CHICAGO — Everett Golson has always enjoyed being presented with a challenge.
When he was younger, the 6-foot, 185-pound quarterback was often counted out and cast aside, mostly because of his small frame.
“I always liked people talking a little bit. That always helped me,” Golson said.
So when Golson’s shaky performance against Michigan two weeks earlier raised eyebrows from wary fans, Golson knew what he had to do against Miami.
“I put a lot of pressure on myself during the Michigan game,” he said. “Coach (Brian) Kelly and Coach (Chuck) Martin wanted me to just come out (against Miami) and have fun.”
The advice paid off, and Golson had a ball during No. 9/10 Notre Dame’s (5-0) 41-3 creaming of Miami (4-2) on Saturday.
After sitting out the first three downs for violating team rules (Golson lost track of time while talking to a professor and was late to a team meeting), Golson attacked Miami in the air and on the land.
He was 6 of 6 for 76 passing yards and ran for 45 yards on four carries in the first quarter alone. He led Notre Dame on an 88-yard drive that was capped by a 1-yard touchdown run by Theo Riddick.
“I thought Everett grew up (Saturday),” Kelly said. “He did some really good things throwing the football for us, managed some pressure situations very well and he had his best week of practice.
“It was important for me, after disciplining him, to get him back in the game right away. To let him know that I had trust in him, that I believed in him. I think that helped him to go in and be relaxed.”
After Riddick’s touchdown, Notre Dame scored two more times in the first half off of 22- and 32-yard field goals by kicker Kyle Brindza.
Miami scored its only points of the night on a 28-yard field goal from kicker Jake Wieclaw late in the first quarter.
When the second half rolled around, Golson passed his explosive performance onto Cierre Wood, who had also struggled in recent games.
Wood took the baton and churned up 53 of Notre Dame’s 81 yards in the opening series of the second half, ending with his first touchdown of the year on a 2-yard touchdown.
Wood continued with more of the same throughout the third quarter, scoring again on a 3-yard run.
A flimsy Miami defense put up little resistance, and fellow tailbacks George Atkinson III and Cam McDaniel also joined in on the free-for-all.
Atkinson led all running backs with 127 yards, bolstered by a 55-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter. McDaniel also found the end zone in the final two minutes of the game.
Wood finished with 118 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries.
The run game accounted for 28 of Notre Dame’s 31 offensive plays in the second half and the Irish put together 6- and 7-minute drives in the process.
“We felt like we found a way to run the football (Saturday), and our game plan was situated on running the football, which equals time of possession for us,” Kelly said. “We felt like if we could keep them from getting big plays, and we could run the football, that was going to be our recipe for success.”
On the other side of the ball, the Notre Dame defense continued to play with the same sense of dominance that it has all season.
Miami got as close as the Irish 7-yard line late in the fourth quarter, but quarterback Stephen Morris threw the ball into the ground on fourth-and-1, allowing Notre Dame to hold its third consecutive opponent without a touchdown.
Notre Dame didn’t force any turnovers or register any sacks, but the Irish defense did rack up five quarterback hurries.
Morris struggled to connect with his receivers all night, which — in a few instances saved the Notre Dame secondary from being blown wide open.
The defensive backs adapted, and freshman cornerback KeiVarae Russell finished with six tackles, second only to Manti Te’o’s 10-tackle, one pass break-up performance.
Keeping yet another team out of the end zone can only boost the confidence of a young secondary, Kelly said.
“I think it just continues to build confidence in (safety) Matthias Farley,” Kelly said. “It was big for the confidence level, but also they believe in themselves, and that’s a good thing when you are moving into the next week with Stanford.”