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Brian Kelly remains in Everett Golson’s corner despite fumbling issue

Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golsfumbled four times (losing three) suffered concussiagainst Stanford. | Nam Y. Huh~AP

Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson fumbled four times (losing three) and suffered a concussion against Stanford. | Nam Y. Huh~AP

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Updated: November 18, 2012 7:01AM

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson’s first priority is to recover from the concussion he suffered Saturday against Stanford.

His second priority? Holding on to the ball.

Golson no longer had concussion symptoms and passed his balance test Monday, but he failed his cognitive test and was scheduled to take it again Tuesday. Coach Brian Kelly expected him to be available by practice Wednesday and said Golson would start the No. 5 Irish’s home game Saturday against BYU even if he doesn’t practice until Thursday.

When he does return to practice, Golson can expect to hear a lot about his ball-protection skills. Golson fumbled four times — losing three of them, including one the Cardinal recovered in the end zone for its only touchdown — in Notre Dame’s 20-13 overtime victory Saturday. He also fumbled out of bounds against Miami and lost control of the ball while lunging for the end zone in that game. (Replays showed he was down, and the fumble was overturned.)

Kelly’s No. 1 priority entering the season was cutting back on the turnovers that doomed his team to mediocrity last season. Still, he said Golson’s job isn’t in jeopardy.

‘‘I think he understands that’s what he has to get better at — taking care of the football,’’ Kelly said. ‘‘We don’t talk in terms of, ‘Hey, if you don’t do this, we’re going to take you out of the game.’ He knows how important it is to take care of the football.’’

Golson’s fumbling issues have coincided with an increase in designed runs the Irish are calling for him. In Notre Dame’s first four games, Golson fumbled only twice — both against Purdue — and lost only one. In the Irish’s last two games, though, he has played fast and loose with the ball.

‘‘There are certain times he’s going to carry the ball with one hand, and we understand that,’’ Kelly said. ‘‘But he’s got to feel pressure, he’s got to understand covering the football, he’s got to understand when to get down. He understands how important it is, and we’re going to continue to make sure we hold him accountable.’’

But Kelly has seen enough progress from Golson to keep him atop the depth chart. With fans calling for Tommy Rees to enter the game, Golson rebounded nicely after his fourth fumble against Stanford before being knocked out. Kelly said the last four plays Golson made were the best four he made, including a 24-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Eifert down the sideline and a fluttering 14-yarder to T.J. Jones with pressure in his face.

The touchdown was particularly encouraging, Kelly said.

‘‘Tyler Eifert was the only one who was going to be able to catch the ball,’’ Kelly said. ‘‘I want to make sure it’s clear that that’s something he’s worked hard on developing. He would have not made that throw in Week 1 or Week 2. He would have thrown a line drive . . . and it would have been either deflected by the corner or Tyler would not have got his hands on it.’’

If Golson has a setback this week and isn’t cleared by the medical staff, Rees will get the start, with Andrew Hendrix seeing action as a change-of-pace option. But despite the fumbles and the ever-increasing stakes as Notre Dame rises the polls, Kelly is sticking with Golson.

‘‘That learning curve is taking place series by series,’’ Kelly said. ‘‘That’s the value and the benefit of him playing this year [as a redshirt freshman].

‘‘I know there are [issues] — he’s got to take care of the football, he’s got to set his feet, he plays sloppy at times — but, boy, he competed his butt off. I couldn’t be more proud of a guy, the way he competed.’’

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