Hand him the ...

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Brendan Bures | NCAA.com | October 1, 2014

Transformative years

Hand him the ... Golden Golson

Each week of the college football season NCAA.com will take a look at the most impressive individual performances. Some weeks it may be one player who stands head and shoulders above everyone else. This week, Notre Dame's Everett Golson grows into an important role for his team, legitimizing his Heisman Trophy spot.

If someone were asked to describe what’s different about Everett Golson this year, their response would inevitably include the word “mature.” They’d be (mostly) right. But it’s a word too ubiquitously used detailing the nature of college football athletes during offseason workouts that the term has lost most of its meaning. And, well, it’s a rather obvious and lazy choice. Of course they’ve matured, their biology is demanding they do exactly that! Wouldn’t it be pretty alarming if they hadn’t?

Everett Golson
Notre Dame | QB | Sr.
Passing Season Statistics

Rice 14 22 295 2
Michigan 23 34 226 3
Purdue 25 40 259 2
Syracuse 32 39 362 4
So we’re refusing to use that word to describe Golson’s return to Notre Dame following a year away from the team due to academic probation. Here’s better words to use: careful, accurate, knowing, confident, ego-less, trustworthy. Like Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah, Golson isn’t just the focal point of Notre Dame’s offense, but its foundation. Without him, none of it goes. It all starts and stops based on Golson’s input.

Which is a far cry from 2012, when Golson quarterbacked the Fighting Irish to the national title game. While Notre Dame lost 42-14 to Alabama, that team was based on an old-school philosophy of running and defense led by Heisman runner-up Manti Te’o. (Don’t worry, we didn’t forget Golson’s lovable, goofy sidekick Tommy Rees. We would never forget him.) Golson was asked not to make mistakes, comparable to a 15-year-old with a learner’s permit driving dad’s Mercedes Benz for the first time. 

Notre Dame’s offense explicitly relies on two Golson attributes this season: His decision-making and his rocket-launcher arm. Golson’s greatest improvement has been his ability to read defenses and make the most efficient throw. Working with QB guru George Whitfield helped, but head coach Brian Kelly designed the offense around tempo and quick releases.

Against Syracuse, it seemed every other play had Golson firing a pass to the sidelines or flats, allowing his receivers to be playmakers. Golson continually fit the ball into tight windows and timed screens that only worked because of how quickly Golson could get it there. Those throws resulted in Golson throwing 25 consecutive completions against the Orange, falling one shy of the FBS record. He also hit career-highs with 362 passing yards and four passing TDs.

What he’s doing isn’t easy, just simple, only made possible by Golson’s abilities. He creates this chess-play dynamic that Kelly can dictate -- if the defense loads the box against the run or play off the receivers, Golson hits a quick outside pass. Should defenders play tight to eliminate that, Golson kills them deep on play-action. Or, defense tries to cut off the deep ball and play sound coverage, Golson can hand it off on a draw or take off himself. And it’s all predicated on Golson generally reading it correctly, then efficiently executing.

Now, that’s a lot of pressure and Golson might make some mistakes. The pass after an incompletion ended his 25 consecutive completion streak? A poor pick six where he didn’t see Syracuse’s safety baiting him to try the exact throw he did. While in his first three games Golson had zero turnovers and accounted for 11 touchdowns, against Syracuse, Golson threw for four touchdowns, but turned it over four times (two INTS, two fumbles). It’s something he has to fix as stiffer competitions awaits in No. 14 Stanford this week and No. 1 Florida State in Tallahassee two weeks later.

But Notre Dame’s offenses revolves around Everett Golson, with the type of pressure that either busts pipes or makes diamonds. Golson will decide which happens soon enough but we’re leaning toward the latter. After all, he isn’t some growing boy any more. He’s a ma -- ah, we’ll let you fill in the rest. 

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