Notre Dame to rely heavily on Myrtle Beach’s Golson in BCS title game

ablondin@thesunnews.comJanuary 6, 2013 

— Heisman Trophy winner and redshirt freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M may have laid the blueprint to get the best of Alabama’s vaunted defense in his team’s 29-24 win over the Crimson Tide on Nov. 10.

Notre Dame redshirt freshman Everett Golson’s game resembles that of Manziel in that the two have a propensity to scramble, make unscripted plays and often rely on their legs and instincts.

Can Golson be as productive Monday night as Manziel was, and will he need to be in order for the Irish to win the Discover BCS National Championship game at Sun Life Stadium?

“[Manziel] was ad-libbing a little bit, and when things weren’t there, he made three or four plays,” Notre Dame offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Chuck Martin said. “So we’re planning on [Golson] doing the same thing for us, that when we call a lousy play, he just ad-libs a little bit and makes something happen, which he has a tendency to do at times.”

Golson may be the key to Notre Dame’s hopes of completing an undefeated season and winning its first national title since 1988 and first in the BCS era.

“Well, it is a big stage, but I think just the person that I am, I don’t ride the wave too much,” said Golson, who turned 20 Wednesday. “I’m kind of just focused on what’s played between the yard lines, what’s played on the field. I can’t really focus on everything that’s off the field because that’s out of my control.”

Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly and Martin have expressed their belief that Golson’s resolve has been tested enough this year – which has included being replaced in four games due to injury or ineffectiveness – to prepare him for the moment.

“Our schedule; first-ever college game in Dublin, Ireland; first-ever home game against Purdue; road game prime time against Michigan State; night game at Notre Dame against Michigan; on the road at Oklahoma; on the road at [Southern Cal]; coming off the bench; doing all the things that he’s been through; he’s about as battle tested [as anyone],” Martin said. “Take any other quarterback this year and try to figure out if they’ve gone through as much as Everett Golson. To me it’s not even close.”

The Myrtle Beach native’s toughest assignment of the year comes Monday.

Alabama is trying to win a third national title in the past four seasons, and the Tide defense may be the primary reason.

Despite having six defensive players taken in the 2012 NFL draft, including four in the top 35, Alabama is still ranked No. 1 in the nation in total defense, allowing a paltry 246 yards per game – 166.2 passing and 79.8 rushing.

“Nothing will come easy and you’re going to have to make a lot of plays under duress,” Martin said. “ … I watched 12 games [on tape] and the plays people have made have been made with guys climbing all over quarterbacks, running backs breaking tackles and receivers making catches under duress. I think our kids are smart enough to understand it’s the ultimate challenge, but it’s the national championship game, so it’s kind of what you expect.”

Alabama is No. 2 in the nation in scoring defense, allowing only 10.69 points per game, which is second to Notre Dame’s 10.33 points, and leads the nation in red zone defense inside its own 20.

Notre Dame ranks 48th in total offense with 421.3 yards per game – 218.8 passing and 202.5 rushing – and it has struggled in the red zone, ranking 75th among 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in red zone offense.

In the Irish’s season-ending 22-13 win over Southern Cal, kicker Kyle Brindza kicked five field goals, including four after Notre Dame entered the red zone, and the offense managed just one touchdown. Brindza is third in the nation in field goals per game with 23 on the season, and has missed eight.

“We feel we’ve been there and just haven’t made the plays necessary,” Kelly said. “… You can use the [Southern Cal] game for an example of a number of field goals that needed to be touchdowns. We’re going to need to score touchdowns when we get in that area against Alabama.”

Golson has a very good and experienced starting offensive line consisting of graduates Braxston Cave at center and Mike Golic Jr. at guard, seniors Zack Martin at tackle and Chris Watt at guard, and junior tackle Christian Lombard. Senior tight end Tyler Eifert is also an effective blocker as well as a talented receiver.

They will be matched up against Alabama’s front seven, which is considered the strength of its defense and features senior defensive lineman Damion Square and linebacker Nico Johnson.

Golson has completed 166 of 282 passes for 2,135 yards with 11 touchdowns and five interceptions. He has also rushed for 305 yards and five touchdowns on 89 carries.

Despite being sacked four times by Alabama, Manziel completed 24 of 31 passes for 253 yards and two touchdowns without an interception, and ran 18 times for a net 92 yards as A&M opened up a 21-point lead before holding on for the five-point win.

Alabama recognizes the similarities between Manziel and Golson, and wants to have a disciplined pass rush in lanes and try to contain Golson in the pocket to avoid being burned twice this year. Of course, Golson could still have a productive day in the pocket.

“A quarterback like that makes them right for anything that’s called,” Square said. “He can call a play that’s probably busted, and then the quarterback can scramble around for five seconds and create things and create havoc for our defense.”

The news wasn’t all bad for Alabama against versatile quarterbacks. It dominated Michigan’s Denard Robinson in its season-opening 41-14 win. Though Robinson can’t throw nearly as well as Golson, he was 11 of 26 for 200 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions – one was returned for a touchdown – and rushed for a mere 27 yards and a score on 10 carries.

“You can’t give the guy the ability to run all around and make plays, yet that’s what he’s going to do, so it’s who’s got the greater will to contain and keep him in the pocket versus him aborting and going outside the pocket,” Tide defensive coordinator Kirby Smart said.

Eifert leads the Irish in receptions with 44 for 624 yards despite missing significant time because of injury. T.J. Jones has 43 receptions for 559 yards, running back Theo Riddick has 36 catches for 364 yards and receiver DaVaris Daniels has 25 receptions for 375. Riddick and Eifert are versatile players who Notre Dame will move around to try to create matchup problems, and Jones and Daniels may need to have big games for the Irish offense to be productive.

“We’re not going to be able to run it at will against the defense we’re going to see in Alabama,” Kelly said. “We’re going to have to throw the football, we’re going to have to find some big chunk plays and [Golson] is going to have to be integral in that. He knows that, we know that, and I think Alabama knows that too. He’s got to be a guy who creates some plays for us.”

The Irish share the ball in the backfield, as Theo Riddick has 880 yards on 180 carries, Cierre Wood has 740 yards on 110 carries, and George Atkinson has 378 yards on 51 carries. The three backs and Golson are all explosive runners with either four or five rushing touchdowns apiece.

Alabama is a 9- to 10-point favorite despite Notre Dame being No. 1 in the BCS standings. The Irish began the season unranked in the top 25, while Alabama was among the favorites to win a national title.

“I’m very confident, not only in myself but the supporting cast and my teammates,” Golson said. “We’ve always been kind of the underdog. We’ve worked our way up from the bottom. That just shows great resilience from us.”

Golson approaches the championship game with a proverb: “The race is not given to the swift or the strong, but it’s given to the one that endures to the end,” Golson said. “We’re obviously the underdogs coming into this game. … Alabama has a great defense, great team, they’re bigger, faster, stronger. But it’s really about who’s going to endure to the end and play hard for four quarters.”

Contact ALAN BLONDIN at 626-0284.

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