FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Heading into the BCS National Championship Game on Monday, many players on the Notre Dame team will need to elevate their level of play against Alabama: wide receiver TJ Jones, running back Theo Riddick, even vaunted linebacker Manti Te’o.
But of all these players, none’s performance will be as important as that of redshirt freshman quarterback Everett Golson.
Golson has performed fairly well as a first-year starter for the Fighting Irish, largely eliminating his mistakes as the season has progressed. After a shaky start at the beginning of the season, where he was sometimes pulled for injuries or poor play, Golson has since proved himself as the Fighting Irish’s No. 1 quarterback.
He’s completed 59.3 percent of his passes for 2,135 yards and 11 touchdowns, to only five interceptions. Golson, also a mobile quarterback, has added an extra 305 rushing yards on the ground.
With that said, Golson has yet to play against a defense as talented as Alabama’s in a game-type atmosphere all year.
But for Notre Dame offensive coordinator Chuck Martin, everything Golson has done throughout the year has more than prepared him for the Crimson Tide’s stingy defense.
“I think he’s seen steady improvement as the year’s gone on,” Martin said Friday. “The difficult thing, but the nice thing for him is, that he got thrown in the fire right away…. He didn’t get eased into this game like some young quarterbacks do.”
Martin isn’t the only one who has confidence in Golson’s ability to handle the Alabama defense, either. Senior tight end Tyler Eifert, recipient of the Mackey Award – the nation’s top tight end, said he thought Golson will be able to make plays against Alabama.
“I’m very confident in him,” Eifert said. “I have all the confidence that he’ll come out and play his best game.”
Even with all his experience and the support surrounding him, however, Golson said he recognized the talent level on the Alabama defense and the difficult task ahead of him and his offense. He acknowledged he’d have to play one of his best games to be successful against the Tide.
“I think it’s tough,” Golson said. “They have a great defense…. So it’s going to be kind of hard for us to exploit their defense.”
Another factor that Golson has had to deal with is the historic implications of a potential victory. Golson has the opportunity to become the first Notre Dame quarterback to take his team to the championship since Tony Rice did it in 1988, effectively bringing Notre Dame “back” to the pinnacle of college football.
The fact that Golson has that opportunity to do that in the BCS National Championship, the biggest stage of his career so far, is something that could affect Golson before the game. But, rather than let it affect him, Golson said he’s not thinking about all the external factors, and continuing to prepare for Alabama the same as any other team.
“I’m kind of just focused on what’s played between the yard lines, what’s played on the field,” Golson said. “Can’t really focus on everything that’s off the field because that’s out of my control.”
Martin also addressed the idea of the fact Golson wouldn’t be as prepared to play because of those external factors, namely the fact that Golson has yet to play in a game of this magnitude. He said he feels as if Golson has already had plenty of experience in playing in big games, and said he doesn’t think he’ll be rattled heading into the game.
“I’d say for him, our schedule, first ever college game in Dublin, Ireland,” Martin said. “First ever home game against Purdue, road game primetime at Michigan State, night game at Notre Dame against Michigan, on the road at Oklahoma at USC, coming off the bench, doing all things he’s been through….
“Take any other quarterback this year, try to find out if they’ve gone through as much as Everett Golson. To me it’s not even close. Not even close.”