SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly is counting on sophomore quarterback Everett Golson to lead the offense for the 10th-ranked Fighting Irish despite having to turn to last year’s starter, Tommy Rees, twice this season to bail him out.
Kelly lists Golson as the primary reason he believes the Irish (4-0), who are rated 96th in the nation in total offense at 351 yards a game, will get better.
“It’s going to really center around the quarterback play. Everett is going to continue to work hard and get better,” Kelly said Sunday.
Kelly has said Golson has all the physical tools needed, arm strength, accuracy and speed, to be successful; it’s just a matter of learning the mental part of the game, the fundamentals. Golson struggled with that Saturday in the 13-6 victory, throwing two interceptions and overthrowing several open receivers while completing just three of eight passes for 30 yards. Kelly believes Golson was unsettled by a hard week in school because of exams and some papers.
“It may have been a little bit too much for him,” Kelly said.
Golson wasn’t made available to talk to the media after the game. He’ll have extra time to prepare for the next game because the Irish have an off week before playing Miami in Chicago on Oct. 6.
Kelly said he pulled Golson midway through the second quarter because he was playing careless.
“I felt like I needed to make a decision for the best interest of our team in winning that game,” he said.
Kelly said he doesn’t view it as a two-quarterback situation, although he said he will turn to Rees again if necessary.
“I’ve made this pretty clear every time that this has been brought up: You want to go with one quarterback. But we have a freshman quarterback who’s experiencing being a young quarterback. So any time I can prop him up with a veteran to win a football game, because we’re in this to win it, then we’ll do that.”
Rees, who was booed when he was called in for the final series against Purdue before setting up the game-winning touchdown, accepts his role.
“It feels good to help the team win and have all your teammates count on you to be able to deliver. It’s still early in the year. We’ve just got to keep moving forward one day at a time,” he said.
The Irish are off to their best start in a decade, mainly because of the outstanding play of their defense. The Irish have given up 36 points through four games, the best start since giving up 20 points through the first four games in 1975.
It’s a situation the offensive-minded Kelly hasn’t faced since moving up to Division I at Central Michigan in 2004. The Irish are ranked 16th in total defense, giving up 291 yards a game. The highest ranked defense Kelly previously had was last year’s 30th ranked squad.
But he’s also not accustomed to struggling at quarterback. Golson is ranked 95th nationally in pass efficiency with a rating of 121.06. He’s never had a starter ranked lower than 60 before. But Kelly said the entire offense must start playing more consistently.
“We need to continue to get better on offense, there’s no question,” Kelly said. “But we just played in Ireland, played Purdue, who’s pretty good, played Michigan State at Michigan State and Michigan and beat two top 20 teams.”
Michigan, which had six turnovers in the loss, fell out of the Top 25. They also have a bye week before playing at Purdue in two weeks. Michigan strong safety Jordan Kovacs said the off week falls at a good time for the Wolverines.
“We can regroup, gather ourselves and really look forward to making some strides this bye week,” he said. “We’re not good enough to win a Big Ten championship right now. We played better up front, but we lack discipline at times, had some big penalties when we needed to get off the field, and other times we just didn’t make the play.”