Notre Dame feels Golson's ready for the spotlight


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.

Brian Kelly ‘disappointed’ Jack Swarbrick had to offer public vote of confidence in his job status

Brian Kelly ‘disappointed’ Jack Swarbrick had to offer public vote of confidence in his job status

Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick told last week Brian Kelly would lead the Irish onto the field in 2017’s season opener, comments that amounted to a public vote of confidence in his seventh-year coach. 

While the Irish are 2-5 and in grave danger of missing a bowl game heading into this weekend’s matchup against Miami, Kelly said Tuesday he was “disappointed” Swarbrick had to make those comments. 

“Any time that your athletic director has to come out and say that, as a head coach you're disappointed that any kind of comments like that have to be made,” Kelly said. “I didn't ask him. That was his decision. But, you know, I clearly understand what he was doing. He was probably sick and tired of being sick and tired, too.

“But for me, it's disappointing, certainly, that you have to make those comments.”

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Calls for Kelly to be fired have been ratcheted up in certain segments of the Internet and Irish fan base over the last eight weeks, which have seen Notre Dame lose to bottom-feeding teams like Michigan State and Duke while Kelly’s coaching decisions came under fire in defeats to Texas, N.C. State and Stanford. 

Notre Dame’s current winning percentage of .286 is the fifth-worst of any season in program history, and if the Irish lose four of their final five games against Miami, Navy, Army, Virginia Tech and USC, 2016 would tie with 2007 as the fourth-worst year seen in South Bend. Notre Dame has only had 13 losing seasons in its 127-year history (the Irish went 0-1 in 1887 and 1-2 in 1888, then didn’t have a sub-.500 record until going 3-5-1 in Hunk Anderson’s final year in 1933). 

Kelly, though, said he hasn’t let any frustration creep into how he and his coaching staff are working to fix things with five games left in what’s been a sub-optimal 2016 season. 

“I don't know that I spend a lot of time on the word 'frustration' as much as looking for solutions to sometimes rather complex and difficult solutions,” Kelly said. “When I say 'complex', I don't mean things that can't be accomplished, but that take time. We don't have time. Nobody has time in our society. Nobody has time, if you're an annoyed fan, to wait for us. I get that. I'm not here to be in front of anybody to ask for time.

“But I don't think (I’m) frustrated. It's just you have to be, every single day, clear on your communication and what you want to accomplish. Sometimes you have to make sure, check yourself and your staff, that they avoid all the noise, because there's a lot of noise around this place.”

Schedule watch: The curse of beating Notre Dame grows in strength

Schedule watch: The curse of beating Notre Dame grows in strength

The five teams Notre Dame has lost to this season are a combined 10-19 when they don't play the Irish after yet another week in which Texas, Michigan State, N.C. State and Stanford lost in various levels of embarrassing fashion (Duke was spared on a bye week). Notre Dame can point to its narrow losses all it wants, but it hasn't played a difficult schedule at all to date. 

Before running down the action from Notre Dame’s bye week, your weekly Irish opponent power rankings:

1. Navy (5-1)
2. Virginia Tech (5-2)
3. USC (4-3)
4. N.C. State (4-3)
5. Miami (4-3)
6. Stanford (4-3)
7. Syracuse (4-4)
8. Texas (3-4)
9. Duke (3-4)
10. Army (4-3)
11. Nevada (3-5)
12. Michigan State (2-5)

On to the games:

Texas: Lost, 24-21, at Kansas State

The Longhorns are 3-4 and Charlie Strong’s job is very much in jeopardy. It wouldn’t be altogether surprising to see them hit the seven-loss mark by mid-November with games against Baylor, at Texas Tech and against West Virginia looming. 

Nevada: Lost, 42-34, to Wyoming

The Wolf Pack are 3-5 and need a major turnaround to reach a bowl game. 

Michigan State: Lost, 28-17, at Maryland

Michigan State’s only wins are over FCS side Furman and Notre Dame. Their losses are to Wisconsin (by 24), Indiana (by three), BYU (by 17), Northwestern (by 14) and Maryland (by 11). The Spartans have to two of Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State and not lose to Illinois and Rutgers to make a bowl game. In short: It’s not happening. 

Duke: Bye week

The Blue Devils had the week off before a trip to Georgia Tech that’ll probably determine whether or not they reach  bowl game this year. 

Syracuse: Won, 28-20, at Boston College

Full credit to Dino Babers’ Orange for another win — getting to four this early in the season is a nice accomplishment in Year 1 heading things up at a difficult place to win. After a bye week, though, Syracuse gets Clemson, N.C. State, Florida State and Pitt, so getting to six wins is hardly a guarantee. 

N.C. State: Lost, 54-13, at Louisville

A week after nearly knocking off Clemson, N.C. State was carved up by Lamar Jackson (20/34, 355 yards, 3 TDs, 17 carries, 76 yards, 1 TD), but more surprising was how ineffective the Wolfpack offense was. Ryan Finley threw two picks while the team combined to rush 25 times for only 14 yards. 

Stanford: Lost, 10-5, vs. Colorado

Christian McCaffrey’s return (21 carries, 92 yards, 2 receptions, 26 yards) didn’t make a difference as Stanford reverted back to its baffling struggles a week after beating Notre Dame. After the game, David Shaw took responsibility for Stanford’s issues, saying “our personnel doesn’t reflect our production, and all the fingers point to me. That’s on me. That’s my responsibility to get the most out of the players we have.”

Miami: Lost, 37-16, at Virginia Tech

Notre Dame should heed these numbers:

Meanwhile, Miami has fallen hard since starting the season 4-0. A one-point loss to Florida State and a seven-point loss to North Carolina weren’t awful, but getting blown out by three touchdowns on the road at Virginia Tech effectively took the ‘Canes out of the ACC Coastal race. Miami’s losing streak is now longer than Notre Dame’s coming into Saturday, for what it’s worth. 

Navy: Won, 42-28, vs. Memphis

Navy rushed for 447 yards on 74 carries and quarterback Will Worth had 201 yards and three touchdowns as the MIds powered their way to another solid win. A tricky Friday trip to South Florida awaits before Navy faces Notre Dame in Jacksonville in early November. 

Army: Lost, 35-18, vs. North Texas

A home loss against North Texas might be the death knell for Army’s hopes of reaching its first bowl game since 2010. The Black Knights’ remaining games: At Wake Forest, vs. Air Force, vs. Notre Dame. vs. Morgan State and vs. Navy. At best, there are only two wins in there, one would think.

Virginia Tech: Won, 37-16, vs. Miami

This was a nice rebound game for the Hokies after losing last week to Syracuse. Jerod Evans completed 21 of 33 passes for 259 yards with two touchdowns and ran 19 times for 98 yards with a score, while Virginia Tech’s defense held Miami running backs Joseph Yearby and Mark Walton to 87 yards on 20 carries — with 41 of those yards coming on one Yearby carry. 

USC: Bye week

With a home game against Cal on Thursday coming up, USC got Saturday off to rest up for what should be a high-scoring evening in Los Angeles.