NOTRE DAME — Every Saturday, Joe Theismann ropes off a section of his tee time to cozy up next to his television set.
Golf plans or not, he won’t miss a Notre Dame football game.
In the past two weeks, Theismann has watched an untested quarterback line up under center and lead the Irish to its first 2-0 start in four years.
So far, Everett Golson’s poise under pressure has stood out to the former All-American. Theismann knows the feeling Golson has right now, of being held under a microscope beneath thousands of analysts, is something only a select few can fully appreciate.
“If you’re the quarterback at Notre Dame, it’s not like being the quarterback at any place else in the country,” Theismann said. “I don’t care what anyone else says — Miami. Florida State, USC — it’s different if you’re the quarterback at Notre Dame. There’s such a tradition and legacy that has been developed and the expectation. We’re not just any other university. Like us or hate us. It’s true.”
Theismann also applauded the amount of time Golson and head coach Brian Kelly spend together off the field. Kelly said in Tuesday’s press conference that he and Golson talk every day and eat dinner together every evening.
Constant communication off the field, he said, develops into a strong level of trust on the field.
“The relationship between the coach calling the plays and the quarterback is extremely important because it’s two bodies and one mind,” Theismann said. “You get to know the makeup of your quarterback. The single most important element that any person possesses is mental toughness.”
Despite his early favorable impressions of Golson, Theismann fully supported Kelly’s decision to sub in Tommy Rees in the waning minutes against Purdue last week, saying that winning football games trumps simply “letting (Golson) grow.”
He said Kelly is directing his team in Year 3 in a way that plays to the program’s strengths.
“He doesn’t have a Michael Floyd, but he has some terrific running backs, a big, solid offensive line and a young quarterback,” Theismann said. “He’s taken his offense and tailored it to his personnel. Kelly’s always been known as a guy who spreads the field and puts the guy downfield, but now — to his credit — you look at what he has, the youth there, the inexperience there. ‘If I do that, what’s the chance of (a turnover) happening?’
“Let’s play defense, let’s protect our young corners, let’s run the football and take time off the clock and keep it close and win the game. That’s going to be Notre Dame football this year.”
That Irish youth will have to grow up fast by Saturday, when they travel to East Lansing, Mich., for their first true road test of the year. Theismann says Notre Dame shouldn’t be intimidated by Michigan State’s 2-0 record, but he knows it will be a tough game.
“I don’t think Boise State or Central (Michigan) is Notre Dame,” he said of the Spartans’ first two wins. “I don’t think the offense can afford to make a mistake. It’ll be hard fought. Play this game with your head as much as you do with your body.”
The Spartan defense and running back Le’Veon Bell are only part of the problem. Michigan State’s home field is notoriously hostile to opposing teams, especially a rival like Notre Dame.
Theismann remembers his days at Spartan Stadium, having to warm-up close to the Notre Dame bench in case rowdy fans would reach out and hit his arm.
“You go to Michigan State, and the fans are almost on the field,” he said. “They’re right there. They’re right behind the Notre Dame bench. You’re not 15 feet away. You’re going to have fans that are going to be yelling or screaming on top of your bench.”