Malik Zaire: Notre Dame Football Now or Never ’16

Malik Zaire - Notre Dame QB
Photo: Matt Cashore // USA TODAY Sports

Notre Dame’s freshmen have reported to campus and moved into their dorms, and the 4th of July is within sight. For football fanatics, these developments can only mean one thing: the start of the college football season is right around the corner, and UHND will be here to prepare you for the impending 2016 campaign with the annual “Now or Never” series, starting with the complicated career of quarterback Malik Zaire.

Malik Zaire’s Recruiting Pedigree

Malik Zaire was a 4-star prospect hailing from Kettering, Ohio, with scholarship offers from the likes of Alabama, Nebraska and Ohio State. The No. 3 dual-threat quarterback in the Class of 2013 joined Mike McGlinchey, Hunter Bivin and Colin McGovern in committing to the Irish shortly after Notre Dame’s Junior Day, and instantly became a fan favorite when explaining his decision.

“Growing up here [in Ohio] you’re definitely born to be an Ohio State fan,” Zaire said. “I wanted to look at where I’d want to go to school without football,” he explained before calling Notre Dame a place that “can take you far in life and help you be very successful once sports are over.”

Reason for Optimism

Irish fans should be optimistic about Malik’s 2016 performance due to his work history. In his first career start Zaire completed 80-percent of his passing attempts and chipped in nearly 100 yards on the ground with his feet in leading Notre Dame to a Music City Bowl victory over the LSU Tigers, marking Notre Dame’s first win over an SEC opponent in nearly a decade. Zaire built upon his initial success by going toe-to-toe with incumbent starter Everett Golson during the spring practice session, performing well enough for Golson to become concerned about his future playing time in South Bend, a development that likely aided his decision to transfer to Florida State.

Zaire lived up to the hype, too, by humiliating the Texas Longhorns – one of college football’s winningest programs – on national television by a score of 38-3 to open the season, throwing for 313 yards and three touchdowns while completing 86-percent of his passing attempts, the second highest percentage in school history. The talented Ohioan’s historic start was only derailed by a season-ending ankle injury suffered the next week against the Virginia Cavaliers.

Reason for Doubt

Doubt first surfaced in the very same Virginia game where Malik would suffer his injury. Zaire led a sleepwalking offensive attack that saw Notre Dame trailing the Cavaliers 14-12 at the half, with Zaire completing a disturbingly low 39-percent of his passes before exiting and making way for DeShone Kizer, the main source of doubt for Zaire’s future.

In a twist no one could have foreseen prior to the start of the 2015 season, former redshirt freshman and third-string quarterback DeShone Kizer is now the most experienced at his position on the roster. In Zaire’s stead Kizer led Notre Dame to a 10+ win season that included upsetting Georgia Tech in his first career start and taking Clemson to the final play on the road at Death Valley. Kizer boasted an 8-3 record in his 11 starts with his only losses to programs that finished No. 2, 3 and 4 in the final AP poll.

Complicating matters for Zaire is the fact most reports had Kizer with a slight edge during this spring’s practice session, reports substantiated by Zaire’s inconsistent play during the annual Blue and Gold Spring Game. Zaire forced many throws and completed only 40-percent of his passing attempts, and was even bested by Kizer in the rushing department, with DeShone averaging 5.2 yards per carry compared to Zaire’s 2.4.

Malik Zaire’s Outlook for 2016

An outlook for Malik Zaire is difficult to project given the quarterback competition will stretch throughout the summer, but if the starter were named today it’s doubtful Malik would get the nod. DeShone Kizer has the size, arm strength, mobility and, most importantly, experience head coach Brian Kelly values in his starting quarterbacks. It’s unknown if the Texas or Virginia version of Zaire is the more accurate representation, but with most of a battle-tested season under his belt Kelly has a strong idea what to expect from Kizer.

Another unknown is how Zaire would handle the news should he not win the quarterback competition. While strong arguments can be made transferring would be against Malik’s best interests, Zaire has shown in the past his emotions can go against better judgment, informing the Associated Press he didn’t feel he should have to compete with Kizer for the starting job.

“You just really wonder what it’s going to take to finally convince people enough that I’m able to do the job,” he said.

If Malik Zaire is the one to do the job, he’s running out of time to prove his case.

Scott Janssen is a blogger for The Huffington Post who 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 wife and those around him. Scott can be reached at or follow him on Twitter.

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  1. All these valid points…I sure-as-sin wouldn’t want to be BK and have to choose. Add to this competition the reports that BRANDON WINBUSH IS OBSERVED TO BE BETTER than DK or MZ (raw talent) and ND football has some real problem…because the NEW RECRUIT (can’t recall his name > I have brain damage) isn’t going to want to wait-around, especially since we have ANOTHER STUD QB-RECRUIT who has committed for 2018. “Our cup runneth over,” yes, but as long as the QB’s have NotreDame character and PUT THE TEAM FIRST, it’ll work-itself-out. BK has his “Jimmies and Joes” – can he command the “X’s and O'”?

  2. MZ was having an awful game against UVA, and there is very little evidence of him excelling in the red zone as most insist on proclaiming.

