The 2014 season as a whole is a chance for redemption for Everett Golson’s off the field issues of a year ago, but if there is a single game on the 2014 Notre Dame schedule that offers Golson a chance for redemption on the field, it’s this weekend’s contest with Michigan.
Two years ago when Brian Kelly named Golson his starter for the 2012, the then sophomore (freshman eligibility wise) had some bumps along the road none of which was bumpier than Michigan’s last trip to South Bend.
After watching Tommy Rees lead the Irish to the winning score against Purdue in week two of the season, Golson seemingly rebounded perfectly with a solid performance on the road in Notre Dame’s upset of #10 Michigan State the following week. Golson tossed a touchdown and ran for another in the Irish’s 20-3 victory. A week later it would be a different story.
In front of a raucous crowd in Notre Dame Stadium for the 2nd night game since the University decided to allow night games in the house that Rockne built, Everett Golson couldn’t get off the starting block.
Against Michigan that night, Golson’s first pass attempt of the game would be intercepted by Michigan’s Raymon Taylor at the Notre Dame 27 yard line. Luckily, the stout Irish defense held Michigan scoreless when Brendan Gibbons missed a 43 yard field goal. Crisis had been adverted for the moment, but things didn’t get much better for Golson.
After Manti Te’o set up the Irish offense with the ball on the Michigan 17 yard line, Golson wasn’t able to move the chains for the Irish and Notre Dame settled for a field goal.
On his next drive it looked like things were starting to click for Golson. He completed consecutive passes for 13 and 16 yards to Theo Riddick and Davaris Daniels. His third pass of the drive, however, was completed to Michigan defender Thomas Gordon. Tommy Rees came in on the next drive and Golson, visibly distraught on the sidelines, watched the game with a red baseball hat on while sanding by Brian Kelly.
Golson’s final line that night – 3 of 8 for 30 yards with 2 interceptions. Ouch.
Despite the poor performance, Kelly stood by Golson following the game. “Everett is our starter,” Kelly answered when the first question in his post game presser was about his quarterback situation. “He needs to just settle down a little bit, and he’s going to be fine. He’ll have the week off to evaluate all the things,” he added.
We all know how the rest of that season played out. Golson returned to the starting lineup two weeks later when Notre Dame resumed action against Miami in the Shamrock Series and guided the Irish to a 41-3 victory enroute to a perfect 12-0 regular season and trip to the BCS National Championship.
A Chance for Redemption
Fast forward two years and Everett Golson is now faced with the chance for redemption he’s been waiting for not just since that last Michigan but also since his exile from Notre Dame last year following his academic issues.
That Michigan game represents by far the worst performance of Golson’s collegiate career and it’s not even close. Golson hasn’t had a two interception game at any other time in his career and his next lowest passing yardage total is 141.
With three starters still presumably out this weekend baring some last minute announcement from the University that some/any/all of the currently suspended football players are allowed back into action, the Notre Dame offense is going to have to carry the load this time against Michigan. Manti Te’o, Stephon Tuitt, Kapron Lewis Moore, and Louis Nix aren’t going to be their to the bail the offense out this time like they were in 2012.
If Notre Dame is to end the Michigan series (at least as it’s currently scheduled) on a high note, the offense will need to score a heck of a lot more than the 13 points they did two years ago and Everett Golson specifically is going to have to have a big game. He’s going to need to eclipse that passing total in the first quarter and not come close to matching that turnover count.
Leading Notre Dame to a victory this weekend won’t erase that dreadful performance from the history books and won’t make anyone forget that Golson’s poor judgement last year likely cost the Irish a few victories in 2013 and set back the program a bit after the magical run to the BCS title in 2012. It will, however, set the Irish for a run at another season that could exceed expectations.
A win on Saturday and the Irish are likely headed to a 4-0 record coming out of September and heading into the toughest part of their 2014 schedule. A loss and the Irish are looking at a potentially rocky road through the 2014 regular season and possibly a tough path to signing day.
With a host of elite recruits in town to take in the action this weekend, Notre Dame has to put on an impressive performance to maximize the impact of having all those recruits on campus at the same time. Notre Dame’s had some lackluster performances in past night games when they’ve essentially gone “all in” with recruiting visits for night games – see USC 2011 and 2013 – and not surprisingly the Irish have had a tough time landing recruits who’ve visited those weekends.
Everett Golson has a chance to place the Irish offense on his back and lead his team to victory this weekend though. He has a chance to redeem a performance that is as black of an eye for his on-field performance as last year’s dismissal was for his off-field performance.
A New Quarterback Two Years Later
We all saw last week that the Everett Golson of 2014 is not the same Everett Golson we saw in 2012. Golson had a few three touchdown performances in 2012 (Pittsburgh, Boston College, Wake Forest) but he never had a four touchdown outing let alone a five touchdown showing like he did last Saturday against Rice. And, to be fair, Golson placed what should have been a 6th touchdown perfectly into the hands of CJ Prosise at the goal line too.
It wasn’t just the touchdowns that looked different though. The foot work, the mechanics, the pocket presence. All of it was improved from what we saw in 2012. Nothing seemed to rattle Golson last Saturday. In 2012 against Michigan, everything rattled him. Greg Mattison threw the kitchen sink at then sophomore and sent him to sidelines before halftime.
Mattison is still in charge of the Michigan defense and will certainly look to rattle Golson again this time around. He’s going to see if all of those things Golson picked up working with George Whitfield while he was away from Notre Dame stick when he dials up pressures that Golson didn’t see against Rice. He’s going to see if the coaching of Brian Kelly and Matt LaFluer shines through when Golson is escaping Michigan defenders instead of those from Rice.
Mattison won the last matchup with Golson even if Notre Dame ended up winning the battle that day. Golson will be looking for some revenge this weekend whether or not he offers up any sound bites about it this week. Whether or not he’s able to avenge that performance will go along way towards writing the narrative of his comeback from his off the field issues and the ultimate sucess of the 2014 Fighting Irish.