I thought about renaming the title of this weekly column to 5 Things I Loved instead of Liked, because I absolutely loved what I saw last night out of the Fighting Irish as they stormed in Norman, Oklahoma and left with their perfect season still intact and national championship dreams still very much a reality thanks to a 30-13 victory over #8 Oklahoma.
The maturation of Everett Golson
There have been times that it has been a little tough to watch Everett Golson this year because he’s made the kind of mistakes a redshirt freshman is going to make – the kind of mistakes you just have to live with from a young quarterback. Well, last night wasn’t one of those nights. Last night we saw Everett Golson take a huge step forward in his development and maturation as a college quarterback.
The last time Golson stepped on the field he turned the ball over three times against a tough Stanford defense. Last night Golson didn’t turn the ball over once despite running for a career high 64 yards. Even better, Golson didn’t get sacked once by a fast Oklahoma defense. He made smart decisions, got rid the ball when he needed to, and made plays when they were there to be made.
Golson still has a ways to go before reaching his vast potential, but it is very hard to be anything but excited about where this offense could go based the development we have seen from the sophomore just over the last few games. With three very winable games in which the Irish will likely be double digit favorites on the schedule the next three weeks, look for Golson to continue to improve.
Chris Brown making plays downfield
I have been waiting all season to see #2 on offense get open downfield and get hit in stride by a Notre Dame quarterback and last night we finally saw it. Brown had gotten behind both the Purdue and Michigan State defenses early in the season, but Golson missed him both times. Even last night Golson just missed Brown on a deep play early. To be fair, Brown probably should have hauled in the first bomb hurled his way because the ball hit is hands, but it was just a bit in front of him.
All that said, seeing Brown get behind the Oklahoma defense and speed downfield with Golson placing the ball on the money for a season long 50 yard pass was a thing of beauty. Golson and Brown are going to be connecting a lot over the next three years and hopefully will continue to build some chemistry this year so that by season’s end Notre Dame has a legit downfield threat that opposing defenses have to fear. I fully expect to see a lot more of Brown over the next three weeks and hopefully some more of Davonte Neal as well.
Notre Dame’s defense frustrating an elite offense
This was supposed to be the week where the rubber met the road for the Irish defense. The Irish defense was stout all season, but they were finally going to get gashed by the Oklahoma offense, right? Well, the Irish are now eight games into the season and we and the Notre Dame defense has yet to see an offense score more than 17 points on it. They did give up the first rushing touchdown of the season, but other than that the Irish defense kept the Sooners in check.
Landry Jones, a future NFL quarterback, dinked and dunk down the field at times Saturday night, but his receivers never got loose downfield or behind the Irish defense and he was unable to lead his troops to more than that lone touchdown in the 4th quarter. Without the big play, Oklahoma’s offense was frsutrated most of the night and couldn’t string together enough plays in a row to put up many points.
With the latest dominating performance from the Irish defense, six different Notre Dame opponents have now scored 40 or more points the week prior to playing Notre Dame only to score less than 20 against the Irish (thanks to ESPN for that stat).
- Michigan: 63 points vs. UMass the week before Notre Dame, 6 points against the Irish
- Stanford: 54 points vs. Arizona, 13 points against Notre Dame
- Oklahoma: 52 points vs. Kansas, 13 points against Notre Dame
- Purdue: 48 points vs. Eastern Kentucky, 17 against Notre Dame
- Miami: 44 points vs. North Carolina State, 3 against Notre Dame
- Michigan State: 41 vs. Central Michigan, 3 against Notre Dame
Sum up all of those games and in these six games the opposition averaged 50.3 points a game and proceeded to average just 9.1 against the Irish. That ladies and gentlemen is some tenacious defense.
Notre Dame responding to Blake Bell’s touchdown
After leading most of the game, Notre Dame surrendered its first rushing touchdown of the season to Blake Bell in the 4th quarter. On the road, against a top 10 team, Everett Golson trotted onto the field and marched the Notre Dame offense down the field to take the go the lead for good after Bell’s score tied the game. It was the kind of drive that we may just point back to in a few years as the moment the first defining moment in the career of Everett Golson.
Notre Dame came out firing on the drive with Brian Kelly and Chuck Martin holding nothing back and putting all of their confidence behind their young quarterback. Golson rewarded their confidence by connecting with Chris Brown on that 50 yard bomb and then finished off the drive a few plays later with a rushing touchdown that put the Irish on top for good.
In the past, Notre Dame teams would have folded in the same situation. We saw it all too many times and I would be lying if I didn’t admit that part of me was almost expecting to be let down after Oklahoma scored. This team is different though, folks. This team fights and claws and scratches and doesn’t give up. This team believes it is going to win every time they step on the field and they are playing with the type of confidence needed to do.
Manti Te’o's Heisman Moment
It has been 15 years since a defensive player has won the Heisman trophy. Manti Te’o has been making his case for consideration all season long, and last night may have just been his Heisman moment. After Notre Dame responded to Bell’s game tying touchdown by retaking the lead, the Irish defense stepped on the field and sealed the deal when Te’o recorded his 5th interception of the season to give the offense the ball back in Oklahoma territory. The play itself was very, very close. Honestly, I thought the ball hit the ground before he had possession when I saw it live, but after rewatching the game this morning and listening to Brent Musberger and Kirk Herbstreit agree with the call I think they got it right.
Regardless, the play stood and I think at this point, the Te’o family should make plans to be in New York City the weekend of December 8 because Manti Te’o is going to be a finalist for the award. Last night’s performance – an 11 tackle, 1 sack, 1 int performance – along with Notre Dame’s perfect record have Te’o in the thick of the race. Throw in Te’o's stop of Stepfan Taylor on 3rd and goal when it looked like Taylor was going to reach the endzone and the Hawaiian Hitman is putting together a pretty nice highlight reel.
Just as a reminder, Te’o didn’t have a single carer interception before this season. He has 5 this season. Remember when people said Te’o by passed millions of dollars to come back for his senior season? Looks like he gained himself millions instead because his draft stock continues to skyrocket.
Other things I liked
Sorry folks, but there was way more than 5 things I liked from last night’s game so here are a few others.
- Kyle Brindza’s rebound. Kyle Brindza had a rough game last week against BYU. Then the sophomore missed a chip shot 35 yard field to start the second half that could have been costly. Brindza showed a ton of poise though by nailing a 44 and 46 yarder in the 4th as Notre Dame pulled away. The 44 yarder just snuck inside the uprights, but the 46 yarder split them beautifully. Great job of putting the miss behind him and nailing two huge kicks.
- Kei’Varae Russell’s tackling. It is really hard to believe that Russell was recruited as an offensive player by pretty much every school because the kid can flat out cover and is an even better tackler. Its not uncommon for young corners, especially ones that convert from offense, to struggle with tackling early in their careers, but Russell has been very good in that department.
- Brian Kelly’s play calling. Brian Kelly didn’t call the game last night like he did the BYU game. Against BYU Kelly called the game like he was just trying to prevent negative plays and get away with a win. Last night he rolled the dice more and put a lot of faith in Golson. Kelly called the game like he was trying to dictate what he wanted to do to the Oklahoma offense and by the end of the game it worked like a charm.
- The disappointment in Brent Musberger’s voice after every positive Notre Dame play. Could Musberger been anymore disappointed when Chris Brown hauled in that 50 yarder? And could he have been any happier when he thought Oklahoma was going to score its second rushing touchdown of the game even after the game was decided?