April 15, 2014 // Notre Dame Football

Is Notre Dame Mired in Quarterback Controversy?

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Notre Dame Fighting Irish quarterback Malik Zaire (8) consults with head coach Brian Kelly in action during the Notre Dame Blue - Gold Game at Notre Dame Stadium, in South Bend, IN. (Photo - Robin Alam / IconSMI)

Notre Dame Fighting Irish quarterback Malik Zaire (8) consults with head coach Brian Kelly in action during the Notre Dame Blue – Gold Game at Notre Dame Stadium, in South Bend, IN. (Photo – Robin Alam / IconSMI)

Football fans never need additional incentive to monitor the progress of the quarterback position, particularly when it involves a tale as interesting as the one currently unfolding at Notre Dame. Former starting quarterback Everett Golson has returned after serving an academic suspension and missing the 2013 season only to battle for his former position with emerging quarterback talent, Malik Zaire. What was sure to capture every Fighting Irish fan’s interest became a concrete certainty when Zaire recently stated his intentions clearly to ESPN.

Without a doubt,” the redshirt freshman said to ESPN when asked if he believes he’ll be the starting quarterback this upcoming fall. “There will only be one guy starting on Aug. 30th against Rice at Notre Dame Stadium, there will only be one guy out on the field, and I believe that will be me.”

Issuing a challenge to a presumed incumbent starter via a national sports outlet is one thing – backing it up is quite another. Yet Malik Zaire showed he has every intention of staying true to his word after spinning the scoreboard dial during Notre Dame’s 85th annual Blue-Gold game this past Saturday. The Ohio signal caller completed 18 of 25 passes for nearly 300 yards and two touchdowns, outperforming Golson in the process. Zaire displayed an ability to extend plays and make every throw, including a six-yard rocket touchdown pass to wide receiver Amir Carlisle that seemed to channel a youthful Brett Favre in its improbability and preciseness.

If Zaire’s intention was to send a joint message to the media and Notre Dame’s fan base – which have largely considered the quarterback competition to be an empty gesture before inevitably naming Everett Golson the starter – it was received in high definition throughout the country on NBC Sports. But will his performance be enough to tip the scales?

The challenge for Zaire in his quest to become Notre Dame’s starting quarterback in 2014 isn’t besting Golson in head-to-head competition but overcoming Goison’s brief-but-deep résumé, a much more daunting task. Everett Golson has seen the very best college football has to offer after helping lead Notre Dame to its first national championship appearance in decades, and he was one of the rare bright spots in Notre Dame’s blowout loss to Alabama. Zaire proving he is as productive as Golson is not enough – he must show that his talent is so great that it outweighs Golson’s built-in advantage of having endured the brightest of lights and the highest forms of pressure.

If the redshirt freshman and Ohio native is to pass such a threshold he must prove he is consistently better than Golson. It will take more than outperforming Golson in the Blue-Gold game, which served as only one of the fifteen scheduled spring practices. How Zaire managed in his other fourteen attempts is only known to Notre Dame’s coaching staff, though it is potentially revealing that head coach Brian Kelly listed “consistency in staying with progressions” as one of Zaire’s areas in need of improvement.

With no starting quarterback being named in the near future, Notre Dame fans now have all summer to debate which of the talented quarterbacks is best suited to lead the Fighting Irish in 2014. Such side-taking, however, misses the point.

Notre Dame is not experiencing a quarterback controversy – it’s finally experiencing quarterback depth.

Brian Kelly has needed two quarterbacks in many of his seasons as head coach at different locations, including Notre Dame. This season, Kelly’s fifth year as Notre Dame’s head coach, will be the first he will have two quarterbacks capable of not only executing every layer of his offensive system but doing so at a very high level.

Who will ultimately take the field against Rice on August 30th as Notre Dame’s starter after a quarterback competition lasting multiple months is unknown. The fact such fierce competition is taking place at all, however, is not an indication of controversy but of depth.

If the feeling is foreign to Notre Dame fans it’s because it’s the first occurrence since Kelly’s arrival, and also the first sign of a very bright offensive future.

Scott Janssen is a blogger for the Huffington Post and has authored several nationally-featured articles, including an appearance on MSNBC as a sports contributor. He talks football 24 hours a day, much to the chagrin of his fiancée. Scott can be reached at scottjanssenhp@gmail.com.

Comments to this Article

  • Mary Janssen commented on April 15th, 2014 at 7:18 am

    ND has a win-win with Golson and Zaire. Hope Kelly uses both of them. Should be so fun to watch. Can’t wait.

