Three games, three starts, three wins? Check.
Protecting the football? Check.
Limiting sacks and negative plays? Check.
Post-snap decision-making, playmaking? Check.
Pre-snap decision-making and adjustments? Getting better.
In three games, two of which have come against a couple of the better defenses in the land - Michigan State has the No. 13 total defense and Purdue has the No. 21 total defense -- red-shirt freshman quarterback Everett Golson continues to get above-average marks as head coach Brian Kelly keeps his clipboard with the above-mentioned checklist handy.
“He’s very skilled, but he’s also very smart,” said Kelly Tuesday afternoon at his weekly press conference as the Irish try to snap Michigan’s three-game series win streak Saturday night.
“He just doesn’t have a lot of experience. So translating that classroom knowledge onto the football field is the process that we’re in. Sometimes he’s a little bit late in those reactions, sometimes he’s too much pre-snap. Other times we feel like he does some things you can’t teach.
“It’s an evolutionary process of just getting more and more opportunities to play this game.”
The evolution of Golson is on an accelerated pace. Through three games, he’s thrown just one interception in 81 attempts, far and away a much better percentage than Tommy Rees’ one interception every 26.4 attempts. His one fumble lost is on a pace of four for the regular season.
He’s getting the football to multiple receivers accurately, extending plays, showing incredible football/quarterback instincts, and executing what’s asked of him.
Although he’s absorbed six sacks, four came in the Purdue game, only one of which really was his fault. More importantly, it’s the sacks and lost yardage plays that he’s avoiding that has Kelly excited.
“What we’ve asked him to do is throw away the football,” said Kelly of Golson, whose passing percentage took a hit (down to 58.6) against Michigan State (43.7), due mainly to his sound decision-making to throw the ball out of bounds when the situation dictated.
“He’s able to get out of the pocket. Our completion percentage probably has taken a hit. But our ability to succeed at the end of the day and win games has not. That’s why he continues to evolve because he knows if he wants to stay in the starting lineup, he has to take care of the football.”
Pre-snap decisions will remain an issue, likely throughout the 2012 season, as it often is for most first-time starters at quarterback. Even that was an improvement from Week Two to Week Three with the help of an alternative way to signaling in the plays - wristbands -- against Michigan State.
“We saw improvement from Purdue to Michigan State,” said Kelly of Golson’s pre-snap decisions. “We don’t want to give him a ton of things. If Tommy is out there, there are a lot of checks, a lot of things going on.
“We don’t ask (Golson) to do all those things. He’s capable of doing what we ask him to do, but he doesn’t have all the experience that Tommy has yet. He can do some things that Tommy can’t do, so it’s kind of that trade-off that we’re in right now.”
TV color analysts Gary Danielson (Navy), Mike Mayock (Purdue) and Kirk Herbstreit (Michigan State) all have pointed out open receivers that Golson hasn’t seen. Yet Kelly doesn’t believe the pace of missed opportunities has been inordinately high.
“If you look at the Michigan State game, I feel like he saw the open receivers,” Kelly said. “He overthrew two of them. He’s going to miss some of those things, but he’s going to continue to grow.
“I’m looking for improvement each week. I’ve got to see tangible improvement from him, and it’s not just on Saturday. It’s in practice, how he goes to meetings, film study, taking care of himself…we’re seeing the kind of improvement that I need to see for him to continue to be the starter.”
Add it all up and in a short period of time Kelly has helped create the right man for the job.
“If we’re really looking at Everett Golson the player,” said Kelly with a smile, “he’s in there for a reason.”