CHICAGO - Everett Golson doesn’t remember when he first felt comfortable running the play at Notre Dame. But opposing defensive coordinators won’t forget when they started having to defend the zone read as part of the Irish offense.
Brian Kelly incorporated his quarterback’s legs into the game plan against Miami and Golson finished with six significant carries for 51 yards. He entered the game with -11 yards rushing on the season.
As much as the running backs starred - Cierre Wood and George Atkinson III represented Notre Dame’s first pair of 100-yard backs in a game in a decade - Golson’s complementary runs held historical significance.
With Tony Rice at Soldier Field, Notre Dame’s last national championship winning quarterback watched a fellow South Carolina native carve up a Miami defense in the 41-3 blowout.
“Our offense, I think you only saw a glimpse of what we can be today,” Golson said. “When you think about it, it’s scary to think how good we can be. It’s just all a matter of pulling it together.”
Notre Dame finished with 587 yards total offense, tops during the Kelly era and the most since the final regular season game of Charlie Weis’ first season. The 34 Irish first downs came up two short of the school record. Those marks were fueled by Golson’s arm and legs. He also finished 17-of-22 for 186 yards, no turnovers and didn’t take a sack.
Golson also executed the two-minute offense in the first half, putting the Irish in position for a field goal attempt that Kyle Brindza missed. The Irish drove six plays and 53 yards in just 1:02.
It’s no coincidence Golson’s best game, even if it started with a brief suspension for showing up late to a team meeting on Friday, included the quarterback cutting it loose on the ground. It appears the bye week played a big part in that.
“We really took a hard look at where we were offensively and knew that we had to open up the offense formationally, as well as the zone read game, which obviously helps us quite a bit and focus in on the run game,” Kelly said.
If anyone on the Notre Dame roster can appreciate the dynamics of defending the zone read, which draws in defensive linemen and can feel like a one-man, play-action fake, it would be Manti Te’o. He’s watched Golson’s practice development on the play the past couple weeks.
“It’s definitely difficult,” Te’o said. “Everybody has to know their job. Everybody has an assignment. When you have dynamic running backs and then you also have a great quarterback, it definitely poses a problem.”
Golson ran the play twice on Notre Dame’s opening series, darting for 12-yard and nine-yard runs. The latter nearly went for a touchdown, but Golson was ruled down at the one-yard line after the officials reviewed an incorrect lost fumble call.
A play later Theo Riddick scored the game-winning touchdown barely five minutes into the first quarter.
“With that run game we can beat you many ways,” Golson said. “I think the O-line did a great job when they see certain fronts and certain blitzes of always communicating with me and we’ll kind of talk it over a little bit. They helped me out a lot. It takes a lot off of my plate, to be honest.”