SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Notre Dame isn't the only top-10 team with an inexperienced starting quarterback. But whereas Oregon has eased freshman Marcus Mariota into its explosive offense at home against the likes of Arkansas State and Tennessee Tech, Everett Golson has had to travel overseas and face a pair of top-20 teams through his first four games.
"First game in Ireland, second game is his first-ever home game, third game he's at Michigan State, a pretty hostile place, fourth game is prime time against Michigan," offensive coordinator Chuck Martin said. "He hasn't really eased into his college career."
Notre Dame has played the 15th-toughest schedule in the country, per Jeff Sagarin, and with upcoming games at Oklahoma and USC and at home against Stanford, Golson will face plenty more menacing defenses and environments this season. Through his first four games, Golson has completed 50 of 89 passes for 641 yards with three touchdowns and three interceptions.
Two of Golson's three picks came against Michigan, and he went turnover-free in Notre Dame's 20-3 win over Michigan State in East Lansing. At this point, Golson probably won't win many games for the Irish, so his goal has to be avoid losing them.
"We've said from day one, you're not going to be a great quarterback as a freshman," Martin said. That's very rare you might be great in spurts or great on plays or great for a period of time or even a whole game, you might have a completely great game.
"There's so many new experiences for him, and we've told him that from day one that hey, there's going to be things every week you see that you've never seen before. There's things that we prepare for every week, but there's always going to be a few wrinkles that they throw at us that weren't in the game plan."
Golson couldn't explain why he struggled so mightily against Michigan, throwing two interceptions in the first quarter and a half. So Notre Dame deployed its safety net and sent in Tommy Rees, just as Martin and coach Brian Kelly did against Purdue. The circumstances on Saturday were different, though -- whereas Rees played the role of closer against Purdue, he was more of a long reliever against Michigan.
"It's more of a feel, and it's also the feel of having a young quarterback and how's he doing within the moment in time," Martin explained. "He can make a mistake and understand immediately, hey, yeah, I saw that and screwed it up, or it could be more of a mistake based on a little bit being confused. And if it's more based on confusion, then you're more apt to get somebody out there who's less confused."
That somebody is Rees, who has plenty of experience but not the ceiling of Golson. It's part of Notre Dame's attempt to develop a young quarterback while pushing for its first BCS bowl in six years. Sometimes, the two strategies don't mix.
"You got experience, you played, you got confidence, you've seen it before 100 times so you don't flinch. Where Everett's at the point where he's understanding it, he's seeing it, he still flinches sometimes," Martin said. "He doesn't flinch all the time, he's made some great run checks this year. Then other times, he kind of hesitated and he'll come out and tell you 'I should've, yeah.'
"The nice thing is you know the knowledge is there and he's getting it, you're just saying hey, it's just about experience, and the kid's going to get his experience, unfortunately or fortunately, whichever way you look at it, he's getting experience under fire right now."