Everett Golson finally felt comfortable, and that was despite losing his starting role.
Before Notre Dame's 41-3 throttling of Miami at Soldier Field, the team announced Golson would be benched in favor of Tommy Rees. That's all anybody outside the Irish locker room knew, and it seemed reasonable to posit Golson had lost his starting role only a few days after coach Brian Kelly re-affirmed it in South Bend.
Instead, Rees took three snaps and gave way to Golson, who turned in arguably the best game of his young career, completing 17-of-22 passes for 186 yards while rushing six times for 51 yards.
"I feel little bit more confident," Golson said after the game. "It wasn't necessarily because of this game, just the whole week of preparation really made me feel a little bit more confident. It really showed throughout the game."
That week of preparation, though, involved Golson being dinged for violating a team rule -- thus, the benching to begin the game. Coach Brian Kelly said Golson's punishment stemmed from a meeting with a professor that ran long, and the quarterback didn't communicate that with the team and missed the start of a football obligation.
"But he took full responsibility for it, accountability for it," Kelly said. "I thought he came in and played very well. I was proud of him today."
It was only two weeks ago when Golson was at his worst, throwing two interceptions and looking lost before he was lifted in favor of Tommy Rees from Notre Dame's 13-6 win over Michigan. But with two weeks to re-assess, Golson looked like a completely different quarterback at Soldier Field.
"My main motive tonight was just to have fun, never try to -- I'm not going to make anything too serious, but I think I put a lot of pressure on myself during the Michigan game, so talking to coach Kelly and coach Martin, they really just wanted me to calm down and have fun out there," Golson said.
"I didn't really feel like I was having fun out there," he added about his performance against Michigan. "Just stuff off the field added a little bit of extra pressure or whatnot. But when I'm on that field, I gotta play within myself, I can't let other stuff affect my play."
Golson didn't force anything and didn't make any questionable reads on Saturday. He looked like the quarterback of a 5-0 team, one that's solidly in the AP top 10 and has legitimate BCS aspirations.
With questions mounting about whether a quarterback controversy was brewing in South Bend, the news before Saturday's game probably set off alarm bells at more than a few locations across Notre Dame nation. But Kelly's decision to insert Golson into the game after three plays wasn't about quieting that noise -- it was about Kelly expressing his faith in his freshman quarterback.
"It was important for me after disciplining him to get him back in the game right away, to let him know that I had trust in him, and that I believed in him," Kelly said. "I think that helped him to go in and be relaxed and feel like, hey, I've got the head coach's support here, even though I goofed up, he's going to put me right back in the game. And I think that really helped his confidence and then he backed it up with this play."
Perhaps aiding in Golson's success was the use of his legs. Entering Saturday, Golson had rushed 21 times for -11 yards, but thanks to implementing the zone read into Notre Dame's playbook, he rushed for 51 yards on six carries.
"I felt that it was good that we implemented that in our offense this week, because they never really had a chance to prepare for that because we haven't really shown it before," Golson said.
It took Notre Dame five games to implement the zone read, when the coaching staff finally had enough confidence in Golson to use it. And it's just another example of how Notre Dame's offense is still growing, and has plenty of room for improvement -- even after scoring 41 points.
"Today, we showed a glimpse of what we could be," Golson said. "And just to think about it, to me, is kinda scary. We got all the physical tools. It's just a matter of putting it together and playing as a unit."