    [Reply]

    HURLS replied on April 16th, 2014 at 8:04 pm

    I agree 100% Win-Win at QB. Win-Win-Win at RB. Receivers will shine. Yada yada yada. That “yada…” in no way diminishes our offensive prowess. It just basically says “No need to worry about the offense.” Fine. Defense? VanGorder is a mystery to me, an admittedly-casual-yet-enthusiastic fan. But defense excites me – and I HAVE FAITH IN BK/VG. Special teams? Yeesh. I long for the say of Lou. A football must have 3-squads > An offense squad . A defense squad. And a Special teams squad. ND’s special teams have been abominable since BK took the reins. THIS MUST CHANGE. Simply, Offense plays games; Defense wins championships; and Special Teams both opens the door to proceed and closes the door when you’re done imposing your will. Amen.

    [Reply]

    HURLS replied on April 16th, 2014 at 8:05 pm

    (hastiness) “for the DAYS of Lou.”

    [Reply]

  • jimbasil commented on April 15th, 2014 at 8:02 am

    Mired might be to strong a word at this point.

    My only fear with this competition is Kelly mucking it up similar to the Dayne Crist/Rees debacle.

    That would be just awful to have happen again.

    [Reply]

  • Damian commented on April 15th, 2014 at 2:12 pm

    I agree with the article. This is a huge plus for ND. For once in a great many years, we are discussing who is going to be the best QB this season, not which QB will do the least damage.

    The only thing that might give me pause is will Zaire bolt if he is not picked as the starter? I really don’t know. At the same time, BK can’t base his game day decision on whether a player might leave or not. But from a fan standpoint, it’s something I’m just a bit concerned about.

    [Reply]

    Storespook replied on April 15th, 2014 at 2:34 pm

    I think it’s a bit early that the situation you refer to possibly occurring. I think we need to see what transpires. Anything could happen, as you know (i.e. injury bug, ugghhh) to determine playing status let alone MZ having the integrity of wanting to stay at ND no matter what happens. I’ll give the young man some credit before writing him off about leaving if he doesn’t “get his way.” I had a lot of doubts last year EG would return given what he did, but, to his credit, he’s back when it would have been easy to not come back. I like the fact we have competition with 2 QB’s that have the attributes to run the offense Kelly has wanted since he arrived. The future today, looks BRIGHT & SUNNY!

    Go Irish

    [Reply]

  • duranko commented on April 15th, 2014 at 3:44 pm

    were this a peanut gallery I would have nominated
    “Free at Last! Has the Golden Day arrived on which Notre Dame
    has TWO legitimate, competent quarterbacks to run the base offense?
    Is prosperity in fact, not just around the corner, but right here??”
    as the title.

    I invoke the spring of 1966 when Coleman Carrol O’Brien and Terry Hanratty were competing.

    This roasted nut of the peanut gallery sees benefit where the title suggest adversity.

    Smart coaches gather a lot of players and a lot of depth. Let
    the rabble see issues and arguments, winning coaches see the predicates to victory

    [Reply]

  • Michael the Archangel commented on April 15th, 2014 at 11:31 pm

    The answer to the question posed by Scott is no.

    But that’s really not the point of the post.

    Don’t let the post’s headline question
    cloud the “BRIGHT & SUNNY . . . future” of the O’
    (as Storespook stated).

    With quality and depth at literally every O’ position group,
    and with more on its way in June,
    Scott’s post clearly reminded us
    as was shown last Saturday
    that ND has two very capable do-it-all QBs in place,
    to be able to run the productive O’ we’ve expected to see since BK arrived?

    I suspect BK and the offensive staff have noticed.

    A new era of:
    scoring 31
    and still the Irish aren’t done
    will be much more fun

    [Reply]

  • Geoff G commented on April 15th, 2014 at 11:37 pm

    My hesitation and concern is similar to Damian’s. I just hope we can keep MZ around if he doesn’t beat out EG. You never know these days in the world of college athletics. Of course it is all speculation, but something to at least keep on the radar screen. It didn’t take Gunner Kiel long to bolt….. granted there were other things going on in that situation.

    I’m super excited to see these two kids compete for the starting job. I don’t think Kelly can go wrong with either one. It will come down to who has the most control of the offense and can get to the line of scrimmage and hurry things up when needed as well as slow things down when appropriate. Both of them have enough athletic ability at the position to be special.

    [Reply]

    Damian replied on April 16th, 2014 at 9:07 am

    I do think it’s something as a fan to be concerned about, esp. considering that Zaire “expects” to be the starter come gametime at Rice.

    Now to be clear, Zaire has made no comments or threats to leave. But his expectations are high and I can certainly forsee a situation that if he is not named starter it may cross his mind.

    But as I noted, BK needs to name the starter that is going to carry ND to the most wins.

    However, I do hope I’m just being paranoid. It’s very possible I’m worried about nothing.

    [Reply]

  • Jack commented on April 16th, 2014 at 7:21 am

    I don’t believe MZ will leave because EG beats him out. He loves the University and since BK didn’t blow his redshirt he’ll be fine. Plus EG has a history of injuries and you know BK always stays with a hot hand at QB.

