Cleared to practice, Golson needs to elevate his game

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As expected, Everett Golson passed the final portion of concussion testing, clearing him to play this Saturday against BYU. Now, the sophomore quarterback needs to make the strides on the field to reward Brian Kelly’s faith in him.

Golson’s first season has been like many other rookie debuts: a work in progress. As the Irish were apt to do when discussing Tommy Rees‘ early appearances, it’s worth noting that Golson’s W-L record is sterling. He’s 5-0 as a starter, with his lone no-decision coming when Golson took over the offense after Rees took the offense’s first three snaps against Miami. But Golson has hardly been winning games for Notre Dame, having been relieved by Rees against Purdue and Michigan, then again after getting his bell rung against Stanford. Golson obviously hasn’t lost any games, but the offense has tagged along with the dominant defense, often times celebrating a victory in spite of the team’s offensive production.

An obligatory look at the stats gives you an idea of where Golson is through his first half-season playing quarterback at Notre Dame.

He’s completed 79 of 135 passes, a 58.5% clip, for 968 yards. He’s thrown four touchdown passes and three interceptions. As elusive as Golson is, he’s still been sacked 10 times. After failing to run for positive yardage through four games, Golson has carried the ball 21 times for a respectable 92 yards against Miami and Stanford. He’s also lost four fumbles, three coming against Stanford.

For the sake of an obvious comparison, through Tommy Rees’ first six games, he completed 100 of 162 passes, a 61.7% clip for 1,106 yards. (A slighty lower per throw average.) He tripled Golson’s touchdown passes, throwing 12, while more than doubling his interceptions with seven. He too was undefeated in those games, coming in as a reliever against Navy and Tulsa, and playing his worst in a rain-soaked victory against USC.

Instead of kicking another hornet’s nest, that’s where the comparison is going to end. Rees and Golson both play the same position, just as your reliable, hand-me-down Volvo and fit-filled Jaguar convertible are both automobiles. Each have their own admirers. When the the temperamental Jag ends up in the shop, you yearn for the days of the ol’ reliable Volvo, safer than a tank. When the Jag flies around you burning rubber, you start thinking that maybe a few extra trips to the garage aren’t so bad as long as you have a chance to feel the wind whip through your hair.

Credit Brian Kelly for show patience this season, especially as the leverage keeps cranking up. Letting Golson work his way through the slumps of Saturday night was admirable, and a decision not many people in Notre Dame Stadium would’ve been able to reach. Perhaps it was his belief in his defense (or his relief QB) but letting Golson work his way through the tough spot could be a launch point for the young quarterback playing another stingy defense.

Kelly talked about seeing progress when not many of us saw it.

“This is just the development of a young quarterback who is taking to coaching and understanding,” Kelly said. “Everett had his best four plays of the game with the last four plays that he was in there. I think probably his best play… he threw a ball out to T.J. that seemed to flutter.  He had somebody in his face.  He set his feet.  He stayed in the pocket.  He didn’t try to escape, which he did earlier in the game.  So that learning curve is taking place, series by series.

“That throw is something that he’s developed into by being out there.  That’s the value and the benefit of him playing this year with four seasons of competition.  That’s what I see and those are the things that keep me moving towards seeing the positive things.  I know there’s others.  He’s got to take care of the football.  He’s got to set his feet.  He plays sloppy at times but boy, he competed his butt off.  I couldn’t be more proud of the guy and the way he competed.”

Kelly stuck with Golson Saturday night, letting the young quarterback fight back from a tough situation. Now it’s up to Golson to reward his coach with more progress, putting together a complete game against the Cougars.