The 85th Annual Notre Dame Blue and Gold game this weekend was supposed to be all about the return of Everett Golson after the former starting quarterback spent last season exiled following his poor academic judgement last year. Someone forgot to tell rising sophomore Malik Zaire.
Zaire, playing in his second Blue – Gold game after enrolling early last year upstaged Golson’s return with an impressive performance while guiding the offense on three separate touchdown drives – two of which came from his strong left arm.
Before the final whistle sounded, Zaire completed 18 of 27 passes for 292 yards with two touchdowns and zero interceptions compared to Golson’s stat line of 13 of 23 for 160 yards without a passing touchdown. Had you shown those stat lines to anyone prior to Saturday’s Blue and Gold game and asked them to guess who owned each, most people who have had them reversed.
The reason Zaire’s performance was surprising was primarily because he didn’t exactly light it up in the spring before Saturday’s scrimmage. “His problem has been consistency of staying with progressions,” Brian Kelly said to the media Saturday afternoon. “So that has been really good today, the consistency was much better for him,” he added.
Zaire showed good pocket awareness at times and when the ball came out, it come out quickly and more often than not, it came out very accurately. He wasn’t perfect, but from start to finish, Zaire was consistently impressive in his performance. “I thought that there was one series where Malik kind of got away from some of the things that we needed to do, but by and large, I thought he was fairly consistent,” Kelly said.
Some of the things that Zaire did that got away from what the offense needed to do was hold onto the ball too long at times. Zaire was officially credited with being sacked five times, but that number could have been higher had a couple of plays been whistled dead as they should have been. Interestingly enough, Golson had the opposite problem. He tucked the ball and ran too early often and didn’t go through his progressions.
Zaire was also just a bit behind receivers at times – most notably on a deep ball to Will Fuller on the first drive of the game on a play that resulted in a big gain but should have been an easy six points for the offense.
Earlier this spring, Zaire told the media that he fully expected to be the starting quarterback for Notre Dame come August 30 when Rice comes to town. On Saturday, the sophomore to be backed up his talk with a strong performance that showed his coaches that he is more than capable of making plays in this offense.
Brian Kelly said on Saturday that he would like to have a clear starter and only play one quarterback throughout the 2014 season, but also wouldn’t say when he would be naming a starting quarterback. The odds are still very heaviliy in Everett Golson’s favor that he will be that quarterback for the Irish this fall, but Malik Zaire showed that he is not going to go down without a fight.