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SOUTH BEND – In the never-too-early world of talking about the Heisman trophy, Everett Golson put on a performance against Rice that had Notre Dame fans abuzz.
While the 336 total yards and five touchdowns in Saturday's 48-17 was impressive, it was how Golson went about it that stood out, not to mention the zero turnovers and just one sack for the senior quarterback.
“He kept his eyes downfield, he knew when to run, knew when to throw it and those are things we really talked about,” Kelly said about Golson. “We didn't want to overcoach him in that we were going allow him today to get outside the pocket and be a football player.”
The reigns were tighter on Golson throughout 2012 and even up to and including spring practice. But through summer and training camp, Kelly and the coaching staff began to feel more confident in allowing Golson more freedom.
“He didn't do a very good job in the spring game,” Kelly said. “I thought he showed a lack of discipline, and he's earned it through camp … I think he earned that right for us to give him that opportunity to get out there and make plays on the perimeter.”
Golson hit seven different receivers with passes, with Will Fuller leading the way with four receptions for 85 yards and a score.
On the ground, Golson becomes just the third Notre Dame quarterback to rush for three touchdowns in a game, joining Jarius Jackson (vs. Stanford in 1998) and Paul Hornung (vs. UNC in 1956).
The first game of the season, especially with a two-deep full of underclassmen, was expected to garnish some miscues. But Notre Dame limited its mistakes on Saturday, committing just a pair of procedure penalties and zero turnovers in the victory.
“You always go in wanting to be clean and not be sloppy,” Kelly said. “I can't remember a game that I only had two penalties for 10 yards.”
The Fighting Irish also tackled reasonably well, a factor of the game that has been a problem in years past and is tricky to work on in practice.
“That's one of the things that, with all the concerns with head injuries, you don't tackle quite as much (in practice),” Kelly said. “I think our guys did a great job tackling today.”
Linebacker Joe Schmidt led Notre Dame with eight tackles.
Return of the return
For the game on Saturday, Notre Dame accumulated 80 yards in punt return yardage on five returns.
That number does not appear significant until you compare it to the last few years, with Notre Dame having total punt return totals for the season of 48 yards in 2011, 46 yards in 2012 and 106 yards in 2013.
The added dimension has all to do with personnel.
“We have got guys back there that are fearless, that will catch the football and stick their foot in the ground and get north and south, and that is absolutely crucial,” Kelly said. “And we have guys that are committed to covering people up.”
Fifth-year senior Cody Riggs had a pair of returns for 49 yards but was “gassed” according to Kelly after playing the majority of defensive snaps. Greg Bryant returned the final three punt returns for 31 yards.
Senior captain Austin Collinsworth was injured in Thursday's practice and was not active on Saturday. The safety is nursing an MCL injury will his likely recovery time between two to four weeks. Kelly said he is likely out for Michigan but could return for the game against Purdue at Lucas Oil Stadium on Sept. 13.
The absence forced Elijah Shumate and Max Redfield to make the majority of the calls and checks in the secondary and led to some communication problems at times.
Bishop Luers graduate Jaylon Smith finished with three tackles while being moved around all over the field, from the inside at linebacker to a rush end to pass coverage … Notre Dame rushed for 282 yards against Rice. Since 2002, the Fighting Irish are 30-2 when rushed for 200-plus yards … The 48 points is the most in a season opener since 1999 when Notre Dame defeated Kansas, 48-13 … Cole Luke, Isaac Rochell, Cody Riggs, James Onwualu and Joe Schmidt each made their first Notre Dame start against Rice.
Game Wrap Up Graphic for @NDFootball vs Rice.August 30, 2014