Fifth-ranked Notre Dame has used two quarterbacks in almost every game this season. It could be a different duo against Brigham Young on Saturday.
Everett Golson sustained a concussion on a helmet-to-helmet hit late in the fourth quarter against Stanford, but Irish coach Brian Kelly thinks the starting quarterback will be able to play against the Cougars. Golson still had some concussion symptoms on Sunday, and will undergo further tests on Monday, Kelly said.
Kelly expects Golson to be cleared to practice by Tuesday. But if he can't play, the coach said Tommy Rees and Andrew Hendrix could see time.
"I wouldn't rule it out," Kelly said. "But as I said earlier, we're probably putting too much on this. We're really confident that we think Everett is going to be cleared."
So far this season, Golson and Rees have provided the Irish (6-0) with an unbeatable 1-2 punch, although not a knockout punch. Just enough to get by in a three-point win over Purdue, a seven-point win against Michigan and the 20-13 overtime victory against Stanford on Saturday. Rees also made a cameo start against Miami and Hendrix played against Navy.
The tag-team quarterback hasn't always been part of Kelly's plan, especially against the Cardinal. But it has worked, with Golson providing Notre Dame with spark and some frustrating anguish, while Rees provides stability.
With Golson struggling against Stanford, many Notre Dame fans began looking at the sidelines before halftime to see if Rees, last year's starter, was warming up — and at one point he was. But Kelly said he had no intention of pulling Golson until he was knocked woozy by a blow to the head with 3:27 left in regulation.
Rees came in and completed all four of his pass attempts. He directed the Irish to the tying field goal with 20 seconds left in regulation, then tossed a 7-yard TD pass to TJ Jones in overtime.
"He can manage difficult situations," Kelly said. "And he comes in and he can close games, if we need him — if we need him. He's an incredible young man that he can stay so focused in the game."
The frustrating play of Golson was epitomized on one play in the third quarter, a first-and-15 from the Stanford 37. He dropped back to pass, but no one was open. He narrowly avoided a sack, cut to his left to elude more pressure, then escaped the tackle attempt of diving linebacker A.J. Tarpley before being hit hard by cornerback Alex Carter and fumbling. Ben Gardner recovered for the Cardinal.
It was the third fumble of the game for Golson, who is responsible for all seven turnovers by the Irish this season and has several other fumbles that were recovered by Notre Dame.
Kelly, who cited the 14 interceptions thrown by Rees and five fumbles lost for opening up the quarterback competition in the spring, said he is concerned by Golson's turnovers.
"It's something that obviously we cannot continue to have," he said. "He's got to take better care of the football, and he's got to do it in practice, and he's got to be smarter."
Kelly was pleased, though, by how Golson played in the second half, completing 6-of-8 passes for 80 yards, including a 24-yard TD strike to Tyler Eifert on a third-and-18 play at the start of the fourth quarter that tied it at 10.
"His confidence was a bit shaken, and he came back with a great drive and did some really good things," Kelly said. "I was really proud of the way overcame a little bit of adversity during the game."
Kelly also praised Rees for accepting his role and working with Golson.
"At halftime I'm talking with him and Everett and he's pointing out some things about the outside coverage that we should maybe think about running, as well. He's just a very smart football player," Kelly said.
Rees said he was brought in so quickly against Stanford he didn't have time to think. He said he's motivated by not letting his teammates down.
"Having your teammates count on you and knowing that you have an opportunity to win the game, that's just kind of the driving force behind it," he said.