As the ball sailed into the hands of a despised Michigan Wolverine, Everett Golson dropped his head in disbelief, staring at the turf beneath him as if expecting an answer from the natural grass as to what had gone so wrong.
He trotted back to the sideline, with an animated head coach awaiting him, furious over a second interception thrown in less than two quarters of action.
And for the second time in four games, Brian Kelly elected to relieve Golson in favor of former starting quarterback Tommy Rees, a player who has received unprecedented amounts of criticism from an ever-criticizing fanbase.
In the two games in which Rees has played the role of closer for the Fighting Irish, both have resulted in victories. Don't credit those wins to Rees, though. An increasingly improved defense—Bob Diaco's group ranks third nationally in points-per-game allowed—has been the proverbial hero.
Time and again, Rees' role within the team has been analyzed like like a crime scene, with each and every detail being thoroughly investigated and researched.
The end conclusion has been that Rees best serves the Fighting Irish as a reliable backup, and nothing more. Backups don't typically play for two-and-a-half quarters, as Rees did two weeks ago against Michigan. In fact, his role was highlighted during the win over Purdue, in which Rees led the Irish on a game-winning drive, following a stinger to Golson's thumb on his throwing hand.
What fans may not see amid the situation is the delicacy with which it must be handled.
Golson, a redshirt freshman, has made it no secret that he feels more than confident as the starting quarterback for the Fighting Irish. But with each decision to insert Rees, that confidence is waning, and understandably so.
Despite Brian Kelly's insistence that the long-term plan is for Golson to be the starter, Tommy Rees' name has been heard in whispers about the former starter reclaiming his old job.
If Brian Kelly and offensive coordinator Chuck Martin are considering such a move, I will fear for the future of the program. Heck, when Kelly named Golson as his starting quarterback, he said the decision was made in the best interests of the program moving forward.
But with every snap that Rees takes this season, the more Kelly begins to look like a hypocrite, a label that he was wishing to shed following the Dayne Crist debacle.
Kelly was right to yank Crist last season against South Florida because of Crist's lack of confidence and swagger, two traits we've seen out of Golson thus far.
Yes, Golson is going to make mistakes, but what first-year starting quarterback doesn't? Learning from mistakes is an integral part of the development of a young quarterback, and if Golson isn't granted that opportunity, how will the offense look one year down the road? Even two years?
There's a fine line between learning from mistakes and killing your team, though. Should Golson begin to turn the ball over consistently, especially at critical junctures (remember Tommy Rees?), there's reason to consider a switch. However, Golson has not shown a knack for turning the ball over. He has simply made the mistakes expected with a rookie quarterback.
So, please, give Everett Golson a fair chance to evolve into Notre Dame's quarterback of the future.
Fans will reap the rewards if he does.
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