MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. - By halftime, it already was 28-0. The chances of claiming the BCS national championship against the defending champion Crimson Tide of Alabama were bleak.
But there was one more lesson to be learned from a season-full of growth that saw the Irish - particularly freshman red-shirt quarterback Everett Golson - go from uncertain, unsteady rookie quarterback to a leader of the Irish offense.
“He’s in such a great mindset right now and so competitive,” said offensive coordinator Chuck Martin of Golson following Alabama’s 42-14 victory over the Irish for its third national title in four seasons.
“I told him at halftime after we talked to our whole team, ‘This is 30 more minutes of unbelievable practice against the national champions. We have no run game. They’re mixing coverages, they’re bringing it…It’s better than we could ever prepare you.’”
After completing 8-of-16 for 93 yards in the first half, Golson connected on 13-of-20 for 177 yards in the second half with an interception and a short touchdown pass to Theo Riddick. More important than the numbers, Golson took the next step in his development as the captain of Notre Dame’s offensive ship.
“I thought he took huge advantage and made a bunch of plays and did a bunch of great things,” Martin said. “The future is bright based on what we did this year and based on how far we’ve come in a short time, especially when you have young guys like Everett.”
The Irish lose veteran center Braxston Cave, right guard Mike Golic, Jr., slot receiver Robby Toma, running backs Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood (who is expected to bypass his fifth year of eligibility), wide receiver John Goodman, and the best pass-catching tight end in Notre Dame history - Tyler Eifert.
But three-fifths of the offensive line - led by left tackle Zack Martin and left guard Chris Watt - return in 2013. An exciting young receiving corps headlined by TJ Jones and DaVaris Daniels also returns with tight end Troy Niklas and a handful of young running backs.
No returnee on the offense offers as much promise as Golson, whose 12 games of game experience leading Fighting Irish will continue to pay great dividends. He finished the season 187-of-318 (58.8 percent) for 2,405 yards with 12 touchdown passes and six interceptions. Golson also rushed for 399 yards.
“I thought (Golson) played well,” Martin said. “I thought he did a lot of great things and managed the game and gave us a lot of great chances to move the ball. I say keep it going and don’t take our foot off the gas. We’ve come so far this year, just keep bringing it and keep getting better.”
Martin sees a completely different scenario come August 2013 compared to one year earlier.
“Next year’s fall camp is going to be a different deal,” Martin said. “This past fall camp, we were teaching (Golson) everything. But next year, he’ll hit the ground running coming in. Kids that prepare like he does get a lot better.
“You’re pretty excited about how far we can go. If we got this far with an inexperienced Everett, how far can we get down the road?”