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As Notre Dame football aims for title, Everett Golson growing up fast

Everett Golson

Everett Golson

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Updated: December 22, 2012 6:25AM

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — There are so many times when Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson reminds you just how young he is. Not just with the occasional ill-advised throw into double coverage, but with the way he shifts uncomfortably and giggles a bit when asked a flattering question, the way he doesn’t just spit out the same clichés and coachspeak his older teammates do, the way he’s so brutally honest about his own performance and progression.

Can you imagine a fifth-year senior offering up, unprompted, that he watched some film of Peyton Manning this past Wednesday night and decided to emulate him in practice Thursday, racing up and down the line of scrimmage while barking out play calls, calling out defenders and making checks at the line like a kid in the backyard? Then grinning broadly and saying this of his coach: ‘‘He was just proud of me.’’

Yes, Golson’s still a rookie quarterback. Still a redshirt freshman. Still in the steepest part of his learning curve, still looking up at limitless potential. But on the field, he’s different now. Older. Savvier. Better.

‘‘He started off getting down on himself and not having confidence in himself,’’ senior wideout John Goodman said. ‘‘Now he has the utmost confidence in himself and knows we all do, too. That’s a good thing to have in your quarterback.’’

Standing on the sidelines Saturday in the second half after taking his team to a 31-0 lead over Wake Forest with 346 passing yards and three touchdowns, Golson was reminded by senior tailback Theo Riddick that a couple of months earlier, Golson couldn’t even find the play clock sometimes, and would rush through each snap to avoid yet another delay-of-game penalty.

The fact that he can do even the slightest semblance of a Manning impression speaks volumes of how far he’s come.

‘‘Most of the checks are something that we’ve never gone over or things like that,’’ Golson said. ‘‘It’s just showing that I was getting it a little bit, getting the concepts. . . . I’ve progressed a lot.’’

It’s no coincidence that the Irish offense has progressed right alongside him. Once considered a liability — the albatross around an elite defense’s neck — the offense is suddenly clicking on all cylinders. It’s a big reason why Notre Dame finds itself No. 1 in the country and one win from playing for the national title when it meets USC on Saturday.

‘‘Personally, you hate to see that in the media, that the defense is carrying us, being that I’m on offense,’’ Golson said. ‘‘You want to pull your own weight.’’

They are now. The Irish had 403 yards against a stout Oklahoma defense, with Golson coming into his own with a dynamic game both passing and running. He has completed 67 percent of his passes in back-to-back games and has thrown seven touchdowns in the last three weeks. Against Wake Forest, the Irish had 584 yards of offense despite sitting most starters for much of the second half. Golson threw three touchdown passes in the first half, including a 50-yarder to Goodman and a 34-yarder to Jones.

Even his worst play — an interception in the end zone while trying to make Robby Toma the fourth straight senior to score a touchdown — showed his maturation. Golson didn’t come off the field sulking, dreading coach Brian Kelly telling him exactly what he did wrong. Instead, he came off upset with himself, telling Kelly exactly what he did wrong and assuring him it wouldn’t happen again.

This is Everett Golson 2.0, the confident leader, not the overwhelmed game manager. And much like the offense he leads, he’s now an asset, not a liability.

‘‘If you were to come to us last spring and say Everett was going to do this this season, I don’t think anyone would have thought that would have happened,’’ Martin said. ‘‘But he’s grown every game, and he’s a dominant player out there.’’

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