SOUTH BEND – It has been said that those that don't learn from history tend to repeat it. Perhaps Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly should meander over to the philosophy department on campus and ask them about that proverb.
A year ago, Fighting Irish quarterback Tommy Rees made multiple mistakes and was ridden hard – some say too hard – by Kelly, and was ultimately relegated to the bench. Some of the coach's critics felt that his treatment of Rees compounded the errors by forcing him to play with less confidence.
Well if Rees didn't have confidence due to boisterous criticism, then what in the name of Father Sorin do you think current Notre Dame starting quarterback Everett Golson is thinking today? Kelly took undermining a player's confidence to a whole new stratosphere in Saturday's 20-17 victory over Purdue at Notre Dame Stadium.
“(Everett) has escapability,” Kelly said following the win. “He can throw the ball and keeps his eyes down field. He's 2-0 and 1-0 in terms of playing a Big Ten opponent that was pretty darn good.”
Golson was pretty darn good as well. In just his second start, the sophomore completed 21 of 31 passes for 289 yards and a score, and basically won the game for Notre Dame (2-0), which couldn't run the ball against the Purdue defensive front at all. So Kelly's appreciation for that effort was to allow Golson to handle the position for 57:48 and then bench him with the score tied at 17 and the game hanging in the balance.
That'll boost the young quarterback's confidence for sure.
Kelly inserted Rees for the final 2:12 and Notre Dame drove 55 yards in 12 plays and got a game-winning field goal from Kyle Brindza with seven seconds remaining in the game.
“The next guy came in and battled, and as you know, the story finishes with Tommy Rees coming in for Golson and leading us on a two-minute drive to win the game,” Kelly said.
True, Rees was the quarterback on the drive, but let's curb the enthusiasm about how great the former starter was. After watching Golson complete nearly 68 percent of his passes, Rees misfired on five of his eight passes and his most critical completion (a 10-yard pass to John Goodman on a third-and-six) shouldn't have even been allowed.
With Rees lined up in the shotgun formation, he saw the play clock running down and signaled for a timeout. However, Notre Dame had no timeouts remaining. Rees then stopped gesturing for a timeout and resumed calling out the cadence. At this point the Purdue coaches were going ballistic, not only for the lack of judgment by the officials missing Rees' mistake, but by then the play clock had – in their judgment – expired before Rees took the snap.
After the game, Kelly delivered a mixed message concerning Golson's availability to play on the final series after having been tackled on the previous series.
“Everett had trouble gripping the ball,” Kelly said. “I think that he could have probably still gone. (But) I just felt like a two-minute drive, the experience that (Rees) has, and Everett was having a hard time gripping the football.”
So he couldn't have gone? Or he could have?
“This is not going to be an excuse for Everett that he was pulled out because of an injury,” Kelly continued. “We also made the decision with the flow of the game that Tommy could come in there and manage our two-minute drill.”
So the message to Golson is that he can play long enough to put his team in position to win, but to seal the victory, well, his coach will look elsewhere.
So what happens next week against an even better defensive unit at Michigan State? Does Golson play for 58 minutes again before being benched for Rees with the game on the line? Kelly made it clear who would play during the first two minutes of the game.
“There is no quarterback controversy,” Kelly said. “Everett Golson is our starter.”
Sorry coach, you just created a quarterback controversy by displaying no faith in your starter at the game's most critical juncture. And exactly how is Golson supposed to play confidently now, knowing that at any moment, he could get yanked – even if he's played well throughout the entire game?
In addition, how did all of this fiasco sit with Golson as it unfolded on the sidelines? According to Kelly, not real well.
“I want a guy that is upset that he wasn't in the game in the end,” Kelly said. “And Everett was upset that he wasn't in the game. But he's not selfish. He understands that we support whoever goes in the game. Just like Tommy and Andrew (Hendrix) supported Everett, it's his turn now to support his teammates and that's the way we roll.”
Sure coach, that certainly sounds better in theory than it does in practice. Undermining the quarterback's confidence wasn't a successful way to “roll” a year ago and I doubt that path will be the right one this season. Stay tuned for this supposed non-quarterback controversy next Saturday in East Lansing.