NORMAN, Okla. — Brian Kelly folded his arms across his chest and shook his head in disgust at a promising Notre Dame drive that stalled out in the red zone.
His young quarterback, Everett Golson, had just planted a third-down throw in the grass a few feet too far away for second-team All-American Tyler Eifert to dive and catch it on the 13th play of a series that had lasted nearly 7 minutes.
All that work would end up with no payoff when Kyle Brindza missed wide left on a 35-yard field goal attempt, but it could pay dividends down the road when it comes to Golson's growth.
As his quarterback came to the sideline, Kelly put one arm on either side of Golson's waist and drove home a point: When you have a talented 6-foot-5 tight end, put the ball up high where he has an advantage on defenders, not down on the ground.
Every single play, there's something out there that needs to be communicated and it's very important that I got it across to him because later it ended up being a big play for us, Kelly said, referring to a pass Golson delivered high for a leaping 22-yard catch on the next drive by 6-foot-2 DaVaris Daniels.
When you're dealing with a young quarterback, you have to take those moments. I can't control that kick at that point, so it was important that I got my point across at that time and not wait.
Golson, who because of injury or ineffective play was unable to complete three games in the first half of the season, is starting to show signs of maturing into the type of leader the Fighting Irish (8-0) will need to stay in the national championship picture for the final month of the season.
Following a 30-13 win at then-No. 8 Oklahoma, the Irish moved up to No. 4 in The Associated Press poll on Sunday. They return home to face Pittsburgh (4-4) next Saturday.
Before Saturday night, much of Notre Dame's ascent had been built around a three-headed power running attack and the nation's second-stingiest defense, led by Heisman Trophy hopeful Manti Te'o at linebacker. But against the Sooners, Kelly said it was the first time that we showed that we could be on our own a little bit offensively and put some points on the board.
If we continue to go that way, it's going to give us an offense that's going to be difficult to defend because we'll have great balance, Kelly said Sunday.