. Currently he is listed at 20 to 1 odds, the same as the Bell Dozer, NIUs Jordan Lynch, and Stanford’s Kevin Hogan. I know I’m a domer homer, but I really like his odds compared to those other guys.

    Some guys with better odds than Golson: AJ mcarron, Aaron Murray, Braxton Miller, Teddy Bridgewater. I think Golson is going to be better than all those guys and is poised to have a break out year and could put up some nice numbers. But more importantly, the ND defense will still be excellent with Nix and Tuitt up front. And a great defense with a much improved QB/offense should equate to at least 10 wins, which is necessary to be considered for the Heisman.

    At least that’s my logic. What do you guys think? Am I just too geeked up for the season??

    • 4horsemenrideagain - Apr 16, 2013 at 11:04 AM

      too geeked up? i don’t think it is possible to be too geeked up. i understand that everyone wants to be the genius who predicts the starting lineup, the outcome to every game, the NCG winner and the Heisman trophy winner, but in the end we watch sports because we hope for the impossible, or at least the unlikely. optimism, even unreasonable or unfounded optimism is one of my favorite things about being a sportsfan. pulling for Florida Gulf Coast over Georgetown in March Madness or Louisville over Florida in the Sugar Bowl, it’s so much more fun to have your underdog come through than it is to say “see i told you so” whether you predict a win or loss.

      of course, being overly optimistic makes it more likely to be disappointed, but i’m disappointed when any team i’m pulling for loses. i still expect the cubs to [finally] win a world series every year, and just because they don’t doesn’t mean i’m any more disappointed than the naysaying fan who accurately predicts the cubs will suck again. we both want them to win and are both left looking forward to “next year” about halfway through June. does predicting a mediocre/poor year make the naysayer have more clout on blogs? i suppose maybe, but buying into the hoopla makes it more fun to be a fan, and that’s why i love being a fan; to root for the outlandish outcome, not predict the likely one.

      as far as EG taking home the hardware in new york, oddsmakers don’t make their money accurately predicting outcomes, but rather enticing bettors to place bets so that vegas (or the sketchy bookie at your corner store) can collect a percentage. i’m not a bettor, but 20:1 is almost enough to get me lay down 50 on EG, because crazier things have happened. if you doubt the veracity of that last sentence, go look up johnny football’s odds at the beginning of last year (i couldn’t even find preseason odds for him which suggests that not even the sketchy guy at the corner store was giving him 20:1).

      i tend to agree with you that this defense will be as good, or better than last year’s, which will allow EG some room to take more chances. given the lack of proven running back, i also see EG getting more throws this year, with more of them being downfield, thus bigger passing yards. add in some good luck and big performances in the big games, the chance that ND incorporates some increased pace to the offense, low INT stats and the fact that playing for ND is more of a benefit than hindrance in a heisman race and 20:1 looks like odds that could come down some as the season goes on. i don’t think McCarron or Braxton Miller play in the kind of system that would produce a heisman for a QB (too run-heavy) and Murray has the pressure of several big games in which he would need to shine (and also win) to be a contender. bridgewater’s performance against Florida makes him someone to watch, especially given Strong’s offensive scheme. i love lynch from NIU, but the bias against the mid-major conferences is too much to be overcome. if hogan is a contender at the end of the year, heaven help us…

  12. yaketyyacc - Apr 16, 2013 at 8:37 AM

    how does that cheer go: golson golson, he’s our man, if he can’t do it(but he will) malik can. like having tom brady start and paeyton manning waiting on the sidelines. THE IRISH ARE COMING

  13. irish13pa - Apr 16, 2013 at 10:15 AM

    Golson and Heisman talk???? My goodness let’s just start with a solid season.

    yaketyyacc… Golson compared to Brady and Malik to Manning?

    I’m sure Golson will be better than last year but can we slow down here. Comparing him to Brady let alone McArron, Murray, Miller, or Bridgewater is a tad premature isn’t it? I remember pulling my hair out watching our offense in most games last year. I am not sure how many 3 and outs that offense had last year but it sure seemed like a college record as a fan. Let’s just hope Golson continues to improve. Who knows if our defense will bail the offense out as many times as last year.

  14. steeldominance - Apr 16, 2013 at 1:10 PM

    I second what Irish13pa said and agree that Golson is a key part of the Irish offense evolution. However, I don’t have much faith in Golson progressing beyond mediocre status or becoming a passer. Lets hope Golson makes me eat my words. I am hoping for a great running game and another stout defense. Considering the guys on defense we are returning and the recruits we brought in on both sides of the ball, ND can pull off another miracle season.

  15. fnc111 - Apr 16, 2013 at 3:20 PM

    Gunner retreated? We all know no matter how GK performed this spring he was going to be third or fourth string all year for a second straight season. Kelly loves rinky dink QBs. QBs with actual NFL type ability would never develop under him. But according to the dopes I’m biased. I guess you guys are happy with the QB development at ND then. You’ll soon see that if you don’t have a great QB you aren’t winning the big game. But what do I know? Rees and Golson are definitely NFL stars in the homer minds lol.

    • 4horsemenrideagain - Apr 16, 2013 at 3:31 PM

      no matter how well GK performed he was going to be kept on the bench? stop taking crazy pills. you think BK is playing favorites with EG or just doesn’t like tall, mobile quarterbacks with strong arms like GK? or maybe BK doesn’t like starting a redshirt freshman at qb? let’s see, last year EG was a redshirt qb…and he started, so i guess that’s not the reason. BK never had a prototypical NFL qb to develop either at GVSU or Cincinatti, so any discussion about how well BK develops qb(s) is a bit premature.

    • danirish - Apr 16, 2013 at 4:35 PM

      You just post this stuff to get attention right?

    • don74 - Apr 16, 2013 at 8:26 PM


      Why is developing an NFL quarterback important? Isn’t BK paid to win game for ND? Last I looked ND is not playing in a conference like the NFC Central.

      I really don’t care if an ND QB wins the NC and is an undrafted free agent or goes on to play pro basketball like Charlie Ward.

      All I want is a winning ND.

  16. cpfirish - Apr 19, 2013 at 10:50 PM

    Golson knows how to win games. He took us to the title game! He is is going to have a great year. I would say over 3000 passing yards. Hiesman may be stretching it a bit.

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