When you're dealing with a young player, it's best to temper expectations. Mistakes will be made, execution will occasionally be sloppy, and the results usually aren't what you'd like. More often than not, you hope you can get adequate play and hope he turns the corner as an upperclassmen.
At least, that's how it should be. But when you're dealing with the starting quarterback at the University of Notre Dame, expectations will be high no matter what. And that goes double after fans spend a year watching another young quarterback throw 14 interceptions while the talented freshman in question sat on the sidelines
The player in question, obviously, is Everett Golson. Many of us said in the offseason we'd be okay with some growing pains as long as it led to good things in the future, but it's hard not to get frustrated when those growing pains actually occur.
And that's what we're seeing a lot of this season from Golson: growing pains. He's only thrown three interceptions, but two came on really bad reads and one came on a - to put it nicely - head-scratcher of a decision. He's made some really nice plays with his feet but has also fumbled at the end of some of those plays. He had great games against Navy and Miami and rather poor games against Michigan and Stanford.
I know we all wanted Golson to ascend to the starting spot and play lights-out from day one, but that wasn't realistic. Sure, we see players like Johnny Manziel rewriting the SEC record books each week as a freshman and wonder why that can't be Golson, but that just isn't practical. A player like Manziel is the exception; Golson is the rule.
Just think back to Jimmy Clausen. As a true freshman thrust into the starting job in 2007, Clausen looked overwhelmed at times and had an annoying habit of running out of bounds for a six yard loss instead of throwing the ball away. As a sophomore, he started throwing the ball away but threw 17 interceptions. And then as a junior, he put together maybe the best season, statistically, for any quarterback in Notre Dame history. So growing pains are part of the territory and they may still lead to good things.
And that's what we saw last Saturday. Let's focus on these plays:
In the first play, Golson takes the snap and fakes the handoff to Theo Riddick. Stanford brings six defenders on a blitz. The line holds and leaves a nice pocket for Golson.
Golson, instead of standing strong in the pocket, bails out backwards and dances around. Finally, he fires a pass downfield to TJ Jones. The ball is underthrown and falls incomplete.
The problem - besides not staying in the pocket - is that Jones and Robby Toma were both wide open on this play.
If Golson stays in the pocket and keeps his eyes downfield, either one would have been an easy touchdown.
The next play is pretty much the same thing. Christian Lombard gets beaten on the edge and flushes Golson from the pocket.
But if Golson just steps up into the pocket he would have avoided the rush. And as Mike Mayock points out, Troy Niklas came free up the seam. Golson was too busy needlessly scrambling from pressure to throw to him.
The last play might be Golson's worst.
The Irish run play action from under center.
Right at this point:
the defensive back covering DeVaris Daniels does this:
Golson dances around without any pressure again and misses Daniels. Golson ends up making a nice play with his feet, but that should have been a touchdown.
The play was a rollout away from Daniels' side, but on these types of plays the backside fade is generally known as an "alert" or "peek" route, meaning the QB glances in that direction before going through his reads to see if the defense is horribly out of position - which it was in this situation. I don't know what Kelly instructs his quarterbacks to do on this play so I can't completely blame Golson for this one, but this was another touchdown gone to waste.
What did we learn from this game? We learned Golson is still learning his position. Those are all correctable mistakes so it's not time to push the panic button. He'll become more comfortable in the pocket and make the correct reads as he gains more experience. We saw Golson making plays with his legs and show off his arm.
Golson has plenty of potential, but he's just not quite there. Yet.