Notre Dame Football: Irish Can Go as Far as Golson Can Carry Them
If history has taught us anything, it is that defense wins championships. Quarterbacks grab headlines, offense fills the seats, but a dominant defense wins the ultimate prize.
The 2012 Notre Dame defense looks up to that challenge.
Bob Diaco's crew led by senior linebacker and Heisman candidate Manti Te'o is the second ranked scoring defense in the nation. The Irish allow only 7.8 points per game, have not allowed a rushing touchdown and have held Michigan State, Michigan and Miami out of the end zone all together in consecutive weeks.
Thanks to the domination on the defensive side of the ball, the Irish are the only FBS team who has not trailed after five games.
With no Bethune-Cookman or Eastern Kentucky to beat up on, the Irish defense has proven that it is legit.
Even the predicted disaster in the secondary has failed to materialize and the young group playing corner and safety for Notre Dame held a potent Miami passing attack that was averaging 328 yards per game to 201.
It is becoming evident that the defense will keep the Irish in every game they play.
But it will take offense to win every game they play.
On the flip side of the ball, there have been glimpses of greatness, promise of excitement to come and inconsistency.
The running game has been dominant against the two weakest defenses it has faced piling up 376 yards in the obliteration of Miami and 293 in the domination of Navy.
Apart from those two breakout games where Notre Dame totaled 669 of its 937 rushing yards, the team has found gains on the ground difficult.
Against teams that bothered to field a defensive line (Purdue, Michigan State and Michigan), the Irish average only 89 yards per game.
Possessing both speed and power along with a good amount of wiggle the running back pool containing Cierre Wood, Theo Riddick, George Atkinson III and Cam McDaniel are not the problem.
The offensive line, which is experienced and deep, has given Irish quarterbacks time to throw all year and are also not to blame for the inconsistent productivity on offense.
For the second year in a row, the issue is quarterback play.
A year ago it was Tommy Rees that drew the ire of the fanbase with a weak arm and habit of throwing to Michael Floyd, no matter how many defensive backs were hanging off him.
This year the culprit is also the cure.
Redshirt freshman Everett Golson is coming along slowly.
His numbers (67-of-111 for 827 yards with three touchdowns and a trio of interceptions) is in no way setting the world on fire.
The fact that he was twice replaced by Rees to secure a win could also be cause for concern.
The real problem is that Golson has not yet begun to see the whole field.
He has completed one pass over 40 yards and only two over 35.
Golson hasn't given the opponents enough reason to pull defenders back out of the box to help in coverage. Even very talented backs with a quality line find running room difficult to find against a seven- or eight-man box.
Golson is also only beginning to increase speed in recognition before the snap. Getting the play with more than five seconds before the play clock runs out will help, but Golson setting the formation faster is necessary.
The good news is that Golson has been brought on slowly. The playbook has been expanded each week, and slowly the young QB has been able to do more within the offense.
Against Miami QB read runs were more common, as were nifty read toss plays that netted large ground gains.
Golson also carried effectively rushing six times for 51 yards. An expanded use of Golson's foot speed in both the rushing and passing game in attacking the edges can spread the defense and open up inside runs.
Although Golson hasn't completed a touchdown since his 41-yard across-the-body pass to the opposite corner of the end-zone strike against Michigan State, he did consistently move the chains when it mattered against the Hurricanes with his arm.
He also completed 77 percent of his throws against the Miami secondary.
The Miami game was very much needed to boost the confidence of the young signal-caller after a lackluster performance and subsequent benching against Michigan.
Golson may have hit rock-bottom in tossing two interceptions and looking lost in a quarter-and-a-half that seemed to open up a quarterback controversy in South Bend.
Thanks to a late meeting with a professor causing Golson to be late to practice, Tommy Rees was announced as the starter.
In a reversal of sorts, Rees was ineffective in his series while Golson led scoring drives on five of his first six tries.
When the pressure was at its greatest Golson rose to the challenge responding with his best game.
In order to compete with the best in college football, Golson must turn rising to the challenge into a trend.
Beginning with this week's ESPN GameDay enhanced tilt with No. 17 Stanford and the Cardinal's 42nd-ranked defense.
The defense is good enough to play championship football. If Golson can find consistency and the offense can rally around him, the sky is the limit for Notre Dame this year.
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