SOUTH BEND | Both are redshirt freshmen. Both have led their teams to January bowls. Both are dangerous because they’re adept at eluding tacklers and extending plays.
One is the only quarterback to have beaten Alabama this season. The other aspires to become the second.
The former? Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M. The latter? Notre Dame’s Everett Golson.
Manziel accounted for 345 total yards in A&M’s 29-24 victory over the Crimson Tide on Nov. 10. When Golson looks at some of the things Manziel did against Alabama, he sees things he’s hopeful he can duplicate against the nation’s top-rated defense.
Be elusive. Extend plays.
“I think that’s what I bring to the table a little bit, just that idea of improvising a little bit when the play doesn’t always go right,” Golson said, “because you know that it’s not going to always go your way, and you have to turn bad plays into good plays.”
The 6-foot, 185-pound Golson certainly showed that ability more often as ND’s run toward a title progressed.
He passed for 2,135 yards, 11 touchdowns and five interceptions in his first season as the starter. Golson also was ND’s fourth-leading rusher with 305 yards, and tied for the team lead with five rushing touchdowns. As the season crept on, Golson grew.
“Going back to the beginning of the year, just everything was moving on the fly for me,” Golson said. “So I’ve tried to get the technical side down and I think probably midseason is when I really just got back to being me, and doing what I know I can do, and what makes me best as a quarterback.”
An area in which Golson can become better is in passing efficiency. He ranked 63rd during the regular season. Manziel ranked 17th, while Alabama’s AJ McCarron is the top-rated passer in the country.
For Golson, it’s part of the growth process. Yes, there’s a heck of a lot of Alabama preparation to take place in the next month, but it’s also a lot about becoming a better player.
“I’ve always been the type of guy that, if you prepare to the best of your ability, you can amount to anything. You could move mountains,” Golson said. “That’s the same that goes with this team. I feel like if we prepare to the best that we’re capable, we can amount to anything.”
A tall task awaits the Irish offense. The Tide defense is the top-ranked unit in the country by allowing an average of 246 yards per game.
Golson has watched some film, and he also watched Alabama’s SEC Championship game victory over Georgia.
“They’re very good. They’re athletic. It’s kind of like that down-south football that I’m used to a little bit,” the Myrtle Beach, S.C. product said. “You’ve got a lot of athletic guys.”
Golson will be one more athletic guy on the field. A year ago at this time, he was fresh off winning ND’s Offensive Scout Team Player of the Year Award. This year, he’s the Offensive Newcomer of the Year.
His next big challenge awaits in the form of the defending national champions.
“They’re a great team. They’re a great defense,” Golson said. “It’s going to be a challenge.”