Aftermath

Everett Golson's expulsion will doubtless change the fortunes of many of his fellow Irish competitors. More important, the offense might again be forced "fake it," while the defense does the heavy lifting.

In late-September 2011, freshman defensive end Stephon Tuitt was scratched from head coach Brian Kelly's travel roster for the team's trip to Purdue.

The transgression was missing class, or class time. The ultimate result was a more focused, mature Tuitt owning up to the issue and emerging one year later as one of college football's best players.

The less-publicized ancillary result of Tuitt's absence, however, was unexpected field time for sophomore Kona Schwenke, a player who'd over the off-season added nearly 50 pounds in an attempt to bulk up from edge rusher to interior defender.

The staff's plan for the then-sophomore Schwenke was a redshirt season. Instead, Schwenke played vs. Purdue after starter Ethan Johnson was lost to an ankle injury (his backup Tuitt was home in South Bend) and the chance for Schwenke to be withheld from action to adjust to his new frame -- thereby preserving a season of eligibility -- was lost.

Schwenke is now an invaluable senior backup nose guard who'd doubtless start in the middle as a fifth-year senior next fall after classmate Louis Nix's graduation following 2013.

Tuitt's immaturity was far less damaging to the program than Everett Golson's apparently repeated classroom violations. Golson is gone from the University for a semester -- the wrong semester if you're a football player or fan -- and Notre Dame's roster will spend most of the fall collectively making up for his absence.

Senior Tommy Rees is the likely candidate to start, and if not start from wire-to-wire, play extensively. That reality limits the threat of the quarterback as a runner in Kelly's read-option attack. In other words, there's no option, just a handoff, and in the case of Rees, there's no play extended when the protection pocket breaks down.

The result is certain field time for Rees' classmate Andrew Hendrix, and maybe a fifth season invitation for 2014 to boot. Also closer to the field -- and officially one snap away from a No. 2, if not No. 1 status, is freshman early enrollee Malik Zaire.

With Golson at the helm, it's unlikely Zaire would have been needed in 2013, and a season on the sidelines would have put two years of convenient eligibility between Zaire and the team's starter.

Now if Zaire plays in 2013 as now expected, he'll have three seasons left in South Bend, while Golson, expected to return for the spring semester, will have two football seasons, 2014-15, to finish his time at the University and in the program.

If Notre Dame's offense suffers in 2013, and Golson wins his job back next spring or fall, how long does Zaire plan to watch him run the show? If Hendrix, Zaire, and Rees combine to bring Notre Dame back to a BCS bowl appearance -- especially the program's first win -- how Will Kelly & Co. welcome back their former starter that didn't have the dedication necessary to remain part of the program?

Playmakers Wanted

A quick listing of Notre Dame's lead playmakers as of last Friday looked something like this:

1. QB Everett Golson
2. Injured RB/Slot Amir Carlisle -- last game played, 2011…for USC
3. WR T.J. Jones -- longest reception over the last two seasons: 38 yards…and vs. Wake Forest, I might add.
4. WR DaVaris Daniels -- no career touchdowns
5. RB George Atkinson -- 60 career carries with 284 of his 390 career yards, and five of his six touchdowns, occurring vs. Navy (twice), Miami, and Wake Forest.
6. WR Chris Brown -- two career receptions on 11 targets
7. Freshmen/Rookies/Other…

Golson was to lead Kelly's first "quarterback-driven" attack this fall. Now Rees will manage the offense, one without its two leading rushers, best receiver, and starting center and right guard from 2012.

Potential for production is there, with Jones a technician and certain mid-range threat. Daniels could be an All-American by the time he leaves campus if he makes good on his undeniable skills. Brown should be vastly improved in Year 2; Carlisle was the most impressive player when in good health this spring, and Atkinson is among the nation's fastest players.

None of them are proven with the exception of Jones, who's proven only to be reliable, a winner, and competitive.

Well-known and revered by Irish fans, the programs tight ends remain a collective work-in-progress, as Troy Niklas, Ben Koyack, and Alex Welch have a combined 10 career catches to their credit. Each is expected to be solid, reliable, and not anywhere nearly as good as was Eifert.

But there are more questions than answers:

Can redshirt-freshman C.J. Prosise accelerate his development and play a weekly role this fall? What happens on 3rd and 2 now that the threat of a Golson keeper is gone? What happens when opponents begin to drop eight defenders vs. Rees as they did in 2011? Or blitz with impunity in the red zone, knowing he can't escape? What happens when Hendrix is forced to read a defense and throw to a second or third progression? Or when Zaire comes to the line and sees one of many defensive looks he's never encountered as an 18-year-old rookie? How much tighter will passing windows be for Zaire in Ann Arbor and in Palo Alto, than they were in Kettering, Ohio?

Time to Fake It, Again?

The Irish offense looked at times disjointed, at times terrible in the Blue Gold Game. The Blue Gold Game, of course, is completely irrelevant, but its conversely relevant to note that Kelly's offense has produced two or fewer touchdowns in regulation vs. the following teams over the last two seasons:

2012: Alabama, USC, Pittsburgh, BYU, Stanford, Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue.
2011: Florida State, Stanford, Boston College, USC, Pittsburgh, South Florida.

Over that same span, Kelly's offense produced more than two regulation touchdowns vs. Wake Forest, Boston College, Oklahoma, Miami, and Navy in 2012, plus Maryland, Wake Forest, Navy, Air Force, Purdue, Michigan State, and Michigan in 2011.

What does the latter collection of teams shredded by the Irish have in common? Only two were among the nation's top 50 defenses.

Notre Dame's offense generally works vs. the weak; its defense is generally forced into the role of hero vs. the strong. (Notre Dame is 2-10 in the Kelly era when the opponent scores more than 21 points.)

Kelly was quoted during the 2011 summer speaker's circuit that a team can "fake it" on offense, and still win in college football. He rightly noted you have to have a championship-level defense to contend.

At presently constructed, the offense is back to faking it vs. quality foes. It's incumbent upon Kelly and his offense to put enough points on the board -- while still mitigating mistakes -- to allow the defense its best chance at success en route to a return trip to the BCS.

Fortunate for Irish fans, player development has been the calling card of the Kelly era, and three players directly under his charge have become paramount thanks to Golson's lack of focus and preparation.

Here's to that trio making fans forget what they're missing.


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