SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Notre Dame football kicks off its regular season Saturday when it battles Rice inside Notre Dame Stadium.
It’s been an eventful offseason for the Irish, especially over the past two weeks since news of the academic investigation broke. So while we have one final opportunity, let’s break down some of Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly’s final thoughts on the offseason.
Everett Golson Named the Starting Quarterback
When Kelly named quarterback Everett Golson the starter just more than two weeks ago, the expectation finally became a reality. Asked this week how Golson has looked since being named the No. 1 signal-caller, Kelly pointed to the senior’s consistency.
“I think there is still room for growth there in that position, but consistency, decisiveness, those are good words to use with the quarterback's growth,” Kelly said Tuesday. “I think I've seen that. As a leader I think could probably use the same thing relative to consistency. He's consistently been that vocal leader on the offensive side of the ball.”
Kelly said the expectations for Golson don’t change even though his last live game action came during the BCS National Championship Game against Alabama—some 600 days ago. The head coach did say Notre Dame needs to be cognizant of the long layoff and focus on getting Golson back into an early rhythm.
“I think once he starts to get comfortable playing the game at a fast pace, then we just call the game like we normally would,” Kelly said.
Young Defense Will Be Tested
Six freshmen crack Notre Dame’s two-deep this week.
Six sophomores join them.
It became clear early in the offseason that Notre Dame would feature a remarkably young and inexperienced defense in 2014. For Kelly, while the unit is certainly green, he also highlighted the raw ability.
“Defensively it's one of the more inexperienced groups, but it's probably one of the more athletic groups, too,” Kelly said. “So there is a give and take there from that perspective.”
With all that youth on the defensive side of the ball, Kelly said Notre Dame must adjust the learning curve while also recognizing the need to play with a high level of sophistication.
“I think you're always teaching to the level that allows you to be successful,” Kelly said. “You can't say, well, we just have a bunch of young guys—we have to be basic. They've got to catch up to us.”
Kelly admitted there will assuredly be times when the Irish coaches are “gnashing our teeth,” but he said it’s important to trust the athleticism of the youngsters.
It has been almost exactly eight months since Notre Dame last took the field, when it topped Rutgers, 29-16, in the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium. A lot has changed since then, and a lot of work has been done.
So when the Irish square off with the Owls on Saturday, Kelly said he wants to progress from the offseason.
“You want to know that all the work that you put in is paying off a little bit, that we’ve put in since January,” Kelly said Thursday.
Kelly said he’ll look for a strong start. He wants solid fundamentals. He wants to avoid turnovers and sloppy football. In other words, Kelly wants what every coach wants in a season opener.
But he’s also looking for steady quarterback play from Golson and confidence for some of those aforementioned young defensive players.
“I think if that comes out of a win, obviously it’s going to be a great day for us,” Kelly said.
All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
Mike Monaco is a lead Notre Dame writer for Bleacher Report. Follow @MikeMonaco_ on Twitter.