Claiming that a quarterback from the nation’s No. 1 team will ultimately decide whether his squad wins or loses the national championship isn’t exactly taking an audacious stance. In the case of Everett Golson and Notre Dame, however, his impact and development throughout the past two months paints a fascinating picture chock-full of questions.
As a first-year player, he’s about to lead Notre Dame in perhaps the biggest game in school history, and that’s saying something. He’ll be going up against the most impressive defense he’s ever faced and the greatest game-plan coach in college football, who, by the way, has had more than a month to break down how he’s going to get him to implode in front of us all.
Yet, despite a deck seemingly stacked against him, I feel Golson can more than hold his own against Alabama. In fact, I believe he will have success against Nick Saban and a defense that gave up only 10.7 points a game during the regular season. How much success he has—and, of course, limiting the mistakes—will likely decide whether Notre Dame can topple Alabama as a double-digit underdog.
The October 27 win at Oklahoma was monumental for both Notre Dame and Golson, but more importantly for his confidence and for Brian Kelly’s confidence in his QB. Up until that point, he battled injuries, and backup quarterback Tommy Rees was called upon in various times—sometimes in critical moments that helped decide the game.
Following the team’s near-loss at home to Stanford in the middle of that month, many thought that this would be the last we saw Golson under center as the starter this season. Kelly stuck with him after he recovered from a concussion, however, and it’s a good thing he did.
In the final five games of the season, Golson finished with 10 touchdowns (three rushing) and only two interceptions. He showcased his talents as both a thrower and a runner and also showed glimpses of the guy we heard much about in spring camp.
Playing devil’s advocate, much of this production came against the likes of Boston College, Wake Forest and a USC defense not exactly stout in many areas, which is a legitimate concern considering the step up in class he’s about to take.
Still, he looked a different player, like someone that seemed to finally “get it.” If you watched him develop throughout the year, the progression was easy to spot. And so was that arm of his, which might be one of the best in the entire country. Another forty-plus days of reps and knowledge digestion could benefit Golson more than anyone associated in the game.
Well, perhaps except the sponsors.
We as onlookers absolutely hate this incredibly long, unreasonable gap, but I imagine Coach Kelly was happy to make the most of it with his quarterback who still isn’t close to his ceiling yet. It is this unknown that makes Golson so intriguing heading into the BCS National Championship Game.
Will he improve? Will he drastically improve? Will he crumble in the moment? Will he look like the player we saw in the first or second half of the season?
There are always so many questions surrounding a game of this magnitude, including the long layoff, and Golson carries more “what ifs” than most.
In this instance, however, the unknown is a good thing. We haven’t seen his best yet, and we don’t know if it will come here. We don’t know where his ceiling is, how he’ll respond to the madness or what Nick Saban has in store. We do know that thus far no moment has been too big.
He handled Oklahoma, he helped his team squeak by Pittsburgh, and he performed brilliantly in a pseudo-semifinal game against USC with incredible poise. He hasn’t seen a spotlight like he’ll see on January 7, but the stage has been awfully bright along the way.
Despite being tremendous on defense once again, Alabama is not the same dominating force that it’s been on that side of the ball in recent years. In the past three games against teams not named West Carolina or Auburn, Nick Saban’s group has allowed an average of 272 passing yards per game, including a season-high 298 to LSU.
If there’s a hole in this team, it’s the secondary, and that’s something Golson can take advantage of. He certainly won’t be doing it alone.
While Notre Dame’s wideouts don’t exactly terrify the opposition, the potential matchup issues do. Tight end Tyler Eifert is a potential mismatch for anyone, and running back Theo Riddick has been very effective in catching passes out of the backfield.
Kelly will undoubtedly have drawn up creative ways to have Golson deliver the ball in space to his playmakers, and it’ll be up to him to effectively put the plan in motion.
Although there are many captivating story lines in this game—Manti Te’o; the Alabama offensive line; Alabama’s incredible running back duo trying to get beyond Notre Dame’s impressive front; two of the game’s finest coaches squaring off—Golson’s performance will likely decide the Irish’s fate.
For as much pressure as he’ll face on so many levels, most of the pressure lies on the other side. The underdog role is one Notre Dame has gladly accepted this season, and Golson is the perfect captain of this ship.
He won’t find overwhelming success in a game expected to be dominated by defense, but one or two plays might be all it takes. Whether it’s with his arm or legs or keeping a play alive for just a moment longer, Golson has the makeup to play spoiler.
For Notre Dame, it’s a scary proposition but also welcomed potential. Although the unknown can be terrifying, in this instance it could pay huge dividends.