Everett Golson has played spectacularly and struggled just as spectacularly for fourth-ranked Notre Dame, doing both in last week's triple-overtime victory against Pittsburgh.
Golson has a powerful arm and quick feet but also makes mistakes that are sometimes hard to overcome. But the mistakes have been dwindling and the big plays increasing, especially as he uses his speed to elude defenders.
Coach Brian Kelly is counting on him to be a key factor with the Fighting Irish (9-0) trying to make a push for their first national championship since 1988, starting with Saturday's game at Boston College (2-7).
The sophomore from Myrtle Beach, S.C., showed just how dangerous he can be in rallying the Irish back from a 14-point deficit against Pitt. Of the final 31 plays in regulation, Golson either ran the ball or passed 25 times, including on 18 straight plays. He amassed 55 yards on the ground and 113 through the air during that span with two touchdown passes, and a bad throw that was intercepted in the end zone. He also plunged in for the two-point conversion to tie the game.
"That's what he's capable of," Kelly said. "We want it to be a lot cleaner, a lot more efficient, and there are so many little factors in there. But it's the big picture of what we want. Now we really want to start to refine that. That's the next step for us."
The Irish also are depending on Golson increasingly as a ball carrier. Through the first four games, Golson averaged more than five carries, losing a total of 11 yards. Through the last four games, he is averaging more than nine carries for 58 yards.
Kelly said he was worried about the durability of the 6-foot, 185-pounder and was concerned about him fumbling.
"As the season has progressed, we've looked at him a little different in terms of running him," Kelly said.
Kelly is most pleased, though, by the maturity Golson showed when he was replaced by Tommy Rees late in the second quarter against Pitt after making some bad decisions. In the past when he was yanked, Golson would become so upset that Kelly wouldn't even consider putting him back in.
Golson wasn't happy with Kelly's decision to pull him, but instead of sulking, he watched and learned.
"Me actually seeing my mistakes, and kind of seeing it from the sideline and seeing what they were doing, it helped me kind of come back in and lead us," Golson said.
Kelly turned back to Golson after Rees, who played key roles in victories over Purdue, Michigan, Stanford and Brigham Young, threw a terrible interception in the third quarter. Kelly said at that point he felt the Irish needed a mobile quarterback.
With Notre Dame's season on the brink, Golson showed why he won the starting job by using his speed to get out of trouble and make big plays. Kelly said Golson staying focused on the sideline was key.
"He could have kept his head down and said, 'I can't help us.' He wanted to go back in there and help his football team. So that's a learning step for him," Kelly said.
Kelly said it's a learning curve for a player who has probably never been benched before this season for poor play.
"He's walked through every game he's played. He's been the best player on the field," Kelly said. "But he's such a competitive kid. He wants to do so well. He's growing and he's maturing as we move along."
Golson said one of the reasons he played well late against Pitt is he plays better when he has a chip on his shoulder.
"I definitely felt like it was my chance to prove what I can do. I was confident that we could do it," he said. "You never want to be comfortable with where you're at. Personally, I want to be 12-0 or 13-0. So you've got to keep going one game at a time."