Notre Dame feels Golson's ready for the spotlight

975937.png

Notre Dame feels Golson's ready for the spotlight

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Everett Golson played in a few big games under heavy pressure and intense atmospheres over the course of his maiden voyage as Notre Dame's starting quarterback. But no matter what he did in Norman, Los Angeles or South Bend, it won't be the same when he steps on to the field for the first time Monday for the BCS Championship against Alabama.

"Take any other quarterback this year and try to figure out if they've gone through as much as Everett Golson," offensive coordinator Chuck Martin said. "To me, it's not even close. Not even close."

But it's just like Martin said back in August, when Notre Dame was ready to set sail with Golson as its quarterback: No matter the preparation and practice, nobody knows really knows how Golson -- and his championship-inexperienced teammates -- will react to the magnitude of the BCS Championship.

"They'll realize the enormity of the moment when they go out there. But once those big guys start chasing them around, kind of instincts take over," Martin said. "I guarantee you the first set of drives they probably won't be thinking this is the National Championship, they'll be thinking, I've got to find a window to throw the ball."

Most everyone would point to Golson's performance against Oklahoma as his breakthrough game. He looked poised facing a crowd of over 86,000, managing Notre Dame's offense well and throwing a dagger of a deep ball to Chris Brown in the fourth quarter, which set up the Irish's scoring onslaught to roll to a 30-13 victory. But it's telling that in Notre Dame's three biggest road games -- at Oklahoma, USC and Michigan State -- Golson didn't turn the ball over.

"I think he's going to handle it fine, just like he's handled the spotlight in other games this year," wide receiver T.J. Jones said of Golson and the spotlight. "What we have to do as players is not blow this game up bigger than what the National Championship is. We have to handle it like every game. There's obviously going to be added pressure from it being the National Championship, but we just have to know how to control that and play our game."

That may sound cliche, but if Notre Dame stops playing its game because of the massive implications, they'll be in trouble.

"We're not like 'oh my god, it's our first time here,' and trying to panic," running back Theo Riddick added. "We realize what's at stake right now. But at the same time, we have this confidence in each other that we'll get the job done."

That confidence extends to Golson, and it's a confidence that grew along with the redshirt freshman quarterback. After Golson was yanked from Notre Dame's 20-17 win over Purdue in Week 2, Golson's confidence was down, as was the confidence of his coaches and teammates in him to get the job done. If it were higher, Tommy Rees wouldn't have entered the game, as he also did against Michigan and Pittsburgh.

The Oklahoma game cemented Golson as Notre Dame's starting quarterback in the sense of trust. Even though Golson was pulled from Notre Dame's game the next week, his teammates had far more confidence in him to bounce back than they did a month and a half prior. It goes with the territory of most inexperienced quarterbacks, at least ones not named Johnny Manziel.

"We were definitely patient," Jones said. "We knew this was his first year starting in college. For any quarterback, regardless of where you're at, that first half of the season is going to (have) some jitters, some indecisiveness, some really not knowing what to do. And then it takes a game like he had against Oklahoma to really establish his confidence in himself as a quarterback."

Golson's demeanor isn't manufactured for the football field, though. As calm and focused as he was in Norman, that's generally how he is off the field -- well, except for talking to the media: "You can still tell he's more comfortable out there playing than talking to these yahoos," Martin quipped, referring to the press assembled in front of him and Golson on Friday.

It's been about four-and-a-half months since Notre Dame named Golson its starting quarterback. He opened his college career on a fairly big stage, one well out of his comfort zone. On Monday, he'll finish up his first year as a starter on a much, much grander stage, but if his teammates and coaches are right, it'll be one that may be within his comfort zone.

"I don't ride the wave too much," Golson said. "I'm kind of just focused on what's played between the yard lines, what's played on the field. Can't really focus on everything that's off the field because that's out of my control."

Off the field will be the Coaches' Trophy, glistening under the lights of Sun Life Stadium. It could be in Golson's control by the end of the night.

Texas won't name QB starter until kickoff against Notre Dame

Texas won't name QB starter until kickoff against Notre Dame

Notre Dame's defense, and everyone else besides Charlie Strong and his coaching staff, won't know which quarterback will take Texas' first snap Sunday in Austin until the game kicks off. 

Strong said on Monday's Big 12 teleconference he hasn't decided if freshman Shane Buechele or redshirt junior Tyrone Swoopes will start against Notre Dame, and added that he won't name a starter until his team runs on the field Sunday night

Strong's non-reveal on Monday came across more as football coach paranoia than anything else, though. The Irish defense has been preparing for both Buechele and Swoopes -- the latter of whom completed seven of 22 passes in Notre Dame's 38-3 blowout win to open last season -- for a little while now, so either won't torpedo Brian VanGorder's scheme even if Strong won't say who the starter is. 

