For Notre Dame, it's all about trust and confidence

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – From Heisman contender in October to backup quarterback in December.

Everett Golson’s plight has to be one of the harshest plummets a recent Notre Dame football player has experienced.

Either stake out the bus station while keeping an eye out for a forlorn guy heading back home for good to South Carolina with his tail between his legs, or watch No. 5 have the performance of his life when he finally does get into Notre Dame’s Music City Bowl game against LSU Tuesday.

No telling how the Irish senior is going to react to coach Brian Kelly’s decision to start Malik Zaire ahead of him.

Kelly’s announcement, which was finally revealed Monday, is puzzling.

It was a godsend for the media, since there weren’t a lot of compelling angles to dissect in the matchup. But in terms of what it means short-term – and long-term, for that matter – for the Irish program, it probably raises more questions than it answers.

Kelly was quick to qualify his decision, saying it was “about 2014.”

Why? What’s so important about what’s left in 2014? What’s the difference between 8-5 and 7-6? One of the main reasons the Irish should be locked in against LSU is because so many young players are on the two-deep, and this is the first step toward success in 2015.

Break down the strategy by the numbers.

• Zaire has thrown 20 passes in his college career, completing nine for 170 yards. His next touchdown pass will be his first. Golson, meanwhile, has completed 250 of 416 for 3,355 yards and 29 TDs. Advantage Golson.

• Golson has thrown 14 interceptions and fumbled eight times. Zaire, zero and zero. Advantage Zaire.

• LSU has the No. 1 pass efficiency defense in the country. Advantage Golson.

• During Monday’s meeting with the media, Tigers coach Les Miles said he and his staff have two quarters worth of tape from which to study Zaire. Advantage Zaire.

In those two quarters, the second half of a humbling 49-14 loss to Southern Cal, Zaire was at least able to mount some semblance of an offense against the Trojans. Golson looked over-matched.

A few weeks earlier, Golson had taken a pretty solid hit on his right shoulder. The contention has been all along – as recent as 10 days ago – that no physical ailment impacted Golson’s late-season performance.

However, even an untrained eye could detect that Golson didn’t look right.

Kelly said the tape from that season-finale has been evaluated. He came to a chilling conclusion.

“This game is not just a physical game,” Kelly said. “Other things have to come with it, especially when you’re talking about the quarterback position. There has to be a level of trust and confidence. At times, maybe he lost a little bit of that.”

Kelly wasn’t specific. Was it Golson’s trust and confidence that was lost? Or Kelly’s?

“He’s worked really hard at re-gaining his trust and confidence over the past three weeks,” Kelly said. “Certainly, (it was) a little bit of that, as far as what happened in the first two quarters (of the Southern Cal game). He readily admits it; looks at it; and will be better because of it.”

A shoulder injury would be a whole lot easier to work through. There’s no rehab plan for trust and confidence.

Trust and confidence issues aren’t resolved by going against the scout team in practice. Facing live bullets is the only way to test the mettle, and even then there’s no guarantee it’s ever going to improve.

This demotion could enhance the signs of tentativeness and inadequacy that led to Golson’s poor effort against Southern Cal.

So, in actuality, this decision has everything to do with 2015.

The most critical position on the team – for this season and next – is under duress. Instead of spending time developing and perfecting an offense with a starter – a starter armed with trust and confidence – 15 spring practices will be spent giving equal reps to two guys (and don’t forget freshman DeShone Kizer) trying to win a job.

Regardless of what Kelly says, Tuesday’s battle with LSU is the first step toward the future. The Irish spent more time back-pedaling in November than a safety defending the deep ball. They desperately need a step in the right direction.

All it takes is a little trust and confidence.

Quarterback Everett Golson started ND's 12 regular season games this year but Malik Zaire won the job for Tuesday's Music City Bowl. (SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)