A little over 4 years ago Everett Golson decided to grad transfer to Florida State for his final season of college football thus ending his much-too-short career at Notre Dame. I am still coping…
I miss Everett Golson, or should I say I miss the promise of what might have been and what could have been with the former Notre Dame quarterback. The fact that he only played for 2 seasons for the Irish feels like such a shame. While noticing Golson’s name in several different places of the football supplemental I kept registering an internal sigh over and over again. Like most quarterbacks the public eventually turned on Golson–not without cause–and for me it was really disappointing on a personal level to watch that unfold.
Golson will likely be the last Irish player I was too personally attached to since he committed and he remains a cautionary tale not to get too invested in anyone, no matter how talented you think they are or will be. I know I wasn’t alone in believing this skinny kid from Myrtle Beach was going to be The Guy at quarterback and when we started to hear he had the inside track to start in 2012 it felt like it was all falling into place. Not only for Golson himself but the program as a whole.
For a good long while it did look like the sky was the limit. I’d imagine for most there are plenty of negative feelings towards Golson but for me I’ve blacked them all out. I choose to remember the good times and the way his Last of the Mohicans soundtrack senior high school highlights made me feel about the future to come.
Golson’s high school highlights were the best.
One of things about the beginning of Golson’s career was that he existed both as a game-manager supported by a strong defense and someone capable of big-play moments with fantastic displays of playmaking. In 2012, he only passed for 300 yards in a game once, he threw 1 or fewer touchdowns in 9 games, and he was benched three times. Brian Kelly had a point when he told the media, “I would argue Everett Golson rode the bus to the (2013 BCS) championship” when the Irish opened fall camp in August 2014.
Still, Golson nearly etched his name atop one Notre Dame record. Had he not violated team rules and missed the start against Miami in 2012 he would’ve tied the school record for most consecutive wins to begin a career. Had he not been injured and missed the BYU game the record would be his alone.
Do people really care about a somewhat arbitrary team statistic for individual achievement? Likely not that much, after all Tommy Rees started his career on a run of 4-0, then 8-1, then 12-2 and it was never really convincing that he was the best option at quarterback specifically because the team won games at a high clip. Yet, Golson’s record in combination with his exciting athletic flash offered so much promise for the future.
When Golson returned from injury after missing the BYU game he put together the most memorable 2-game stretch of his career facing Oklahoma on the road and orchestrating a come-from-behind win in overtime against Pittsburgh. Those two games featured a combined 542 yards of total offense and 6 touchdowns for Everett–nice numbers for someone supposed to be a game manager for sure–but what really lingers in history was how much Golson looked like the best player on the field for long stretches in those back-to-back weeks as the Irish realistically entered the National Championship race.
And fittingly enough, he was benched briefly in the Pitt game. For the record, Tommy Rees would go 6 of 11 for 64 yards and 1 interception with 0 points scored before Golson was re-inserted to eventually give us the Super Golson 2-point conversion.
What’s amazing was how quickly things went downhill for Golson in his short career. Imagine a scenario where that flag isn’t pulled after the touchdown pass to beat Florida State in 2014. Assuming nothing changes with the win over Navy the next week that would’ve put Golson at 18-1 as a starter for his career and it would’ve seemed absurd he’d only make 4 more starts in his career in South Bend. Additionally, Notre Dame would’ve been 8-0 for the second straight time with Golson at quarterback, ranked 2nd or 3rd nationally at the moment, and Golson would’ve been squarely in the Heisman race.
Through 19 career starts Golson only lost twice (once to the National Champions the other to the defending National Champions in the middle of a 29-game win streak), and he was 371 of 611 (61.2%), for 4,716 yards, with 34 touchdowns and 13 interceptions, plus 570 rushing yards and 13 more rushing scores. By November 2014, Golson had completely shed his skin as a game-manager and was becoming a great college football player.
Of course, with hindsight it’s difficult to see anyone or anything overcoming the Great VanGordering™ that occurred in 2014 (the defense gave up 48.5 per over the last 6 regular season games!) but it does make you wonder if just 1 of those post-Navy games go Notre Dame’s way (particularly Northwestern or Louisville) that maybe Golson returns to South Bend with the Irish being even better than what transpired in 2015.
Why did things fall apart so quickly for Golson?
The story has been written by many that something broke for Golson during the 2014 Arizona State game, although I’m not so sure. After a horrid start of 1 fumble lost, 2 interceptions (including a pick six) with 3 points on the first 7 drives in Tempe, the offense more than stabilized. Over the ensuing 35 offensive drives led by Golson the Irish scored 14 touchdowns and he passed for 863 yards on 90 attempts. You wouldn’t expect to go 0-3 in games* in which you average 33 points, but alas.
