Following Notre Dame's 30-13 win over Oklahoma, Everett Golson admitted he probably couldn't have quarterbacked the Irish to a such a monumental victory a few weeks earlier in the season. It was Golson's best game to date, with his fourth quarter 50-yard deep ball to Chris Brown standing out.
Golson's confidence was riding high, and understandably so. A week later, that confidence could've been crushed.
A less-than-stellar first half led coach Brian Kelly and offensive coordinator Chuck Martin to remove Golson from Notre Dame's matchup with Pittsburgh, inserting Tommy Rees at the end of the second quarter and staying with him to open the second half.
It was the third time Golson was removed in favor of Rees for performance reasons during the 2012 season, although Martin said the decision wasn't as easy as it was against Purdue and Michigan.
"We had been through it and kinda survived it, so theres almost just (a feeling of) like hey, thats always what gives you the best chance to win," Martin said. "I would say that was the hardest day to figure out what gave us the best chance to win."
After Rees through an interception, Golson jumped back in. And while he threw a nearly-debilitating fourth quarter interception in the end zone, he wound up rallying to lead Notre Dame to a narrow triple-overtime win over the Panthers.
"Being taken out like that at the time, initially it hurt, to be honest," Golson said. "The competitor in me wanted to still be in there, (to show) that I could handle it and come back from adversity. I guess (Kelly) saw what was best, so he took me out.
"The adversitys going to be there, but its about what you do with it after. Ive used that as motivation."
It's tough to get used to being pulled from a game, and in the previous two instances, Golson didn't have the complete trust of his coaching staff and, to some extent, his teammates. But with his performance against Oklahoma, the redshirt freshman earned the total confidence of those around him. That turned out to be key for Golson's strong comeback after his benching, not only that day against Pittsburgh but against Boston College, Wake Forest and USC.
"I went up to him at halftime -- this is when he found he wasnt going in -- and I told him, 'youre going to have to go back in, or at some point this season at least, if not this game," senior wide receiver Robby Toma recalled. " And he actually went back in the game and won us the game. So I think for him to be able to do that really helped him this year.
"Hes always been confident, but to know guys on the team are confident in him now, I think that was the biggest thing for him," Toma added.
Despite plenty of reassurances from his coach, perhaps Golson felt as if he had to look over his shoulder in the weeks prior to Notre Dame's trip to Norman. That's not to say that held him back -- Martin would certainly disagree with that -- but the way Golson played at Oklahoma solidified in his mind he was the No. 1 quarterback, and nothing that happened during a game was going to change that.
"I think once he knew after the Oklahoma game that he was the guy, the confidence level and the trust builds and builds and builds," Kelly said.
Martin, who's been Golson's toughest critic throughout the 2012 campaign, paid Golson a rare compliment after the game in Oklahoma. But Golson is someone who quickly understands what he did wrong when he does it, so often times doesn't need Martin or Kelly screaming in his face about a poor play.
In that same vein, Golson didn't necessarily need Martin to tell him he played a good game at Oklahoma. He already knew.
"He left the field at Oklahoma thinking hey, I really played my tail off tonight for four quarters in a hostile environment," Martin said. " I think he kinda felt like he played a complete game and had the confidence from there that I can do this at this level at a very high level all the time."
After the Oklahoma game, Golson completed 74 of 122 passes for 990 yards with 7 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. There's still plenty of room for improvement -- specifically, in the red zone -- and even on the grandest stage in college football, Golson will still be in the midst of a learning process.
But that comes with the territory for most young quarterbacks. It's been a collective effort to get Golson to this point, where he's the quarterback of a team 60 minutes away from a championship.
"Im very confident not only with myself but with the supporting cast of my teammates," Golson said. "You talk about our team this year, weve always been set at the underdog. And going in to it, nobody would ever saw us at this point.
"But we worked our way up from the bottom, and that just shows great resilience from us and great unity from us. Going in with a great group of guys that I do have does give me a great amount of confidence."