The X-Factor

Everett Golson is far from perfect, but he appears an ideal fit for the 2012 Irish offense down the stretch.

Thank goodness for thick skin.

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly already has gone to his bench for a new quarterback more times than his Irish compatriot Mike Brey might for the upcoming Big East season.

Its worked to the tune of nine wins, no losses, and a place at the head table for title hopefuls.

It might be unnecessary hereafter.

105 passing yards and a pair of scores in the fourth quarter. Another 59 yards on nine carries, including the game-winning touchdown and prior, game-tying two-point conversion.

Redshirt-freshman quarterback Everett Golson produced 73.5 percent of Notre Dame's offense in the fourth quarter and trio of overtime sessions Saturday. It might be time for his head coach to embrace that approach.

Notre Dame is, and should remain, a run-first team. They've tallied 200-plus yards on the ground in five games this season including four of the last five. And that continued point of emphasis allows its quarterback du jour to succeed.

But in the last pair of wins, Golson's feet were a key component in that ground attack: 26 carries via scramble, designed draw, or read-option keeper, for 138 yards, two touchdowns, and a two-point conversion. Most important and included are 11 drive-extending first down carries, six of those in 3rd or 4th-down situations, thanks to his ability to create offense with something other than his arm.

And the arm isn't bad, either.

Golson is the program's best dual-threat since Jarious Jackson, and relevant to you non-history buffs, the 2012 offense's weapon with the most room still to grow between now and early January.

Its time to allow that to happen.

Old Hat

"To be honest, I was a little upset just because of the competitor in me just wanted to be out there," said Golson of his halftime benching. "But I think it was good for me that I actually saw (mistakes) this time. I think previously in the beginning of the year, I'd come out and they would end up telling me, but I think that just comes from a lot of film study with coaches.

"Actually seeing my mistakes and kind of seeing it in the sidelines and seeing what they were doing kind of helped me come back and lead."

Kelly imparted a valuable lesson, the most recent of many during a home season filled with tough love directed at his quarterback of the present and future. At some point, more trust has to come from the man in charge, regardless of his 2012 Midas touch.

"I thought he did okay," said Kelly of Golson's reaction to his early exit. "I mean, I think he's a very prideful guy. He's coming off playing well (vs. Oklahoma). He knows he didn't play quite as well (Saturday), but did when it counted. He got a chance to go back in there and got the game ball tonight. So it's all a process of learning and developing and getting thicker skin, paying more attention to detail and practice. There are just so many levels to it.

"But I think what I'm looking for is a guy that continues to mature and grow up, and this was another opportunity for him. He could have kept his head down and said 'I can't help us.' He wanted to go back in there and help his football team. So that's a learning step for him."

Backup Tommy Rees has a place in the future 2012 offense. He can quicken the tempo when needed, especially late in a half and against a defense on its prevent-mode heels. He's obviously a tough-minded leader and potential passing weapon when called upon in an emergent situation. But patient defenses with decent front walls are kryptonite vs. Rees' quick-release, immobile skill set over the course of four quarters.

And contrary to recent fan-base musings, Rees isn't a safer option than Golson. He, like the quick-footed starter, has ball security issues that have crept back into his repertoire as its expanded. Golson meanwhile continues to flirt with disaster, from maddeningly dangerous "throw-aways" that land on the field of play, to his loaf-of-bread running style in the open field.

But he likewise brings an upside and X-factor few collegiate defenses can consistently handle, that is: he can beat you when you have him seemingly beaten. It seems Golson's attributes and attitude can handle anything that awaits these Irish with the possible exception of an undefeated champion decked out in Crimson.

"To me, it's all good,' said Golson of his fourth home field benching in as many outings. "I had a teammate in Robby Toma coming up to me saying, 'Keep your head in the game.' Guys coming up and saying keep your head in the game…a whole bunch of guys. That's what I really saw tonight was a whole bunch of guys really working together."

Why not let them?

Notre Dame's offense broke down late last season, scoring one touchdown vs. Boston College, producing one meaningful score vs. Stanford, and yet another solo job vs. Florida State.

It was predictable, one-dimensional, and near the end, impotent against competitive defenses.

Its anything but with Golson combining with Kelly at the controls.


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