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College football: Brian Kelly closer to letting Everett Golson play through struggles

Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golscelebrates after scoring game-winning touchdown third overtime period against Pittsburgh an NCAA college football game South

Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson celebrates after scoring the game-winning touchdown in the third overtime period against Pittsburgh in an NCAA college football game in South Bend, Ind., Saturday, Nov. 3, 2012. Dame defeated Pittsburgh 29-26 in triple overtime. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

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The Big Number

Stephon Tuitt’s 10 sacks rank fifth in the nation and third in Notre Dame history (behind Justin Tuck, 13.5, 2003) and Victor Abiamiri (10.5, 2006).

Extra point

Brian Kelly reiterated Tuesday that he wouldn’t play politics and stump for his team’s BCS hopes, saying “it doesn’t work.” And when a reporter asked Kelly if he could ever have imagined a 12-0 Notre Dame team suffering the same fate as his 2009 12-0 Cincinnati team — which was left out of the BCS championship game — he didn’t take the bait.

“If you told me that Alabama and Oregon were also undefeated, as well as Notre Dame, I would say, ‘Well, there’s a chance,’” Kelly said. “Those are teams that have been there and done that. Notre Dame hasn’t done it in a while. Those teams are undefeated, too. I would say, ‘Well, there’s a chance we may get left out.’”

Updated: December 8, 2012 6:46AM



SOUTH BEND — There will come a time — eventually, presumably, probably — when Everett Golson won’t have to look over his shoulder to see if Tommy Rees is warming up on the sideline. There will be a time when Golson can make a bad check at the line, or misread a defense, or throw an interception, or fumble the ball, and not jog to the sideline wondering if Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly will yank him from the game.

That time is not here yet.

But after a strong performance at Oklahoma, and a resilient return from a benching against Pittsburgh, it’s getting closer.

“I don’t know how to answer the question definitively,” Kelly said after the triple-overtime win against Pitt. “I just get a sense of feel on the sideline as to where to move with that.”

Kelly certainly feels more comfortable with letting Golson play through his struggles after his performance against Pitt. After being benched for three series spanning halftime — the third time this season he’s been pulled based on Kelly’s “feel” rather than an injury — Golson returned and led the Irish back from a 20-6 deficit with two fourth-quarter touchdown drives, bouncing back from an end-zone interception in between, and scoring the game-winning touchdown on a 1-yard plunge in the third OT.

For Golson’s psyche, it was almost as big as the Oklahoma win.

“I think I needed it bad,” he said.

For Kelly’s trust in his quarterback, it might have been even bigger.

“His ability to get back up off the bench — it had never happened before,” Kelly said. “Now, you’ve got a little bit of history. ‘All right, we’ve got a rough spot here. Let’s fight through this. You’ve done this before.’”

For Golson’s teammates’ confidence in him, it was just the latest sign that the redshirt freshman is up to the task.

“He’s growing up on the scene,” tailback Theo Riddick said. “I think everyone saw that (Saturday), especially with him getting taken out quite early, and coming back and just being completely awesome.”

The first time Golson was pulled for Rees, it was at the end of the Purdue game in Week 2, because Kelly wanted the veteran Rees to run the two-minute offense in a tied game. Rees responded by leading the game-winning field-goal drive. Back then, Golson was still struggling with some of the more routine jobs of the quarterback — getting the signals in from the sideline, communicating the play in the huddle, getting the offense set in a timely fashion. Kelly calls it “housekeeping.” Considering one of Kelly’s stated goals is to hurry things up and run more plays, it was a serious source of consternation.

But since returning from a concussion that held him out of the BYU game, Golson has been noticeably better at running the offense.

It’s all part of the mental maturation of Golson. He’s always had the physical tools. But as his mind gets stronger — savvier, sharper, tougher — his job gets more secure.

“He’s just a fierce, competitive kid with so much pride — and he’s never experienced this before,” Kelly said. “He’s walked through every game he’s ever played. He’s been the best player on the field. Now he’s dealing with, ‘This is the first time I’ve ever been taken out of a game.’ But he’s such a competitive kid. He wants to do so well. He’s growing and he’s maturing as we move along.”



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