Golson shows what he can do

Sophomore arrives as QB, making good on promise Irish coach sees in him

Turning heads Saturday night at Soldier Field was a dynamic former South Carolina star high school quarterback who reminded Notre Dame why it should think national title the way everybody used to when the Irish played Miami.

Yeah, Tony Rice was there too.

Rice, the last Notre Dame quarterback to win it all in 1988, shook hands and granted interviews shown on the Jumbotron as alums reminisced over Chicago's ACC team renewing its regular-season rivalry with Miami. But for the first time in what looks like a special season, current Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson did things worthy of comparison to the man he shares more with than a home state.

For the first time, Golson used his legs to complement an arm that didn't betray him in a big moment.

"I thought Everett grew up today,'' coach Brian Kelly said.

He was due for a growth spurt.

Before Notre Dame's 41-3 mauling of Miami, Golson had inspired such little confidence in everybody but Kelly that many considered it encouraging to learn that he wouldn't start after violating a team rule — he was late for a meeting. When Golson replaced Tommy Rees on the fourth offensive snap, it quickly became clear that this was the night he had arrived.

"It was important for me after disciplining him to let him know I believed in him,'' Kelly said. "He relaxed and thought, 'I have the head coach's support.' It helped his confidence and he backed it up with his play.''

The last time Notre Dame played on the lakefront, hype threatened to swallow its quarterback too. It was 1994 and Ron Powlus threw for four touchdowns that made former ESPN analyst Beano Cook predict Powlus would win two Heismans. Nobody needs to get similarly swept away praising Golson after his breakout game. His body of work remains so thin and inconsistent that nobody can be sure Golson still will start by mid-November.

But Golson's career turned a corner at the intersection of 18th and Lake Shore Drive, and suddenly the direction of Notre Dame football seems obvious.

"This game was needed,'' Golson said.

When Golson used his mobility to escape Miami's athletic pass-rushers, which he had yet to do, you saw the potential Kelly sees. It started when Golson ripped off impressive runs of 12 and 9 yards on the opening touchdown drive aided by Miami. Just like the good ol' days, two Miami personal foul kept the chains moving. Somewhere, Jimmy Johnson cussed.

Yes, times have changed since the last time Notre Dame and Miami played in the regular season in 1990. In those days, in this rivalry, when you said Miami was undisciplined it meant a Hurricane ripping off a gold helmet or imitating MC Hammer in the end zone. Two decades later, it referred to dropped touchdown passes and dumb penalties. Even without the Hurricanes' help, Golson controlled the game in a way that would make Rice proud. In a way many questioned Golson could after doing little in his four previous starts.

"Growing up I was presented challenges and counted out because of my size so I like that,'' Golson said. "It charged me up."

As a result, the Notre Dame offense dominated even more than its defense. Notre Dame's defense showed familiar speed and aggression in keeping another team out of the end zone but was aided early by Miami drops. Maybe the Hurricanes were distracted by Notre Dame's helmets. I know I was. They were half-gold, half-leprechaun and presumably designed for this game by Lady Gaga.

But an ugly victory, this wasn't.

When Golson threw, he did so with command that had been lacking. Yet the best throws might have been the ones Golson never made, making the type of decisions Kelly had been harping on the sophomore to make.

Nothing showed how much faith Kelly has developed in Golson more than the last drive of the first half. With 1 minute, 2 seconds left and Notre Dame at its own 30 with a 10-point lead, Kelly let Golson make plays instead of take a knee. He completed all four passes for 88 yards on his most impressive drive of the season.

No wonder Kelly bristled a bit when pressed about Golson during an off week that presented an ideal time to make a change. Rees might give the offense a sturdier floor, but Golson demonstrated why he makes Notre Dame's ceiling impossible to measure.

"We expect him to start in Week 6 and 7 and 8, and 9, 10, 11, 12 and 13,'' Kelly said. "He is getting better. There's so much development that's taking place that's not on Saturdays."

After a memorable Saturday for Domers young and old, nobody doubts that now.

dhaugh@tribune.com

Twitter @DavidHaugh

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