South Bend, Ind. — Everett Golson looked better after a year off than he ever did in helping Notre Dame get to the national championship two seasons ago.
In his first game back after missing last season for academic impropriety, Golson threw touchdown passes of 75 and 53 yards and became just the third Notre Dame quarterback to run for three touchdowns in a game as the Irish beat Rice 48-17 on Saturday.
“Everett Golson was electric,” coach Brian Kelly said. “He kept his eyes down field. He knew when to run. He knew when to throw it.”
Golson was 14-of-22 passing for 295 yards and ran for 41 yards on 12 carries. He threw the ball away on purpose three times and three other times Irish receivers dropped passes. His only big mistake was a pass early in the second quarter that Rice safety Gabe Baker should have intercepted but dropped.
Golson said it was the type of comeback he envisioned while spending a semester away from Notre Dame.
“That’s what inspired me through all the training and all the days of me just working out by myself. I think that’s what helped me get through it,” he said.
Because of privacy laws, Notre Dame never disclosed why Golson was suspended from school. Golson said he used “poor judgment on a test,” but never elaborated.
Golson’s most exciting throw was a 75-yard touchdown pass to Will Fuller that traveled nearly 60 yards in the air. Fuller was in a full sprint and wide open and needed to slow down to catch the pass near the 25-yard line. Fuller then made Rice safety Julius White miss as he raced into the end zone. It was the longest TD pass for Notre Dame since 2010.
The 53-yard touchdown pass was a little better timed as Golson scrambled and threw a perfect pass to a wide-open C.J. Prosise in the end zone with 5 seconds left in the half, giving the Irish 28-10 lead. Golson was hit hard just after throwing the pass.
Rice coach David Bailiff said Golson is amazing in his ability to extend plays.
“We left our corner on an island for too long and he got separation. Because that’s what great quarterbacks do,” Bailiff said.
Golson scored on an 11-yard run on a planned keeper, a 14-yard scramble and a 4-yard run on a blown handoff.
Kelly said Golson had shown a lot of confidence in recent days.
“There’s a lot of things that he will tell you that he’s got to continue to improve on, but there’s a confidence that he carries with him that is starting to emanate, and that’s going to only get better and better as he gains more confidence,” Kelly said.
Driphus Jackson, making his second career start at quarterback for Rice, was 13 of 24 passing for 163 yards and one touchdown and the key interception.
“I’ve just got to be better managing the ball, and understand it’s OK to throw the ball away,” Jackson said. “I don’t have to try and make plays all the time.”
Rice backup quarterback Tyler Stehling threw a 53 yard TD pass to James Mayden later.
Notre Dame was playing without five players on its roster, including three starters. The group is being investigated for possible cheating. But the Irish haven’t let it affect them, Kelly said.
“They care about their teammates. That’s clear. But they also know that they are here at Notre Dame to get a degree and to play for Notre Dame and represent Notre Dame on the football field. So they have been really focused on their job and going out there. They have been really purposeful every single day.”