*You want some crazy stats? Through the 1982 season Notre Dame had only lost twice ever when scoring at least 28 points–a record of 292-2-0. It’s happened 23 times since the beginning of the 1999 season. That ’99 campaign plus the 2009 and 2016 seasons saw the Irish lose in back-to-back weeks while scoring at least 28 points. The 2014 season is the only one in Notre Dame history where the Irish lost 3 straight weeks while scoring at least 28 points.
Golson’s performance in the 2014 USC was inexcusably poor, although the defense gave up 35 points in the first half and it seems obvious Golson was bound to lead at best another 30-point double-digit losing effort anyway. His biggest problem was this game opened the door to Malik Zaire and even with some of Golson’s clutch passing against LSU in the bowl game (3 straight completions set up the game-winning field goal) this competition carried over into the off-season and I’ve never blamed Golson for seeking greener pastures in Tallahassee.
Most place the blame squarely on turnovers but interceptions were far from the biggest issue. Over his 2 years with the Irish Golson’s 2.68% interception rate is 6th best in Notre Dame history. When you factor in his final season with Florida State he ended his career with a 2.38% interception rate–a stat better than anyone in the Irish record books. Yet, if you don’t throw a pick for 5 straight games but toss up 4 to the opponent like the Arizona State game in 2014 it’s not a winning formula where every game matters in college.
What about fumbling?
Golson’s issues with fumbles really highlight the way the football gods humbled him and let’s not forget he was able to set the school record for consecutive completions because a failed spike attempt was ruled a fumble. Classic Golson!
For his entire career, Golson dropped the ball 23 times in 34 games. He lost 13 of those fumbles so when you look at it in aggregate it doesn’t seem too crippling especially since his interception rate was quite low. He fumbled 4 times against Stanford (losing 3) in 2012 and then only dropped the ball once with no lost fumbles over the next 9 starts. Almost through a year and a half of Golson’s 2-year Notre Dame career he was sitting on 8 fumbles, 4 lost fumbles, with 3 coming in one game.
Then, he’d finish with 12 fumbles and 8 lost over his last 7 regular season games with Notre Dame.
This stigma carried over once he transferred to Florida State. Amazingly, Golson didn’t turn the ball over or so much as fumble through his first 5 games with the Seminoles. They were 6-0 (he had a trio of starts of at least 6-0!) when Georgia Tech upset FSU on a kick six in a game Golson played fine but threw his first interception of the season.
Golson didn’t make the next start due to a “concussion” and was effectively benched the following week against Clemson. When he was inserted into the starting lineup again against NC State after a 2-game absence, Golson lost his first fumble of the season and threw 2 interceptions on the first 5 series of the game before being replaced. Aside from mop-up duty against Chattanooga his college football career ended as he sat on the bench to finish the 2015 season.
That’s a pretty crappy way to end a career.
Looking back, Golson’s performances against Arizona State in 2014, USC in 2014, and NC State 2015 completely marred his legacy in a way I’ve never witnessed 3 games being so dramatically negative for a quarterback who generally played very well in most other games.
Some might not shed any tears for Golson who clearly didn’t endear himself to fans by losing a year to academic ineligibility, had trouble being locked in all the time, was certainly a frustrating player due in large part to his enormous talent, and made the choice to transfer to Florida State after spending the 2015 spring in South Bend.
Most of the time I find myself remembering plays like this against Purdue in Golson’s first home start:
The early days.
Golson looked like he’d be untouchable in the pocket, like he’d be a devastating mobile threat, and a quarterback who had fantastic natural throwing accuracy, especially outside the pocket. We were supposed to see 4 full seasons of this and it never blossomed that way. Quite often, college football players get reduced to “what if” scenarios and Golson is no exception.
I always had the feeling that if Golson could stick around for a long time his skill-set and talent would guarantee he’d eventually figure out his fumbling, grow into a leader, and be a Heisman-level quarterback. But college football doesn’t work that way–you only get 4 years, your time is short, you can’t throw whole seasons away due to academics, and the microscope is so intense that even one turnover can turn a career for the worse. It leads to a lot of tragic tails for football careers.
Everett Golson had plenty of memorable moments for Notre Dame but ultimately left behind a career that was unfortunate in its inability to meet his initial promise. But, I still fondly remember the good times and special plays.