DUBLIN — Notre Dame fans might wonder if Everett Golson, who showed poise in his first start, has what it takes to be the starting quarterback this season. That question might not matter so much if the Irish keep dominating both sides of the line the way they did against Navy.
In Saturday's 50-10 blowout in Dublin, the redshirt freshman from South Carolina exceeded modest expectations with a 12-for-18, 144-yard performance.
The highlight: A short jump-ball TD toss to tight end Tyler Eifert in the second quarter. The lowlight: A foolish interception minutes later when he tested double coverage in hopes of hitting Eifert again near the goal line.
Golson was more than good enough with Notre Dame running 46 times for 293 yards, averaging 6.4 yards per carry, and scoring five touchdowns. Everybody looked good carrying the pigskin, thanks to mammoth holes forged by a line that returns three senior starters from center to left tackle
"Tremendous. They (the offensive line) were blocking very, very well. We had open holes," said running back Theo Riddick, who ran 19 times for 107 yards and two touchdowns, and also caught two passes for 25 yards.
"It's a confidence thing," said left tackle Zack Martin, who thinks Notre Dame might emphasize the run this year and utilize the 6-foot Golson more as a play-action rollout QB.
"As long as we keep producing up front and run the ball, I don't see why not," Martin said. "It opens up so many things and it takes the pressure off the quarterback."
Golson won what started as a four-way competition for the job in the spring and was cut down to three in preseason practice when last year's starter, Tommy Rees, was suspended.
He pleaded guilty in July to two criminal charges and received probation stemming from his arrest after an off-campus party in May, when he admitted fleeing from officers and allegedly kneed one in the stomach.
Kelly's not ready to make it a forgone conclusion that Golson is No. 1, but the reality is the competition is now more for No. 2.
"The great thing about Everett is he figures it out. He's not going to make the same mistake twice," Kelly said.
"Mechanically there were a lot of things he can get better at," Kelly said Sunday during a conference call. "Certainly, decision-making, you don't ever want to turn the football over in a short field like we did. But as a first-time starter, I thought he showed poise, the leadership skills necessary on the sideline. He came over and he was easy to communicate with. All part of the process. This is going to take some time, but I think there was a lot to build on from this weekend."
And Notre Dame's equally veteran front seven on defense look like they're primed to make opposing rushers pay for every yard — crucial given the relative inexperience in the Irish secondary.
Navy's triple-option running attack, perennially ranked among the top 10 nationwide, suffered its worst performance since December 2010, finishing with 149 yards on 40 carries and no touchdowns. Quarterback Trey Miller's own 20 carries netted a measly 16 yards, including when he was stuffed for no gain on fourth-and-1 on Navy's opening drive.
Kelly said the leadership of senior inside linebacker Manti Te'o, entering his fourth season as a starter, "is a huge reason why." Te'o finished with six tackles, a fumble recovery and an interception.
Kelly said he wasn't worried about jet lag from the overseas trip carrying over into this week's practice schedule.
"We had everybody check in (Sunday)," he said. "Our trainers and physicians were there today. They feel pretty confident that the plan we had put in place over the past two and a half weeks, has been effective, in making sure that we didn't have guys who were going to be fatigued on the way back. We'll monitor it during the week and if we have to make an adjustment we will, but I don't think there's going to be any issues moving forward."