By Brian Hamilton, Tribune Newspapers
6:35 PM EDT, September 1, 2012
— Not long after day broke at home thousands of miles away, the Notre Dame quarterback who can't fail sprinted onto the pitch to begin the season that can't go wrong. Everett Golson paraded past adoring throngs at Aviva Stadium.
Steps later, he met Irish tackle Zack Martin, facemasks touching. Martin walloped Golson on the helmet with both waffle-iron hands. One play at a time, the senior told the sophomore. Stay calm. We believe in you.
In a first step toward preempting a 2012 backslide, Irish supporters later had reason to believe in Golson. The score was as incidental as 50-10 can be. Most critically, nothing went wrong for Notre Dame against Navy on Saturday.
"I think it's a real coming out for our team," Notre Dame tailback Theo Riddick said. "Usually we struggle the first game, in the past years. Today, we looked very good."
After falling behind, 27-0, Navy kicker Nick Sloan converted a 26-yard field goal as time expired in the first half. The Midshipmen cut the lead to 17 points with a 25-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Trey Miller to wide receiver Shawn Lynch with 14:03 left in the third quarter.
But that was the extent of Navy's scoring as the Irish scored the game's final 23 points.
The Notre Dame defense forced four Navy turnovers and scored off one, limiting the Midshipmen to their worst rushing day since Dec. 2010.
Miller was 14-for-19 with 192 yards, one touchdown and one interception for Navy, but he couldn't get anything going on the ground. The junior quarterback rushed 20 times for 16 yards.
The youthful, banged-up Navy team could be Notre Dame's weakest opponent all year. A stout Irish ground game rushed for 293 yards, with Riddick and George Atkinson III each scoring twice, and almost doubled Navy's total of 149.
And Golson debuted with a needed, efficient outing, completing 12 of 18 passes for 144 yards and one touchdown, doing precisely what was asked of him, which was basically steering around icebergs instead of ramming them.
"He managed the game," Irish coach Brian Kelly said. "The great thing about Everett is he picks it up. He's not going to make the same mistake twice. I was really pleased with the leadership, the ability to get in the right plays and keep our offense running."
Moments before kickoff, Golson bobbed on his toes to AC/DC's "Thunderstruck," so juiced he seemingly almost forgot to take warm-up tosses. His blood pressure dropped when the game began. Even after telegraphing a pass for an interception, he approached the offense, said "My bad" and then walked away, awaiting his next chance.
"The coaches really made sure that we just relaxed," Golson said. "That was my thing: Be calm and just try to lead this offense."
Said Riddick: "He was a sergeant out there. Very calm and poised."
Notre Dame players now admit the home loss to South Florida to open the 2011 season might have ruined the entire year. On Saturday, Martin conceded that the Irish simply "weren't ready" for that game.
It was lethargy and poor management of adversity that the program couldn't afford again, even in a win. Not with such a tough schedule ahead, not with Kelly needing to produce at least the perception of progress in his third year as coach.
The result was a crisp performance, a study abroad in honing attention to detail, a day that guarantees nothing but more significantly doesn't undercut anything.
"It's the cumulative effect of pulling together to do everything right," Kelly said. "It's getting close to that time when they're going to start getting paid back."
After, the last man off the field was Riddick, with fans hollering above the tunnel for souvenirs.
He tossed a towel to the guy requesting a glove. The senior pretended to be harried as others screamed, hurriedly flinging gear their way. Then he disappeared. The Irish left the fans happy Saturday, this time providing something for everyone.
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