There's been plenty of momentum behind Buechele to be the starter since he enrolled early and impressed during spring practice. The four-star recruit and son of former Cubs third baseman Steve Buechele may be Texas' most talented quarterback, but given his true freshman status hasn't ran away with the starting gig. Swoopes averaged 6.1 yards per carry and had 12 rushing touchdowns last year, but only completed 50.5 percent of his passes. Even without dismissed senior safety Max Redfield, Notre Dame's defensive strategy would probably be to load the box and force Swoopes to throw as much as possible. 

It wouldn't be surprising to see both Buechele and Swoopes play on Sunday, too. So whoever Texas goes with to start the game, it shouldn't catch Notre Dame off guard. 

For more on Texas, check out the latest episode of the Still Independent Podcast with TexasFootball.com's Greg Tepper:

 

How walk-on Rob Regan became a secret weapon for Notre Dame

How walk-on Rob Regan became a secret weapon for Notre Dame

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — How does a walk-on safety have a Notre Dame game ball despite never actually appearing in a game?

On the surface, that sophomore Rob Regan received that family heirloom last October after Notre Dame’s win over Navy may seem weird given he didn’t play a snap that day. But to everybody who sees the work Regan puts in at the LaBar Practice Complex, especially during weeks in which Notre Dame prepares to face an opponent that runs the triple option, it’s anything but strange. 

“There’s no question about it,” defensive end Isaac Rochell said. “He deserved it.”

“I personally don’t know who we would’ve given it to besides him,” cornerback Cole Luke added. “If we didn’t have Robby, we definitely wouldn’t have been as prepared as we were.”

For Rochell, Luke and the rest of the Irish defense, Regan’s work as Notre Dame’s scout team — er, “Swag Team” — quarterback during triple option preparation was an important key to solving the antiquated-yet-confounding offense. It’s an attack Notre Dame faces more than most other Power Five schools with Navy on the schedule every year, but heading into last season, coach Brian Kelly & Co. had to double down on their efforts to stop it.

Notre Dame’s defense didn’t put up much resistance against Navy in 2013 (34 points, 5.3 yards per play) and 2014 (39 points, 5.9 yards per play), and with Georgia Tech joining the Mids on the schedule last year, fixing those triple option defensive issues was a paramount concern. Army is on the schedule in 2016, too, so for the second consecutive year Notre Dame will face two triple option offenses.

Former defensive coach Bob Elliott moved off the field into a special assistant role, with one of his chief tasks being to figure out a way to better defend the triple option. But the decision of Regan, who successfully ran a triple option offense at Hinsdale South High School in the Chicago area, to walk on to the team turned out to be a huge boost to those efforts.

In the past, Notre Dame’s scout team quarterback for triple option weeks wasn’t a natural at running it and had to read each play off a card. That lack of fluidity not only meant fewer reps for the Irish defense, but the quality of them was way off what they’d face from Keenan Reynolds or whoever the opposing quarterback on Saturday would be.

Defensive line coach Keith Gilmore said those sub-optimal triple option looks in practice are relatively common across college football, which makes sense — it’s not an offense used much at the college level. So having someone on your roster who ran in in high school can be a boon to preparing to face it.

Regan doesn’t have to read off a card because he knows the offense so well. And that means more plays and a look closer to what Notre Dame sees in games.

“It changes everything,” Kelly said.

[SHOP: Get your Notre Dame gear]

Of course, the scout team work can’t completely replicate game action — Notre Dame doesn’t do nearly as much cut blocking in practice as it’ll see in games from option offenses, given the injury risk involved. And guys like Navy’s Reynolds and Tago Smith, Georgia Tech’s Justin Thomas and Army’s Ahmad Bradshaw run the option faster than Regan can in practice, too.

But Regan still gives Notre Dame as good an option look as it could ask for on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.

“You can sit and practice against Navy out here and your scout team can do a good job, but it can’t touch what that look like at game time,” defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder said. “They’re exceptional at it, it’s happening so fast. But the faster we can get it, the closer we can move it to it, the better.”

Regan doesn’t shy away from absorbing hard hits too, which helps Notre Dame’s defense play faster in practice. Former Irish linebacker Jarrett Grace marveled at how Regan was able to take so much physical punishment during practice — “I don’t know if it’s extra ice, if it’s shaking up the Space Jam water to get jacked up out there,” he said — while junior linebacker Nyles Morgan said earlier this month Regan’s role is “one of the toughest jobs I’ve ever seen."

“I like giving hits and taking hits,” Regan said. “I’m a physical guy — when I’m running the ball, I’d rather run him over than juking him out.

“I enjoyed it. It definitely took a toll on my body, but I was glad to be able to contribute to those wins.”

Regan initially played wide receiver for Hinsdale South, but was moved to quarterback two games into his junior year. Hinsdale South went 5-4 his junior year, then went 9-3 and reached IHSA 6A quarterfinals in Regan’s senior year. Regan rushed for 18 touchdowns and averaged 5.6 yards per carry in 2014.

