The spotlight is back on Golson

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When Brian Kelly meets with the media tomorrow, we expect to hear that quarterback Everett Golson is cleared and ready for Oklahoma. The sophomore quarterback, who left the Stanford game after taking a helmet-to-helmet blow, sat out Saturday for precautionary reasons, leaving the Irish offense to Tommy Rees (and a sprinkle of Andrew Hendrix) as Notre Dame snuck by BYU 17-14. And with Golson back as the team’s No. 1 quarterback, all the young signal-caller needs to do is march into Owen Field and beat one of the best teams in the country.

No problem, right?

In Golson, Notre Dame has its quarterback of the future. But to get out of Saturday with their undefeated season alive, they’ll need their sophomore quarterback to play beyond his years, and rebound from the struggles that have plagued him during his debut season.

Let’s start with the bad news. Golson has certainly made progress behind the scenes, with Kelly praising his sophomore quarterback’s commitment to becoming a compete quarterback and learning through every rep and minute in the film room. Yet that evolution hasn’t necessarily been evident on the field. Golson’s best days have been against the team’s worst opponents. Against Navy, he looked sharp — completing 66 percent of his passes and managing the game. He improved against Purdue, throwing for a season-high 289 yards before some late struggles and a critical fumble forced Brian Kelly to bring in Tommy Rees for the game’s final two-minute drill. Golson put up nice enough statistics against Miami as well, completing 17 of 22 throws against the Hurricanes, his best accuracy of the season, but showed some immaturity when he rolled in late to a meeting in Chicago, forcing Kelly to pull the young quarterback from the starting lineup.

Against the three top defenses he faced, Golson didn’t complete better than 50 percent of his passes. Against the Spartans, that efficiency was enough, as he limited the turnovers and took advantage of one-on-one match-ups in the secondary. Against Michigan, the moment got away from him, throwing two interceptions in eight passes, looking frazzled and showing bad decision making before he was yanked. And against Stanford, Golson struggled mightily before fighting back on his final series, his best plays of the afternoon were the ones leading up to the concussion that ended his day. In retrospect, sitting Golson against BYU — a team currently ranked No. 4 in the country in total defense — was a smart decision. He could learn while watching Tommy Rees, especially after having his prep time cut in half.

But as Golson starts the second half of his rookie season, there’s reason to believe he’ll be capable of playing his best football when the Irish need him. He’ll have a running game to rely on, as the Irish ground attack is peaking after gashing BYU for 270 yards, over 200 yards more than their season average. He’ll have a revitalized Tyler Eifert, who reminded Golson that No. 80 is an awfully nice weapon if he chooses to throw that way. And he’ll have his athleticism, a set of legs that’ll keep him out of trouble and keep Oklahoma’s defense honest as they try to keep the young quarterback in check.

“When there isn’t anything there, he has a knack for breaking tackle or making somebody miss him and runs around so he can buy extra time and scramble and wait for someone to work open or take off and run it himself,” Sooners head coach Bob Stoops said Monday. “He’s got excellent feet that way.”

Combining Golson’s athleticism with defensive coordinator Mike Stoops‘ commitment to simplifying a defense that had the Sooners thinking too much and Golson might have his best chance to simply see what the defense gives him and react, something the Irish have hoped would happen as the young quarterback got more comfortable.

The younger Stoops, returning to Oklahoma after a stint as the head coach at Arizona, had a telling comment for the media a few weeks ago when the Sooners figured out how to stop Texas.

“I think the more multiple offenses get, the more simplistic you need to get,” Stoops said of his defense. “I think that’s a unique concept.”

It’s also a concept that should apply Saturday as the Irish continue to parade different personnel onto the field, mixing and matching tight ends, wide receivers, multiple running backs, and two quarterbacks.

“We are more simple so there’s less chance to blow it ourselves,” Bob Stoops said.

It’s a maxim that Notre Dame’s head coach might consider taking to heart this weekend.