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Hurricanes a tough gauge for Irish offensive progress

CHICAGO (MCT) — For a second time Saturday night, Everett Golson took a stage a few minutes after his Notre Dame teammates had started things up.

The sophomore quarterback stepped onto a dais in an austere Soldier Field interview room after others had been chatting, much like he entered the huddle after three offensive snaps of an eventual 41-3 flogging of Miami. But being late to a party doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it, and this was the Fat Tuesday of offensive revelry.

“We showed a glimpse of what we could be,” Golson said after 587 yards, 41 points and inestimable peals of laughter. “Just to think about it, to me, is kind of scary. We have all the physical tools. It’s just a matter of putting it together.”

Here is the question that might define No. 7 Notre Dame and its BCS aspirations as a menacing three-week stretch begins Saturday against No. 17 Stanford: Is the offensive detonation by Lake Michigan the real life, or is it fantasy?

On one hand, the Irish exploded while not a finished product, given the ever-incubating Golson and a running game grinding out inconsistencies. On the other hand, that eye-popping production versus Navy and Miami arrived against the defensive equivalents of warm brie.

Against FBS opponents not named Notre Dame, Miami has given up a soul-numbing 529.5 yards and 39.3 points per game, while Navy is surrendering 412 yards and 22.3 points per game.

What the Irish accomplished Saturday must be both real and spectacular in order to solve a Stanford team that hadn’t given up more than 17 points until allowing 48 in an overtime victory over Arizona on Saturday, then BYU and Oklahoma units ranked No. 3 and No. 19 nationally in scoring defense. But how does one tell?

“I go back to looking at fundamentals and blocking and protection and route running,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said Sunday. “If it looks like the same old thing to me, then I, too, would be skeptical of improvement. So I have a different eye, in a sense.

“If I see, for example, Mike Golic (Jr.) pulling and not running into the back of a lineman but finding that linebacker and creasing him, those are fundamental improvements. Or Troy Niklas on the edge blocking with better technique than he did against Michigan, that’s progress. That’s how I see it maybe from a different eye than who the opponent is.”

It also depends on which Golson shows up, not when he shows up.

Adding read-option runs to the repertoire Saturday — thereby keeping defenses even more off-balance — was a result of earning Kelly’s trust with improved ball protection. And apparently a light flickered on in Golson’s mental approach.

“Throughout the course of the game, I didn’t really think they were doing something we didn’t see or prepare for,” Golson said.

Said Kelly: “He did some things in the second half that he had not done all year. He recognized pressure, did not run out of the pocket, stayed in there, delivered some balls on time. If that continues to show itself, he’s going to be very, very difficult to defend because he’s got that confidence level and a strong arm.”

With the Irish’s open date, he had two weeks to get there, as did the rest of the offense. Kelly and his coaches now must be short-order cooks, readying players and limiting the head-spinning in normal preparation windows that open to stout defenses.

If they can do that, well, party on.

“We’re nowhere near how good we can be,” tailback Cierre Wood said. “People looking at us now, that’s not really (anything) yet. We still have a lot of work to do.”

There’s no misinterpreting that much, at least.

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