“He’s a football kid,” Hinsdale South coach Mike Barry said. “(He) grew up playing football, has football smarts. We refer to guys as instinctual at times — he’s one of those type of players where he just has a feel for the game."

Regan was thinking about attending high-caliber academic institutions like Penn, Princeton, Washington University in St. Louis and the University of Chicago before Notre Dame came along. Kelly was in the Chicago suburbs to scout four-star Hinsdale South defensive end Joshua King — who went on to commit to Michigan State — and was pitched on Regan by Barry.

Once Notre Dame came into the picture (Regan, as you’d guess from that above list of colleges he was considering, had the grades to get in) it was an easy choice for him to head to South Bend. The combination of academics, football, location and faith made Notre Dame “the best fit for me,” Regan, who’s studying chemical engineering, said.

“(He’s) somebody that recognizes that, first of all, what a degree from Notre Dame is going to do for him, and somebody that’s got a lot of pride in playing team sports,” Kelly said. “He loves to play team sports. He knows that he’s got value.”

Regan’s ultimate goal is to get into a game before his time at Notre Dame is up — he’s hoping to get on a special teams unit, make a difference there and hope to get in a game at safety.

But he’s already been recognized by coaches with an honor only a handful of others received in 2015. Notre Dame held Georgia Tech to 22 points — 15 of which came in garbage time — and Navy to 24 points, totals that represent the kind of improvements made by the Irish in defending the option.

And Regan, the 6-foot-2, 200 pound walk-on, played a major part in those improvements. Even if he didn’t play.

“It was awesome,” Regan said of receiving the Navy game ball. “I never expected that I would be recognized like that. It wasn’t just me, it was the whole Swag Team, but I guess I was kind of the leader of that team. It meant a lot that coach Kelly took the time to recognize our hard work.”

And as for the game ball, which is in a case back home in Darien, Ill.?

“It might be a hand-me down for a couple generations,” Regan said with a smile.

Notre Dame sees a role for high-impact freshman Daelin Hayes

Notre Dame sees a role for high-impact freshman Daelin Hayes

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Brian VanGorder doesn’t want to give away the game plan, but it’s clear the third-year Irish defensive coordinator is going to find a way to get freshman defensive end Daelin Hayes on the field this fall. 

Hayes, a 6-foot-3, 250 pound former five-star recruit from Belleville, Mich., showed during August camp an impressive burst toward the quarterback — something Notre Dame’s defense has lacked since VanGorder took over in 2014. For example: During a full-contact 11-on-11 portion of one of Notre Dame’s practices open to the media earlier this month, Hayes rocketed into the backfield and sacked DeShone Kizer. 

“If you just looked at traits,” VanGorder said, “he’s got the trait.”

VanGorder was quick to point out Hayes still has plenty to learn as an all-around football player. But with Notre Dame able to do more with sub packages this year — they can thank Shawn Crawford’s health for that — Hayes is in a position to rush the quarterback as part of a third-down blitz. 

Defensive line coach Keith Gilmore said the plan for Hayes is to get him in on those passing down blitz packages, and then slowly see if he can handle a higher workload on first or second down (for now, Hayes is behind hand-in-the-ground weakside defensive ends Jay Hayes and Andrew Trumbetti on the depth chart). 

“I think just his ability to change direction and his explosiveness gives him a little bit of an edge that way,” Gilmore said. “We’ve got a few guys that can do it but he’s a special talent that way.”

[SHOP: Get your Notre Dame gear]

Gilmore admitted Hayes is still “a little bit behind strength-wise” after undergoing shoulder surgery in December. That procedure knocked out Hayes, who enrolled early, for spring practice and conditioning earlier this year, but Gilmore added that he’s “naturally strong” and doesn’t expect strength to be a problem as the season goes on. 

Gilmore, too, said Hayes has gone about his introduction to college life in a mature way that’ll help him see the field immediately. 

“I think he approached it differently than most freshmen,” Gilmore said. “I think he’s on track and going to play for us. He’s a freshman that’s got a great skillset, he’s a special kid that way and how fast that he can learn the defense and take it at a high speed once the bullets start flying, if he can do it will be the real issue. But athletically, he’s ready to play.”

Cementing coaches’ feelings about Hayes being ready to play: Brian Kelly said earlier this month that while Hayes has worked with the No. 1 Irish defense — which means going against left tackle stalwart Mike McGlinchey — he’s “faring quite well.” That may be the most promising soundbite about Hayes given how good Notre Dame’s redshirt junior left tackle and captain is. 

In typical football coach paranoia, VanGorder bristled a bit when asked if Hayes was going to begin as a sub-package pass rusher and eased into more standard down plays: “Is this for someone’s scouting report?” he asked. 

But no matter how coy VanGorder wants to be, it's clear Hayes is in a position to contribute to a defense in need of playmakers this fall. 

“I think we’ll find something for him to do,” VanGorder said.