SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Doug Flutie rattled off a number of things he likes about Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson's game. Strong arm. A threat to run. Athleticism.
"All that," said Flutie, the 1984 Heisman Trophy winner and now a studio analyst for NBC's college football studio show, "scares the heck out of a defense."
Seconds later, when Flutie is discussing what Golson most has to work on, he again lists a few things. And since Golson's most recent body of work was a two-fumble performance against Stanford in which blitzes seemed to cause the most trouble, dealing with blitzes came up. Flutie, however, tossed in a disclaimer.
"I did the same thing my freshman and sophomore years," said Flutie, the former Boston College quarterback.
Going from unpolished to polished doesn't happen in the blink of an eye. In fact, Flutie tosses out two words that are often heard in South Bend, as well as in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
"Brian (Kelly) talks about it. (Nick) Saban talks about it — the process," Flutie said. "Don't look at the big picture."
Prioritizing the process, however, is easier said than done, especially with big games dotting the Irish schedule. Block out the noise, Flutie says, and continue to focus on the little things throughout the week that make Saturday more manageable.
"When a big game is coming up, there's a tendency to talk about it back at the dorm and talk about it around campus and everybody's kind of telling you, 'Good luck,'" Flutie said. "And you get caught up in thinking about, 'We're playing Oklahoma. We're playing Michigan. We're playing whoever.' You get caught up in that.'
"When you're focused on the preparation when you're walking to class, you're thinking about plays in your head. You're thinking about a read, an audible, a check. You're thinking about that stuff constantly when you're locked in to your preparation. And that's where you make a difference."
Flutie, who along with fellow analyst Hines Ward and host Liam McHugh broadcast live from ND Stadium last weekend and will again do so this weekend, spent more than a decade in the NFL. He played his final season
year — 2005 — with the New England Patriots, allowing him to see on a daily basis the perfect example of what coaches are talking about when they talk about the process.
Flutie recalled mini-breaks, those 15 minutes for lunch or a 10-minute hiatus between meetings that most players would step away from football. One guy — Tom Brady — always seemed to use every minute he could to try to get better.
"Tom's sitting and looking at his notes or talking to another player about a read or about a sight adjustment, and that's the difference," Flutie said. "It's that important to you. I've always said being a leader or trying to do something great, you've got to care more than other people think is normal or even healthy. You've got to care at that level where you live it 24/7."
Despite the growing pains for Golson in the Stanford game, Kelly did see growth in his sophomore who did not play last season. One example was a dazzling touchdown pass to tight end Tyler Eifert in the front corner of the end zone. Earlier this season, Kelly said, Golson would have tried to split the defenders instead of lofting it as he did.
"He would have not made that throw in week one or week two," Kelly said.
Instead, Golson put it in a spot where only the 6-foot-6 Eifert could pluck it.
"He put the ball in a spot that it wasn't going to hurt him," Flutie said. "It was either going to go incomplete or Eifert makes a great play."
It's plays like that, when Golson trusts the players around him to make plays, that can help him better handle a blitz, Flutie said. He pointed to a critical throw Tommy Rees made to Theo Riddick later in the Stanford game as an example.
"It's not about arm strength, it's about putting the ball in a spot where you're giving your guy a chance to make a play, but nothing bad's going to happen," Flutie said. "Against the blitz you get a little more leeway because the defensive guys can't see the ball thrown. They're running man-to-man. They've got their head turned.
"For (Golson), it's just a matter of having a couple good things happen for him in a game in those kind of situations," Flutie said, "and then he gains confidence and you trust it more and more."
Confidence, Flutie said, will likely be necessary when the Irish travel to Oklahoma next week. That's why Flutie believes a big day against BYU could pay even more dividends the following week, when the Irish invade Norman.
"From his development, you'd love to see him turn it loose and he's having one of those days where he's throwing the ball great and running the ball great and you just rack up a bunch of points," Flutie said. "That's why I think this BYU game is so important, especially for Everett, to really get comfortable and regain the confidence."
Flutie believes Golson holds a bright future. Kelly, when talking about the throw to Eifert, said it was an example of the development of a young quarterback who has taken to coaching.
"He's a tremendous athlete. And he makes plays. BK sees that," Flutie said. "The top end's going to be great."