Expect a firm resolution on whether Everett Golson decides to remain at Notre Dame or not sometime over the coming summer months.
That’s the biggest question facing Notre Dame heading into the 2015 season: Will Brian Kelly & Co. have the two quarterbacks they want, or will Golson bolt after graduating and push Malik Zaire into an uncontested starting role? While there hasn’t been any concrete speculation on Golson’s future outside of a January report of interest from LSU, Golson’s media silence during spring practice left the door open for these questions to be asked.
But for the sake of this article, let’s say Golson decides to play his final year of college ball at Notre Dame. If he does stay in South Bend, he’ll have to share a to-be-determined percentage of the snaps with Zaire due in large part to the 22 turnovers he committed last year.
The draw with giving the larger share of playing time to Golson is figuring out how to reduce those turnovers while keeping his production high — he accounted for 37 touchdowns last year, after all. And part of that solution could simply come from Golson not having such rotten luck this fall.
Golson threw 14 interceptions in 2014 and had 29 other passes broken up by opposing defenders, giving him a total of 43 defended passes. SB Nation college football stats guru Bill Connelly’s research shows that, on average, 21 percent of defended passes go for interceptions (so that’d be neutral luck, in this case).
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For Golson, 33 percent of his defended passes last year were picked off. Had that rate been at 21 percent and he still had 43 defended passes, he would’ve thrown nine interceptions instead of 14.
As for the fumbles, defenders generally recover half of the balls put on the ground. Golson lost two in three fumbles in 2014 — granted, it’s a small sample size, but had that lost fumble rate been at 50 percent, it would’ve chopped two turnovers off Golson’s total.
So a neutral-luck Golson would’ve had seven fewer turnovers last year. That’s a significant number, enough to perhaps swing the Northwestern or Louisville games into wins. For reference, in 2013 Tommy Rees had 24 percent of his defended passes picked off — so his 13 interceptions couldn’t be characterized as significantly unlucky.
But this doesn’t exonerate Golson for his performance last season. Sure, there are clear examples of bad-luck turnovers — Corey Robinson’s inexplicable drop-turned-interception at Arizona State stands out — but Golson was often careless with ball security and made a number of bad reads and throws that can’t be explained away by bad luck. Those were the central issues of Golson’s turnover-filled season and a main reason why Notre Dame quickly crashed out of the playoff discussion last November.
If Golson sticks around, those ball-security and decision-making lapses are the ones that’ll have to be eliminated. On the surface, though, those efforts could be helped by a little better luck.