Title role: Irish QB Everett Golson can play Johnny Football
BY MARK LAZERUS firstname.lastname@example.org January 4, 2013 1:58PM
Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson passes during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Southern California, Saturday, Nov. 24, 2012, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Updated: February 6, 2013 6:10AM
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Trying to follow Johnny Manziel’s blueprint in a football game is sort of like trying to mimic a freestyle rapper or trace the flight pattern of a bee. It’s nearly impossible.
What made Manziel so special during his Heisman Trophy-winning campaign was how unpredictable the Texas A&M quarterback was, how seemingly random yet unfailingly effective his decisions and movements were. A dart here, a dash there, a toss over here, a mad scramble over there. Then-No. 1 Alabama couldn’t contain him in November and suffered its only loss.
Everett Golson is no Johnny Football. But Notre Dame’s redshirt freshman quarterback plays a similar style. And if he can play a similar style of game against Alabama that Manziel did, Notre Dame feels pretty good about its chances in the BCS National Championship Game on Monday.
“The added threat of his legs makes our offense more dangerous,” Irish receiver T.J. Jones said. “A play is never over when he’s in. He can scramble and make plays — he can get 20 yards on the run or get 20 yards on the pass. Defenses really have to scheme for his ability to run and throw.”
The Crimson Tide didn’t do that well enough against Texas A&M in its 29-24 loss Nov. 10 in Tuscaloosa. Manziel had 200 total yards in the first half as he staked the Aggies to an early 20-0 lead and finished with 253 passing yards and two touchdown passes, along with 92 rushing yards against one of the toughest defenses in the country.
That’s the blueprint to beat Alabama. The trick is following it. The trick is doing a believable Johnny Football impression. And the Irish insist that’s not in their bag of tricks. The Irish will stick to what they do best — pounding the ball on the ground with Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood.
“Obviously, A&M had a lot of success running around and doing stuff like that,” Irish tackle Zack Martin said. “Everett’s very athletic; he can do some of that stuff. But that’s not our game plan, to have Everett run around and take shots.”
At least, not on every play. Irish coach Brian Kelly said last week that Golson will have to “take a few shots” downfield for Notre Dame to have a chance against an aggressive, stout Alabama defense. And Golson’s at his best as a playmaker when he’s on the move in the pocket, giving his receivers time to find space.
“It’s going to be hard for us to exploit their defense,” Golson said. “But I’m sure [with] my ability to improvise and the guys’ ability to improvise, we’ll work something out.”
Alabama has had more than a month to prepare for Golson. And like the Irish, the Tide has spent plenty of time rewatching the film of the A&M game.
“Like I said when we played Johnny, he’s going to make the plays he’s going to make,” Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley said. “We’ve just got to do our best to contain him. The main thing [against Manziel] was how we covered people. Some of the plays, we left our zones and some of the defensive linemen didn’t stay on the right guy to contain him. It’s the little things like that. It’s not really too much we have to change; it’s being more consistent in what we do.”
Of course, it was Manziel’s inconsistency — his frenetic style of play and the what’ll-he-do-next nature of his playmaking ability — that gave Alabama so much trouble.
Golson can do all of that, too. Since the Irish finally let him off the leash in the running game against Miami, Golson has run for at least 39 yards — and as many as 74 — in six of seven games, while becoming more accurate and productive as a passer.
So the plan isn’t to make Golson play like Manziel; it’s to let Golson play like himself — and to hope that it has the same effect on Alabama’s defense and the same outcome on the scoreboard.
“After seeing that game, we know that having a dual-threat quarterback will come into play in this game,” Jones said. “[But] what our coaches wanted to focus on was playing our game. We didn’t want to focus on how A&M beat them and try to duplicate what they did because that would be getting away from what we do on offense.”