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Joseph: Bright spots in Sun Life Stadium give hope for 2013 (Jan. 8)

Allan Joseph | Tuesday, January 8, 2013

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – It wasn’t pretty, and it was a deeply unsatisfying end to a storybook 2012 season. But once you step back from the chaos and the heartbreak, some bright spots emerge – not just in the big picture of the 2012 campaign, but in the 42-14 loss. There aren’t many to highlight, but the ones there are suggest the Irish will be back for more next fall.

By far the best thing about Notre Dame’s title game performance was the play of sophomore quarterback Everett Golson. His stat line wasn’t phenomenal (21-of-36 for 270 yards, one touchdown and one frankly unlucky interception), but the young quarterback played one of the best games of his career. After more than 40 days of preparation, Golson had more control of his pre-snap reads, better footwork and better timing with his receivers than at any point this season, save perhaps for the second half of the Oklahoma contest.

He missed a few long throws, but he was accurate when finding T.J. Jones and DaVaris Daniels on curl and out routes. He saw Alabama’s safeties playing in the middle of the field to take away Tyler Eifert’s seam routes and knew that meant he had one-on-one coverage outside – so he took advantage, earning the majority of his yards outside the hash marks.

Golson didn’t rush the ball very much, but he did repeatedly extend plays with his scrambling ability, all the while keeping his eyes downfield. Perhaps the best part of it all, though, is that Golson got truly invaluable experience against a fantastic Crimson Tide defense – and played well. Barring any major upheaval, he should be able to go into spring practice focusing on improving his specific weaknesses, not on competing for the starting job.

“His motivation in the off-season is going to be to get back to this game,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said. “And the experience that he is able to take from this game, you can’t duplicate it if you’re sitting home or playing in a bowl game. When you’re playing for a national championship, that stuff doesn’t leave you.”

Daniels and Jones were also bright spots for the Notre Dame offense. Both showed their ability to do more than run their routes, but to improvise with Golson to find a way to get open downfield. They will become true weapons next fall.

Not enough can be said about junior nose guard Louis Nix and the effort he put forth. Despite being somewhat winded and somewhat injured, Nix went up against All-American center Barrett Jones admirably all night long and proved equal to the future first-rounder. Given Nix’s incredible motivation (dropping 50 pounds, as he’s done since he arrived at Notre Dame, is no easy task) to go from very good to dominant, he will wreak havoc in 2013.

One of the biggest reasons the loss in the BCS National Championship is still a bright spot, however, is that the entire program, from Kelly down to the walk-ons, saw exactly what it takes to become a national champion. It takes top-to-bottom athleticism. It takes the ability to peak at the right time. It takes dominance at every position. And while the Irish aren’t there yet, they’re on their way.

“Our guys clearly know what it looks like,” Kelly said. “[The Crimson Tide] are back-to-back national champs. So that’s what it looks like. Measure yourself against that, and I think it was pretty clear across the board what we have to do.

“We all now know what we have to do to move from where we are, which is a 12-0 football team, pretty
darned good football team, but not good enough.”

Kelly should know. When he first took Grand Valley State to a national championship game in 2001, his Lakers lost. But in 2002, he took them back and won the title before doing it again in 2003.

The Irish were not close to Alabama. But there was more to be happy about than first appeared. It’s not just that Notre Dame exceeded all expectations for the 2012 season. It’s that if you look closely, 2013 might be even better.

Contact Allan Joseph at ajoseph2@nd.edu
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.