Notre Dame's Everett Golson was 14-for-22 for 295 yards and two touchdowns, and rushed for three touchdowns against Rice last weekend. (Jonathan Daniel / Getty Images)
Ann Arbor — Ask Michigan defenders and coaches what is the first thing they notice about Notre Dame’s offense, and the answer is hardly surprising.
It would be difficult for anyone to have missed quarterback Everett Golson’s performance in Notre Dame’s season opener Saturday, a 48-17 victory over Rice in which he played a role in five touchdowns.
Golson was 14-for-22 for 295 yards and two touchdowns of 75 and 53 yards and rushed for three touchdowns in his first game back after his suspension last season for what he called “poor academic judgment.”
“To me, watching him on tape, he has a really strong arm,” said Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, whose team heads to South Bend on Saturday night, the last time the teams meet for the foreseeable future.
“He has thrown so many deep passes this last game, more than he usually would, that were on the money. I see a guy who’s not only mobile but also has a really, really strong arm. He’s becoming a really complete quarterback in my mind.”
Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly described the 6-foot, 200-pound Golson’s performance in the victory as “electric.”
“He kept his eyes downfield, knew when to run, knew when to throw it, and those are things we really talked about,” Kelly said after the game. “We didn’t want to overcoach him in that we were going to allow him to get outside the pocket and be a football player and just naturally go play the game. He came back and I think really showed the kind of player that he can be.”
Golson said he felt considerably different than he did two years ago.
The biggest difference, he said, was his confidence. “There’s areas I could clean up,” Golson said after the game, referring to footwork and technique. “But I think overall (the difference was) confidence.”
It had been 19 months — 600 days — since Golson last played, and that was in the BCS title loss to Alabama. When he returned to the Irish for spring practice, Kelly marveled at how much his quarterback had improved in terms of film study and understanding the offense.
Michigan coach Brady Hoke could not help but be impressed by Golson’s performance. But he was not surprised. “He’s pretty athletic,” Hoke said. “I always thought he threw the ball well from a mechanical standpoint. ... He is an impressive guy. He can be true with his feet, he can be true with his arm.
“Anytime a guy is involved with five touchdowns, he’s going to impress you. How he managed the offense, how he ran the offense, obviously he’s a dual-threat guy.”
Dual-threat quarterbacks have given the Wolverines some problems, but senior linebacker Jake Ryan said facing Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner in practice every day has been helpful in preparations.
“We’ve seen guys like that over the years,” Ryan said Tuesday after practice. “We’ve practiced against Denard (Robinson) and Devin. We feel ready.”