    [Reply]

  • Shazamrock commented on April 16th, 2014 at 9:01 am

    I just hope ND and both these QB’s learn how to pick up the tempo.

    Here was last year:

    The ND offensive coordinator carefully studies his play chart, selects a play, then passes it on to a couple of back-ups in pink ND caps, the pink hats then go through a series of hand signs, gestures, and gyrations that would make Tommy Lasorda proud finally getting the play signaled in from the sideline, then the ND QB, standing half way between the huddle and the sideline, carefully watching the pink hats with a befuddled look on his face puts his arms out with his palms up, then the pink hats repeat the series hand signs, gestures, and gyrations…
    then the QB calls the play in the huddle, then the QB breaks the huddle and gets everyone lined up. then the QB reads the defense, then he stands up, then the QB changes the play at the line, then he relays the new play to each lineman, then the QB redirects traffic, moving the running back here, shifting the tight end there, then he goes back under center, then back in the shotgun, then the QB puts his hands together out in front of him and raises and lowers one foot indicating he’s finally ready to take the snap, then the defense moves one guy two feet to the left, then the QB stops, stands up, puts his arms straight out on each side and flaps his hands up and down in a waving motion, then the QB starts to changes the play again, then he stops and starts looking all around, then he hurriedly calls timeout just before the play clock expires, then, while he meanders toward the sidline, the announcers on TV say how fortunate ND was not to get a delay of game.

    Sometimes I think they would’ve been better off playing with a ball and chain around their ankles.

    [Reply]

    Storespook replied on April 16th, 2014 at 9:45 am

    Geez, Shaz, do you write play scripts as a side job, hahaha. However, you are absolutely right in your descriptive script above. I agree, I hope speed up tempo will be present this fall in the O’s performance.

    Go Irish

    [Reply]

    Shazamrock replied on April 16th, 2014 at 1:07 pm

    Tune in tomorrow and I’ll tell you the one about how last year’s Irish offense, starting the game at their own 20 yard line, in an inspiring display of execution and consistency, masterfully drove the ball down the field, churning up chunks of yardage, moving the chains at will, picking up first down after first down, controlling the clock, beautifully mixing run with pass while spreading the rock all over the historic ball field, building more and more momentum, each play, whipping the eighty thousand into a thunderous fury, causing the opposing defense, now dazed and confused, to scramble about in complete disarray, bent over, exhausted, off balance, and back on their heels deep into the Red Zone…

    … and then called timeout.

    [Reply]

    Jack replied on April 17th, 2014 at 7:17 am

    Shaz,

    That’s a typical Tommy Reese offense. Great stats and a shit load of field goals.

    Storespook replied on April 17th, 2014 at 5:37 pm

    Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha yes, yes, yes

  • Jerry Seppanen commented on April 16th, 2014 at 11:54 am

    The 2 QB situation is nothing but a plus. Zaire wont leave as he will get
    playing time one way or another to prove his point if he doesnt start.

    [Reply]

  • duranko commented on April 16th, 2014 at 3:21 pm

    It is great to have two nice choices at quarterback. Sort of hearkens back to the Spring of 1966 when two frosh, Coleman Carroll OBrien and Terry Hanratty were battling it out to replace Bill Zlock and be the triggerman for an Irish offense that had a dazzling OL TE Don Gmitter
    and Bleier, Conjar and Eddy at running back.

    We also have a great position competition on the OL, where any of Mcglinchey, Hegarty or Hanratty could be the fifth starting OL.

    And just wait ntil August. You think Cole Luke has a starting spot locked up? wait until Cody Riggs arrive from Gainesville, Devin Butler returns to full time duty, and Nick Watkins announces that even if it’s freshman, you don’t mess with Texas.

    On the uptempo, I was undecided. until Nick Saban, wimp that he is, coward that is, tries to dissemble his way into a noble stance against the uptempo. That cinched it. If cowards, whiners and wimps are agin’ it, then I’m fer it.!

    Faster, Kelly, Faster!!!!!

    [Reply]

  • duranko commented on April 19th, 2014 at 3:36 pm

    Well, I like Zaire and hope he stays. But a year from now our depth chart at QB will have arrived and the foursome is Projected to be:

    Golson 5th YR
    Zaire redshirt soph
    Kizer redshirt frosh
    Barnett, frosh

    We will now keep recruiting quarterbacks on an annual basis. Hopefully the cream will rise and the best will stay and they would all stay.

    But some will leave because they want a chance to start as a college quarterback, and would leave Notre Dame to get it.

    At other positions, we play depth and everybody gets a chance.

    But quarterback is different.

    It’s uncomfortable, but neither tragic nor uncommon.

    One thing to think about is the battle royal that could ensue in spring 2015 with Zaire, Kizer and Barnett battling it out. that could be one for the ages.

    Spring 2010 is long gone and in a galaxy far away. Crist on cructches
    and early entrant Tommy Rees. We’ve certainly “evolved.”

    [Reply]

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