SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Everett Golson stood on the 9-yard line, arms extended with the ball in his hands, expecting to hand the ball off to tailback Greg Bryant.
But Bryant already had sprinted past Golson to make a block and didn't realize he was supposed to get the ball. Golson was left there — frozen.
Once he realized Bryant wasn't coming, Golson became reanimated, took off and — fitting for the day he had Saturday — managed to find his way into the end zone for a 5-yard touchdown run, one of five Golson had a hand in during the Irish's 48-17 season-opening victory over Rice at Notre Dame Stadium.
If Irish fans could freeze the Golson they saw and unleash him for the other 11 football Saturdays this season, they would be taking donations to build a cryogenic lab on campus.
In the 600 days he spent between taking snaps at Notre Dame, you might think Golson could not have pictured a better return than Saturday's romp. But that was not the case.
"I had to (picture it)," Golson said. "That's what inspired me throughout training, throughout days of me working out by myself. Looking for it now, I think that's what helped me get through it, getting a chance to be back on the field with my guys."
Firmly in the past are the humiliation and embarrassment Golson felt in May 2013 when an academic violation sidelined him for last season.
Instead, there were smiles, laughs and stunning plays — lots of them — that helped Irish fans temporarily forget about the current academic probe that kept five players at home Saturday.
Golson was 14 for 22 for 295 yards and two touchdowns and he ran for 41 yards with three touchdowns.
"The story of Golson was electric," coach Brian Kelly said. "He kept his eyes downfield. He knew when to run, knew when to throw it, and those are things we really talked about. … He came back today and really showed the kind of player he can be."
That player was captivating. Golson was nearly unstoppable outside the pocket and extended plays long enough to find open receivers downfield. C.J. Prosise made up for a drop on an earlier potential touchdown to haul in a 53-yard pass just before halftime. That came after Golson launched another rocket to Will Fuller on a 75-yard score in the first quarter.
That was Golson's athleticism talking. To hear Golson's mind talk about his performance, Saturday was still an incomplete performance.
"With a lot of stuff today, I was getting away with just making plays," Golson said. "I had to go into scrambling mode. I definitely want to get the timing down and be more precise."
There is still time for that. But for at least a little while, the Irish and Golson have renewed vigor, a sense that Golson is fulfilling the tantalizing promise he had when he arrived on campus.
It may have taken a year to see the latest in Golson's development, but Saturday proved it was worth the wait.
"There's a confidence that he carries with him that is starting to emanate," Kelly said. "And that's going to only get better and better."
•Starting safety Austin Collinsworth did not play Saturday after spraining his right MCL in practice Thursday. Collinsworth is out two-to-four weeks, Kelly said.