"I've made this pretty clear every time that this has been brought up," said Kelly when asked Sunday about his current quarterback situation. "You want to go with one quarterback, but we have a freshman quarterback who's experiencing being a young quarterback. The (times) 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."
Kelly used a baseball analogy to describe Rees' role vs. Purdue three weeks ago. Golson played all but one series of the contest before giving way to Rees with the score knotted at 17. "The Closer" came through, finishing the game for Golson and the rest of the Irish in dramatic fashion.
Saturday night vs. Michigan, "The Closer" was asked to fill a role of long-relief, again entering the game with the score tied (this time at zero) and again leading the home team to victory.
Next Saturday night when the Irish take on Miami (Fla.) in Chicago, Golson will be the starter, with Rees waiting in the wings if necessary.
??"Characterize it any way you want, that it's two quarterbacks. I look at it as supporting Everett (Golson) with Tommy, and if we need to do that, we'll continue to go that way because it's been pretty successful," said Kelly.
No Hard FeelingsNot unexpectedly, Golson was taken aback by his initial benching (he was not available for comment following the most recent). Though the offense had managed just 17 points, Golson had not thrown an interception and had both thrown and run for a score. His costly fumble that set up Purdue's late tying touchdown facilitated the move in which Kelly successfully avoided overtime.
"I was a little surprised. That's the competitor in me," said Golson outside the visitors locker room in East Lansing one week after his benching. "You don't want to come out of a game in a critical situation like that, but at the same time, you have to be a teammate. And Tommy came in and did a great job and led us to the score."
Golson has often complimented Rees' unselfishness in the wake of losing his starting job, even (half-jokingly) noting, "I'm not sure I could do that," when discussing the advice Rees gives him on a daily basis.
To date, both have played the role of good soldier and more important, teammate.
"I think it even transcends both of them. It's throughout the entire team," said Kelly of the quarterback's mutual respect. "Each one of these guys has been a supporter, and it's not just the quarterbacks. It's the receivers, offensive line, defensive backs, so on and so forth. But that relationship uniquely is that Everett has a lot of respect for Tommy, and particularly his knowledge of the offense, and so any time Tommy can help him with that, you know, it makes for a very, very good relationship. ??
"And then on the other hand, Tommy has a lot of respect for Everett's skill set, and so I think it's more about a respect for each other, and that's really been key for us moving forward."?
Mandatory MoveKelly noted Golson's benching vs. the Wolverines was due to something the head coach couldn't overlook.
?"It was carelessness," said Kelly, likely of the final straw interception Golson tossed into the end zone with the Irish in easy field goal range. "There's going to be jitters, and you can play through those. He had five series…I took him out on the fifth series, and I think it was a careless mistake, one that was uncharacteristic of how he had practiced and how he performed. I felt like I needed to make a decision for the best interest of our team in winning that game, and it was at that fifth series."
For the second time this season, the decision paid off, including a surprise play-call the next time the Irish reached the shadow of Michigan's goal.
"It's, interesting, our game plan was packed for Everett. I mean, we probably had very little in there that reflected a lot of Tommy Rees's strengths," said Kelly of a QB draw touchdown run that provided the Irish a 7-0 lead and Rees his first career rushing score.
"We'll do a better job of balancing that next time. But the best opportunity for him to affect the game was to do something that they weren't prepared for, and that was to run him. We were able to get a touchdown on it, and then when we called the same play (on the final offensive series) on 3rd down and 4, they went Cover Zero (defensively). Tommy maxed it out and threw one-on-one to (Tyler) Eifert," said Kelly of the combination's 38-yard gain that sealed the contest. "In a less-than-designed manner, both those plays, quarterback runs, turned out to be the difference in the game for Tommy Rees."
Disparate strengths, current weaknesses, and experience levels. Could the pair blend into one on a rotational basis?
"I don't think so. I think that that dialogue should take place during practice and film study," said Kelly of a potential in-game teaching opportunity for Golson. "And I don't know that that can be something that is better than the alternative that I've come up with in terms of practice and film study. I'd like to have a starter there and gain the knowledge that he needs and how to prepare each and every week.
"I would move towards wanting that dialogue during the week of practice, and then on Saturday go out there, play, start it and finish it. Our goal is for him to start it and finish it."
Golson will have to make good on that goal for Kelly to make good on his annual promise: "We'll be better in November than we are now, and if we continue with that mindset, we should be fine," he said Sunday.
"It's going to really center around the quarterback play. Everett is going to continue to work hard and get better. Our young receivers that are getting a lot of playing time are going to get a lot better. Troy Niklas, you know, a young tight end. I could probably give you 10 or 12 guys that will continue to progress for us."
But one matters most.