No real shock today for Oklahoma fans when Notre Dame head coach, Brian Kelly, announced at his weekly press conference that Everett Golson would get the start for the Irish on Saturday night. Golson had been held out the previous week in Notre Dame's victory against BYU after suffering a concussion against Stanford.
If you're unfamiliar with Golson, somewhat ironically the easiest and most convenient comparison for OU fans would come from the Sooners most recent game. Kansas redshirt freshman Michael Cummings, whom the Oklahoma defense obviously just faced last Saturday, is a very similar player to Golson.
Both are young, inexperienced redshirt freshman who are athletic quarterbacks somewhat more prone at the moment to make a play with their legs versus with their arm. Admittedly, Golson has seen more time than Cummings having played in six of the Irish's seven games and started five of those. I also think it's fair to say that Golson is probably the more explosive of the two as a runner, but my point remains a valid one in that there are a lot of similarities to their respective games.
So it would make sense that a lot of what Mike Stoops and this Oklahoma defense did last week can also carry over into this week's preparation for Golson and the Irish. Meaning: (1) maintain discipline in your rush lanes, (2) expect the front four to play more contain than pure pass rush, (3) mix up your looks to confuse a very talented, but inexperienced quarterback. Golson is a guy who will look at his first, maybe second depending on the pass rush, read before pulling the ball down and looking to make a play with legs.
Now, for any of our Notre Dame guests (or those who are currently composing an angry email to tell me how stupid I am) that is not a wholly exclusive statement nor is it a knock against Golson. There are not many redshirt freshman quarterbacks advanced enough to stand in the pocket and go through multiple reads. Hell, we have a fifth year senior who still struggles with it, considerably at times. So if he does, or likely has, go through multiple reads on a particular play and/or plays, you don't need to send me a clip of it and say "See, I told you so!" My assumption being I don't expect Kelly to ask him to do much of this Saturday night. Again, one maybe two reads and if the throw isn't there try and get positive yards with his legs. If it keeps the chains moving and/or puts the ND offense in favorable down and distances, isn't that a winning formula?
While there are some obvious similarities as we've discussed, there is one equally obvious difference with respect to what we can expect from this Oklahoma defense Saturday night. Do not expect a vanilla game plan Saturday night similar to the one employed last week against Kansas.
The Notre Dame offense has proved to be anything but a juggernaut so far this season, but that is no reason for Mike Stoops and this OU defense to allow them to find a rhythm on Saturday. Getting to Golson early and rattling him is clearly the winning formula for this Oklahoma defense. Were that to happen, it would also relieve some of the pressure on the OU offense if they were to get off to a slow start against a salty Irish defense.
Admittedly, most of this isn't exactly rocket science but it's only really ever complicated if you make it, right? Keep Golson in the pocket and forcing him to beat you with his arm certainly seems to be a winning strategy. Especially when you consider that Notre Dame really does not have any dynamic play makers at receiver/tight end, save for Tyler Eifert, so the Oklahoma defense should have a significant advantage in that respective match-up.
All of the above said, do not take this news to mean Tommy Rees will not see the field Saturday night. Whether that's by design or a result of the offense struggling under Golson, Brian Kelly will not be afraid to turn to his junior quarterback should he feel compelled to do so. However, Rees is certainly no threat outside the pocket which would only simplify things for this Oklahoma defense.
I think it's fair to say the Notre Dame offense has struggled at times this year and going into this game most believe Oklahoma has the edge in this particular match-up. So if Golson goes off and is making plays all over the field with both his arm and legs, it could prove to be a very long night for the Sooners. It would only increase the pressure on this OU offense to put up points and potentially turn this game into a shootout, which I'm pretty sure neither team particularly wants.
So while the OU offense vs. the ND defense may draw most of the headlines, for me the key to this game is how well the Oklahoma defense can contain Golson.