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Hutton: Rice likes what he sees in ND’s Golson

COACH LOU HOLTZ AND PROPOSITION 48 QUARTBACK TONY RICE (9) LED THE IRISH TO THE 1989 NATIONAL TITLE.

COACH LOU HOLTZ AND PROPOSITION 48 QUARTBACK TONY RICE (9) LED THE IRISH TO THE 1989 NATIONAL TITLE. SUN-TIMES PHOTO/TOM CRUZE

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Updated: January 8, 2012 8:20AM



It’s pretty clear where Tony Rice’s heart is when he speaks about who should play quarterback at Notre Dame — at least in time.

That would be freshman Everett Golson, mostly a clip board holder and sideline signal caller for the Irish this year.

Rice was the most dynamic, big-play quarterback I ever watched personally and he does have something to say about the matter: He was the last quarterback to lead Notre Dame to a national championship, in 1988.

It was love at first sight for Lou Holtz when he first watched Rice play in high school. Rice had 4.5 speed in the 40-yard dash. He had all the right genes for Holtz’s option-based offense, which relied on big-play producers in the backfield. Rice averaged 63.6 yards per game rushing and just over 106 yards per game passing in 1988. He completed just over 50 percent of his passes but he scored 17 touchdowns.

It was a different era — one in which sophisticated passing offenses weren’t a normal part of the game. Rice never made it to the NFL but he had some success in the Canadian Football League before settling back in South Bend.

It’s understood the quarterback job will morph into open competition mode when spring practice arrives with Golson, Tommy Rees and Andrew Hendrix all in the race.

Rice likes Golson. A lot.

“I got to see him in practice,” Rice said. “There shouldn’t be a quarterback controversy when it comes to being an athlete.”

Golson plays like Rice, which might be why he’s in his camp. There is also a geographical bias. Both are from South Carolina, not a state that typically produces starting quarterbacks for Notre Dame.

“I think he’s better than me,” Rice said. “I was watching highlights of him in high school. He did a tremendous job of controlling his team and putting points on the board both throwing and running.”

Golson also knows how to win. His high school team earned a football state title in his senior year and he led his basketball team to a state title. Golson also led Myrtle Beach High School to a state runner-up finish in 2009. Rice had a huge advantage getting that national championship ring. Twenty-one players from that 1988 team played in the NFL.

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Surprised that Rees was named the starting quarterback for the Champs Sports Bowl?

I was.

It’s not that Rees shouldn’t be the guy, but I believed Kelly would wait before he named a starter. Maybe he’s trying to take pressure and focus off Hendrix, who certainly will have to play against the aggressive, pressing FSU defense, which is one of the best in the country. Kelly said Tuesday that the familiarity with the offense and the rapport Rees had with the receivers played a role in his decision.

It makes sense, that with Jonas Gray injured and with a swarming defense to navigate, that the more mobile Hendrix will get lots of playing time.

Twenty-three games into the Kelly era and the quarterback situation is still as muddled as ever. Here is the dilemma that Kelly faces next year:

If Rees isn’t the quarterback, the Irish are stuck playing someone without very much game experience in an offense and a system that isn’t easy to learn. If Rees is the guy, the Irish will have to endure another season of playing a quarterback who can’t extend plays with his feet.

If Golson is going to start next year, there is going to have to be a clear separation between him, Hendrix and Rees. That’ll be hard to pull off without substantial game experience.

It’s not accurate to say that Kelly wants an option-type quarterback, like Golson, for his system. He wants a quarterback who can run for yardage if a play breaks down.



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