SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- The picks against Michigan, the late arrival to a pre-Miami meeting -- such lapses have much bigger consequences now for Everett Golson than they did before he came to Notre Dame.
The rookie quarterback can no longer atone with a simple flick of the wrist or by directing a few good plays. Penance comes in the form of practicing better and communicating more with his teammates before putting out the finished product on Saturday.
"I think the small failures and not playing as well as he can play and the mistakes he made has really made him think," said Hugh T. Wallace, Golson's mentor and former assistant principal at Myrtle Beach (S.C.) High. "It came just so easy to him in high school: All he had to do was snap the ball, and if he made a mistake it didn't matter. If they got two penalties it didn't matter, because they scored from anywhere."
Golson quelled plenty of fears in last Saturday's victory over Miami, completing 17 of 22 passes and rushing for 51 yards in the best game of his young career. The fate of the Irish's undefeated season likely comes down to whether he can continue that success this weekend against an unforgiving Stanford defense.
Golson carried the ball six times against the Hurricanes, flashing speed in a way he hadn't before, but the task will be much tougher against a Cardinal defense that ranks fourth in the nation in tackles for loss (8.6 per game). The unit knocked starter Tommy Rees out of the teams' meeting last season.
"Certainly we're not going to run him 25-30 times up inside, he's not built that way," coach Brian Kelly said of Golson. "But they'd better be aware of him. If they overplay the run, he can get out on the perimeter and he can attack their secondary, and I know they don't want that to happen."
Golson's trajectory has been uneasy through five games -- strong performances in games 1, 3 and 5 sandwiching a pair of yankings against Purdue and Michigan. The first benching was disappointing to the redshirt freshman because he had played fairly well in a tied game; the second because his parents were watching him play inside Notre Dame Stadium for the first time.
Kelly called the days before the Miami game Golson's best week of practice, and the coach's stating and re-stating of Golson as his starter has helped with his growth.
"I don't think Kelly put him through 'You're trying out for the job,' " Wallace said. "I think that probably reassured Everett. He's amazingly competitive and confident at what he can do and very private in what he puts out about what he thinks about all of it, too."
Golson was not made available to the media again this week, but teammates have said he has become more vocal over the past month, particularly with the offensive linemen, whom he often joins in position meetings to ensure he is on the same page.
"He's just vocally trusting himself that he's making the right calls," center Braxston Cave said. "And with Everett, he's kind of getting that swagger back. When you watch his high school film he's all over the field making plays and [has] all the confidence in the world, and I think he's getting that back."