Myrtle Beach native Everett Golson entered the Discover BCS National Championship game Monday night hoping to lead Notre Dame win its first national title since 1988.
The redshirt freshman quarterback left Sun Life Stadium hoping the experience gained from a thorough and bitter 42-14 loss to Alabama will pay dividends for him and the Fighting Irish program in the coming years.
“It hurts me to see the seniors go out like that, but for me, I felt this,” Golson said. “So coming off the experience that I’ve gained, I don’t want to feel this feeling again.”
Golson had commendable numbers in the game, completing 21 of 36 passes for 270 yards with a touchdown, interception and two sacks.
But he was largely ineffective early and trailed 28-0 by halftime.
“Right now I’m kind of just taking it as a game under my belt, just gaining experience from it and really looking forward to next year, knowing I need to be more of a leader to the team and try to make this team better,” Golson said.
Golson had to wait to get onto the field for the start of the biggest game of his football career, and his night only got longer after that.
Notre Dame won the coin toss but deferred to the second half, so Alabama got the ball first and proceeded to drive 82 yards in less than three minutes to take a 7-0 lead.
On their opening drive, Golson and the Irish didn’t get benefit of the doubt on 20-yard pass to tight end Tyler Eifert, who wasn’t given a catch on the sideline because it was ruled he was bobbling the ball. That forced a punt after three plays, and Alabama again drove for another touchdown to take a 14-0 lead.
The night continued to spiral downward for Golson and his teammates, as they trailed 28-0 after a first half in which Golson was 8-of-16 passing for 93 yards and no interceptions, and gained 7 yards on two rushing attempts. He was also sacked for a 5-yard loss. His longest completion in the first half was a 31-yard throw to DaVaris Daniels to midfield.
Golson said he believes he handled the big stage well emotionally. “At the beginning of the game I don’t think it was necessarily nerves,” Golson said. “I was anxious to play and we had that mindset of going out and executing. Obviously things didn’t work out the way we planned.”
Notre Dame received the second-half kickoff and started a drive on its own 20. Golson completed a 21-yard pass on the left side to Daniels and 9-yard pass to T.J. Jones on the right side. But his deep ball down the right sideline was tipped and intercepted at the Alabama 3. Alabama drove 97 yards to extend its lead to 35-0 with less than 8 minutes remaining in the third quarter.
Alabama senior linebacker Nico Johnson said the Tide recognized Golson’s development over the course of the season and his assuming of the leadership role on offense.
“We felt he was their true leader and if he was rolling the team was rolling,” Johnson said. “We wanted to go out and affect him the best we could and stop them.”
Despite Alabama’s domination in the game, Golson showed glimpses of the exceptional ability that football fans on the Grand Strand witnessed and has Notre Dame excited about the next few years.
Particularly impressive was a 31-yard throw to Jones on the Irish’s first touchdown drive. He scrambled to his right and threw across his body for a strike down the right sideline and the long completion. Golson capped the drive with a 2-yard touchdown run on an option keeper to the left.
Golson also looked impressive as he commanded the offense down the field on Notre Dame’s second touchdown drive in the fourth quarter. He worked all parts of the field while completing 7 of 9 passes for 75 yards, including a 28-yard pass to Daniels over the middle and 6-yard pass to running back Theo Riddick in the end zone that split double coverage.
“I was proud of the way our quarterback competed,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. “Everett did a nice job today of leading our football team. When you look at it, there are a lot of positives and lot of things that we can draw from this game.”
Golson finished his first season playing college football with 187 completions on 318 passes (59 percent completion percentage) for 2,405 yards, 12 touchdowns and six interceptions. He also gained 298 yards on 94 carries and scored six rushing touchdowns.
“Everett’s motivation in the offseason is going to be to get back to this game,” Kelly said. “The experience he is able to take from this game, you can’t duplicate it if you’re sitting home or playing in a bowl game. When you’re playing for a national championship that stuff doesn’t leave you.”
The Golson-led Notre Dame offense in 2013 could be more efficient and explosive.
Though the Irish lose talented tight end Eifert and a couple linemen, Golson is expected to retain several weapons including his top two receivers in Jones and Daniels, who combined for 13 receptions and 205 yards Monday, and talented backup running back George Atkinson III.
Offensive linemen Zack Martin and Chris Watt have both expressed a desire to return for their final year of eligibility, and tackle Christian Lombard will be a senior. The three starters are all between 6-foot-3 and 6-foot-5, and between 300 and 310 pounds.
“Obviously with a young quarterback coming back and emerging wide receivers in Daniels and T.J. Jones, who was outstanding tonight we feel really good about the nucleus and the development,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said. “Now it’s up to those that return to take it one more step, and we saw that step needs to happen.”
Alabama coach Nick Saban believes Golson is a key component to that next step for Notre Dame.
"I think that guy is going to be one of the outstanding quarterbacks in the country in the future," Saban said. "He's a very good passer; much, much better than people give him credit for. He has an accurate, strong arm and is very athletic."