- Matt Fortuna, ESPN Staff Writer
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Everett Golson lines up behind center now and recognizes what is in front of him. He verbalizes that with his offensive linemen. And, as evidence by his breakout performance in Saturday's win at Oklahoma, the unit then usually runs much more machine-like.
It wasn't always this way for Golson, who has just six starts and seven games under his belt for 8-0 Notre Dame. Just ask some of the offensive linemen who have been tasked with helping along the new quarterback.
"Before we may have had to stop practice -- 'Coach, what should we be in here?' " left tackle Zack Martin said of communication breakdowns. "He'd have to look at it and be like, 'Oh.'
"Now he sees it and gets into it without anything happening."
Nothing happening means the ball is in the hands of Golson, standing upright. He can turn and give it to one of three talented running backs, he can pretend to do that -- as he did perfectly in setting up the game-changing 50-yard strike Saturday to Chris Brown -- or he can take off and run on his own, as he did 10 times for 66 yards. (He was sacked one other time, finishing with 64 rushing yards on the night.)
The Irish offense goes as Golson does, even if the numbers don't necessarily reflect that. Quarterbacks from the other five FBS unbeatens have each attempted more passes than Golson's 160, have thrown for more yards than the redshirt freshman's 1,145, and have fired more touchdown passes than his four.
"The passing game still needs to improve," head coach Brian Kelly said. "We had where we consider four, maybe five opportunities that we left out there in terms of throwing the ball. So we want to see a higher passing efficiency in that respect.
"What we need now is to put together a string of games back-to-back. I think those are the two things that we're going to ask from Everett in terms of his progress."
Golson was yanked in Notre Dame's second and fourth games and knocked out of its sixth with a concussion that forced him to miss the seventh. In between -- and especially this past Saturday -- he has shown the ability to complete the picture for the Irish as it relates to legitimate national title contention.
"Just being really smart with the ball -- getting rid of it when you need to get rid of it," center Braxston Cave said, referring to what he saw Saturday out of Golson. "He made some crucial, really great throws, getting us in the right checks, right protections. To me I'd say he definitely played his best game."
In the days after the win over the Sooners, offensive line coach Harry Hiestand approached Kelly about the communication gap Golson has bridged with the guys in charge of protecting him.
Whereas Golson's nearly 300-yard output Week 2 against Purdue was marred by five sacks, a late fumble and ensuing benching, his 177-yard passing game this past weekend featured just one sack and no turnovers as Notre Dame won its biggest game in at least 10 years.
Behind the scenes, beyond the box score, Golson has grown up, which in turn has helped him stay up.
"Night and day," Cave said of the communication. "Night and day."
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