Exactly How Much Better Will Everett Golson Make Notre Dame in 2014?

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Exactly How Much Better Will Everett Golson Make Notre Dame in 2014?
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Here’s the million-dollar question for Notre Dame: Can a change at quarterback take a nine-win season and morph it into a 12-win run?

Or in other words, can the exit of Tommy Rees and the reemergence of Everett Golson take a Pinstripe Bowl appearance and transform it into a trip to the College Football Playoff?

The answer to this question is complicated because of a difference in DNA. First, it’s the identity of the 2012 Irish versus that of the 2013 team, and next it’s Rees versus Golson—two very different quarterbacks.


Before placing the blame for three fewer wins from one season to the next on Rees' shoulders, it’s key to consider the drop in Notre Dame’s defensive production.

Here’s a look at some key stats.

Notre Dame Defense 2012 vs. 2013
2012 Per Game FBS Rank 2013 Per Game FBS Rank
Scoring Defense 12.8 points 2 22.4 points 27
Rushing Defense 105.7 yards 11 168 yards 71
Passing Defense 199.8 yards 25 197.5 yards 15

College Football Statistics

The numbers make a clear case: Despite any wrongs committed by Rees, the Irish defense lost enough ground to be culpable for some of the setback.

Notre Dame gave up an additional 9.6 points and 62 rushing yards per game in 2013 versus 2012. This becomes more significant when you consider that the average margin of defeat over the four losses this season was 9.75 points.

If the Irish defense can manage to improve in 2014, it will effectively make Golson’s impact look greater than it is in reality.

Run versus Pass

Because Golson was a dual-threat quarterback in 2012, the Irish were a more balanced team offensively. And, since Rees was a single-threat quarterback in 2013, Notre Dame’s offense relied more heavily on the pass.

Take a look at the numbers.

Notre Dame Offense 2012 vs. 2013
2012 Per Game FBS Rank 2013 Per Game FBS Rank
Scoring Offense 25.8 points 80 27.2 points 74
Rushing Offense 189.4 yards 38 150.9 yards 81
Passing Offense 222.8 yards 72 254.8 yards 39

College Football Statistics

Despite gaining 33 spots in the FBS passing rankings, Notre Dame gained only 1.4 points per game in 2013 versus 2012.

So, while Rees passed for 852 more yards and 15 more touchdowns than Golson did the year before, the effect on scoring was marginal and the team picked up three additional losses.

To give an alternate perspective, here’s a look at the two players as rushers.

Tommy Rees vs. Everett Golson: Rushing
Games Attempts Yards TDs
Golson (2012) 12 94 298 6
Rees (2013) 13 11 -56 0

College Football Statistics

The knock-on effect of a pass-dominated attack versus a more balanced approach was big for the Irish across the two seasons. 

The following stats pack a big punch in comparing the two.

Notre Dame Offense 2012 vs. 2013
2012 FBS Rank 2013 FBS Rank
3rd Down Conversions 46.3% 25 42% 53
4th Down Conversions 50% 55 38.4% 104
Long Rushing Plays (10+ yds) 63 58 53 96
Time of Possession 31:44.23 23 29:06.54 84

College Football Statistics

The 2012 Irish were four percent more successful on third down and 11 percent more successful on fourth down than their 2013 counterparts. This can only be accredited to a more effective running attack.

Additionally, Notre Dame picked up 10 rushing plays of 10 yards or more and gained two minutes on offense per game. The time of possession difference may seem marginal, but over a season, it adds up to the Irish defense being off the field a total of 34 additional minutes, or two full quarters.

The stats don’t lie: Golson’s dual-threat capabilities produced superior results.



When comparing Rees to anyone, you’ve got to bring interceptions into the conversation.

Where Rees threw 13 picks in 2013, Golson threw only six. To quantify this further, Rees threw 13 in 414 attempts, or one every 32 throws. Golson, on the other hand, threw six in 318, or one every 53 tries.

There is no doubt that this difference had a significant impact on both sides of the ball.

One of the key threads that tie Notre Dame’s four losses together this season was a slew of Rees’ interceptions. He threw two against Michigan, three versus Oklahoma, two at Pitt and two at Stanford. This means that 70 percent of his picks occurred in games that the Irish lost.

Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports
Rees threw three picks in Notre Dame's 35-21 loss to Oklahoma.

Rees also made mistakes in close games, narrowing margins of victory and putting Notre Dame at risk of dropping below the nine-win mark. There was one pick in the three-point win over Arizona State, two in the four-point win over Navy and one in the 10-point win versus BYU.

In the category of mistakes, Golson is the clear choice over Rees.


Will The Irish Win More Games With Golson?

The bottom line is, the Irish should be better with a multi-faceted, less mistake-prone Golson than they were with Rees under center.

In a perfect world, this means a minimum of double-digit wins and a better bowl bid.

Jeff Gross/Getty Images
Golson rushed for six touchdowns in 2012.

First, Golson is the guy more suited to run Brian Kelly’s offense. Here’s what former Notre Dame All-American offensive tackle and CBS analyst Aaron Taylor had to say after the news broke that Golson was out for 2013, according to Eric Hansen of the South Bend Tribune:

I think what allowed Notre Dame to be so successful last year [2012] and exceed expectations is that they had their guy. They had a guy that didn’t necessarily have to look over his shoulder, a guy that the offense is suited for…Whatever combination they come up with, I don’t think it’s as good as Golson would have been after a year of starting.  I think you’re fooling yourself if you think you’re going to be in the BCS.

It’s important to remember that Kelly is an offensive-minded guy, despite the swarming defense he and his staff fielded in their national championship run a year ago.

Kelly spoke with Brian Hamilton of the Chicago Tribune about having a defensive-dominant team after Notre Dame’s 41-30 loss to Michigan this season:

Last year we had to rely on our defense to win football games, I don’t want to have to do that week in and week out…(I’m) in no way saying this defense can’t play championship defense. I think it can. It just wasn’t (Saturday) night.

This is a guy who wants to score a bunch of points rather than smother opponents like a cheap Salisbury steak at the K-mart cafeteria. 

Remember the 2009 Cincinnati team he coached to a 12-0 regular-season finish and a Sugar Bowl berth? That squad was ranked No. 4 in scoring offense versus No. 44 in scoring defense.

Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The other reason to be optimistic about Golson’s return in 2014 is that he’s a guy who’s had a year to consider what’s at stake in being the starting quarterback at Notre Dame.

Kelly recently had a meeting with Golson and made the following observations to Andrew Owens of Blue and Gold Illustrated:

He’s physically more mature, over 200 pounds.  He looked great, quite frankly.  Great physical condition…I think I saw a young man that understands what he’s coming back to.  He [Golson] even said ‘There’s going to be a lot of people out there that are looking at me and not all of them are going to want to see me succeed.’  He knows what he’s coming into.

Statistics courtesy of College Football Stats, Sports Reference/College Football and Notre Dame.

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