Brian Kelly didn't need a closer look at Everett Golson before making the decision to bench him Saturday night against Michigan. Notre Dame's head coach also didn't need a closer look at film Sunday morning to stick with the sophomore.
Kelly renamed Golson his starting quarterback immediately after Notre Dame's 13-6 win over Michigan. He doubled down about 18 hours later.
"You want to go with one quarterback," Kelly said. "But we have a freshman quarterback who's experiencing being a young quarterback."
Asked if rotating quarterbacks might help Golson, who could watch and learn from the sidelines while Tommy Rees directs the offense, Kelly didn't want to entertain the idea.
"I don't think so," Kelly said. "I think that that dialogue should take place during practice and film study. And I don't know that that can be something that is better than the alternative that I've come up with in terms of practice and film study.
"I'd like to have a starter there and gain the knowledge that he needs and how to prepare each and every week. I would move towards wanting that dialogue during the week of practice, and then on Saturday go out there, play, start it and finish it. Our goal is for him to start it and finish it."
Kelly said he didn't want to make excuses for Golson, who struggled in the primetime spotlight, finishing 3-of-8 for 30 yards and two badly thrown interceptions. However, Kelly revealed that Golson could have been mentally overloaded before kickoff. That may continue to be an issue with mid-term exams approaching during the next two weeks.
Raymon Taylor picked Golson on Notre Dame's first play when he badly underthrew Chris Brown. On Notre Dame's fifth series Golson was picked again, this time when he casually floated a ball into the end zone that was tipped, then intercepted by Thomas Gordon.
Kelly called the red zone turn a "careless" decision by his starter.
"He had a lot on his plate this week, and it may have been a little too much for him," Kelly said. "Those things are going to occur, we just have to continue to monitor him on a week-to-week basis, as it relates to his academics. These guys are challenged each and every week."
Ironically, benching Golson for turnovers means going back to Rees, responsible for 19 turnovers last season as the Irish ranked among the nation's worst in turnover margin. Golson has accounted for all four Notre Dame turnovers this season, but only 15 teams have been better at keeping the football this season
Notre Dame also ranks second nationally in turnovers forced.
Rees has barely flirted with a turnover this season as he's proven more verses in Notre Dame's offense in his two major relief roles. He guided the Irish offense toward a game-winning field goal against Purdue, then returned against Michigan midway through the second quarter to do even more.
Rees finished 8-of-11 for 115 yards and one rushing touchdown.
While the offense required play cards from the sidelines for Golson, those were scrapped after Rees entered. The junior's ability to make run checks and audibles shined, including in the fourth quarter drive that ended with a Kyle Brindza field goal that pushed the Irish ahead by two scores.
Facing 2nd-and-5 from Notre Dame's 42-yard line, the Irish called a run play that had Troy Niklas and Tyler Eifert attached to Rees' left. The quarterback motioned both tight ends quickly to the right as Michigan's defense scrambled to adjust. Theo Riddick turned the confusion into a seven-yard gain.
The extent of how much Kelly banked on Golson going the distance on Saturday showed up in the call sheet held by the head coach. The designed quarterback run at the goal line was installed with Golson in mind, not added as a virtual trick play for Rees. It was Rees' first rushing touchdown of his career and the third straight game where an Irish quarterback hit the end zone.
Kelly called a second designed run on Notre Dame's final meaningful play of the game, but Rees checked into a pass to Tyler Eifert. The tight end made a 38-yard grab on third down. The Irish kneeled down from there to run out the clock.
"Our game plan was packed for Everett," Kelly said "We probably had very little in there that reflected a lot of Tommy Rees' strengths. We'll do a better job of balancing that next time.
"But the best opportunity for (Rees) to affect the game was to do something that they weren't prepared for, and that was to run him. We were able to get a touchdown on it, and then when we called the same play on 3rd-and-4, they went cover zero, Tommy maxed it out and threw one on one to Eifert. In a less than designed manner, both those plays, quarterback runs, turned out to be the difference in the game for Tommy Rees."
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