SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Everett Golson didn't do much last time out to make anyone think he'll be the quarterback to lead Notre Dame back to glory.
His first pass against Michigan was intercepted, the Fighting Irish offense sputtered the five series he was in, and in his final play before being yanked in the second quarter, he lofted up an interception instead of throwing it out of the end zone. Because of his carelessness, he was replaced by backup Tommy Rees, last year's starter, who for the second time this season led the ninth-ranked Fighting Irish (4-0) to victory.
Despite the poor play against Michigan, and overall unspectacular numbers, coach Brian Kelly remains firmly behind Golson, saying he sees him developing every day in practice.
"An analogy that I like to use is, he's still cooking. We've taken him out of the oven. He's still learning all of the things that are not necessarily visible from game film. He's still learning how to effectively communicate, and how he's able to lead, and all of those things," Kelly said.
Learning on the job isn't easy, especially with an inpatient fan base eager to see an end to a national championship drought that dates back to 1988. The Irish defense appears to have the potential, but so far the offense hasn't matched up. Golson has been one of the reasons the offense has stumbled.
He has a pass efficiency rating of 121.06, placing him 98th in the nation. He has played well at times, but not great. Offensive coordinator Chuck Martin said the struggles Golson is facing aren't unusual for a sophomore who didn't play as a freshman, saying the coaching staff didn't expect Golson to be great this year.
"It's very rare to be great all the time. You might be great in spurts or great on plays or great for a period of time, or even a whole game you might have a completely great game," he said.
Irish coaches say Golson had a difficult week of classes before the game against Michigan and that may have played a role in his poor play. Golson hasn't been made available to talk with the media since after the win at Michigan State. Kelly said it's not because he doesn't want Golson facing scrutiny, but because he's facing a difficult class schedule.
Golson isn't to blame for all of Notre Dame's offensive problems. The Irish rank 84th in rushing offense, 85th in passing offense and 95th in total offense. The good news, though, is they play Saturday against Miami (4-1), which is ranked 114th in total defense.
The Irish coaches say Golson has all the physical tools necessary to be successful. Martin said part of Golson's trouble is at times he knows what he should do, such as changing plays at the line of scrimmage, but he "flinches."
"He doesn't flinch all the time, he's made some great run checks this year. Other times he's kind of hesitated. Like he'll come off and say, 'I should have. ...,'Martin said. "So the nice thing is you know the knowledge is there. It' just about experience. Unfortunately or fortunately, whichever way you look at it, he's getting experience under fire right now."
That's where Rees has the advantage. That's why the coaching staff brought him in for the game-winning drive against Purdue, because they knew he'd be better equipped to check into the correct play.
"I think his experience certainly helps in the management of our offense. There's no question. He has a lot of experience under his belt, and a lot of calmness," Martin said.
Kelly was asked after seeing Golson practice during the bye week how confident he was that his first-year starter wouldn't have a similar performance as he did against Michigan.
"See the gray hair? It's one of those things that if we were certain about any of those items we'd have this thing licked. I think it's a constant process of learning, developing, and pointing out times and trying to come to a balance of where we're at," Kelly said.