  3. Every time I read one of these articles and then the follow up comments hardly do I see this point brought up. The point I’m referring to is not Kizer vs. Zaire, but what the defense has to prepare for when facing either QB. Let’s face it, Kizer had to become a better runner as defenses were keying on CJ and stopping him. Please see Temple, Boston College and Wake Forest for example. Those were Kizer’s not so great games and when we needed him to ball out. I’d love to see a defense try and sell out and stop the run against Zaire. They will learn real quick this will not be successful and they will have to read and react now versus just attack.

    Zaire for 2016!

  4. Ray,

    If you think for one second that Zaire was doing a good job against a less than mediocre Virginia Team then you were watching a different game than I was. I cannot say that he was going to pull it out, any more than I can say that it was going to be his first loss as we all know what transpired. I can say that Kizer NEVER looked that bad with as much confidence as I can say that Kizer NEVER looked as good as Zaire vs Texas. I am not sure if I want the flash over consistency, I mean I will always want it when it flashes to the advantage of ND. How do you know which day Zaire will be on? If you put a gun to my head I would start Zaire in every game and see how he looks, if he is on then Kizer sits, if he is Off then Kizer finishes. Remember how completely awesome Warren Moon was when he was on? I am sure you can also remember how horrible he was when he was off…

  5. Recently, Northwestern and Florida, to name two, were successful in platooning two QBs, or playing one or the other situationally. But the “conventional wisdom” states two QBs don’t work as well as one starter- so the story goes. I fully expect Kizer to start and play exclusively. I would then also expect Zaire to finish his career elsewhere, with Wimbush red-shirting and waiting his turn. You don’t go to ND as a highly-sought recruit and be content with not playing.Transfers will occur, and recruiting will re-stock the ranks. I’m not at practice so I – like everyone else on this thread- have no idea who should start; but Sanford, Kelly hopefully have a better idea than any of us who that starter should be.
    I do agree w/45yearfaithful that the other 10 on O’ will have more to say about the success of either QB playing. The impressive success of “next-man-in” bears testament to the success of recent recruiting.
    The winning formula remains: Score (TDs more than FGs) early and often, rely on an inexperienced D’ to make a few key stops providing aggressive pressure on the high # of inexperienced QBs ND plays against this season, and we’ll then be watching the Irish in the playoffs with whomever is playing QB.

  6. To hell with this. The game is won & lost in the trenches. Play them both.. This is college ball. It’s benn proven . They are both elite. Dual threats. Read the defense and game manage. Don’t ask so much. All 11 players execute. Offense refuse to be stopped and dominate.. Pull up your “Big Girl ” panties, quit crying and play the QB that the offense is gelling with on game day.. Mix it up. All that talent? Just to sit them on “Game Day”? Horse shit. Use all the arsenal. . Fast paced and relentless. Take what the “D” is giving and execute. Play whomever is more advantages and executing against each particular defense. Stop asking for the “QB” to be solely responsible ( although crucial to be able to read the defense). 10 other teammates on the field.. 5 of those are considerd “Skill” positions/players. Yes , most don’t like two “QB’s. It usually works itself out . It is a treat when an offense is so synched, a team can be successfull. As opposed to doubtful. Then again it desn’t matter much unless the team has a defense. Can’t succeed without them. Christ. Wanting the season to start. Anticipating a physical and fast team. Expecting a mean “O” line and dominate front 7’on “D”.. Contrary to popular opinion. Just a hunch. Thanks

  7. The fervor for Zaire across the ND sites is now bordering on the sexual in its blind fanaticism. What say you @take barber, have you caught a case of the gays for Malik? At the vary least, it’s highly romantic. Through the fog of homoerotic bias, the facts surrounding Malik’s play are actually very clear. He’s played the equivalent of TWO full games. In the game against LSU, he played well, but was replaced with Golson whenever he became confused, or started missing reads. In the game against Texas he put up exceptional passing statistics. But, when you rewatch the game it’s easy to see that half of his passes were screens that went for big yardage due to Texas’ poor tackling. Another quarter of his passes went to receivers that were embarrassingly open, and even then, weren’t terribly accurate. Many were short or behind. He put up a couple of the flashy runs that so many think is the necessary element for an Irish championship. But, he also flushed the pocket early (a la Golson) too often, and lost nearly as many yards as he gained with the runs that have the crushy all sweaty and aroused. Against Virginia he played poorly, struggling most in the red zone, where again his Belieber base continues to assert that he’s the salvation.

    Now that all said, as I’ve disclaimed many times, Zaire seems like a great guy, and an immensely talented football player. But, football as all life, isn’t fair. His injury is awful luck. But, that doesn’t diminish the fact that Kizer is the better quarterback. Even the NFL draft prognosticators know this. Kizer has a good year, and he’s a first round draft pick, which is a boon for recruiting. Zaire has a good year, and he goes day three or later.

  8. Let’s not forget that Malik is a true leader and the team clearly rallies around him. Kizer showed he is a good, capable QB but not sure he is the leader this team needs. The last time we had a real leader at QB was Quinn. Zaire can lead this team to the playoffs and beyond…Kizer will win 10 and ND will get smoked again in a NY6.

  9. Every time there is a post on either quarterbacks or the quarterback competition, it winds up becoming the “she’s a witch!” routine from Monty Python. Is that a categorical imperative?

  10. Wait a minute Jack, when has Zaire proven that he can lose on his worst day? He has never lost and never turned the ball over. Zaire is capable of beating teams that may be better than us such as Alabama, Ohio State and Clemson and even LSU in the bowl game and he is capable of beating teams worse than us in Texas and Virginia (we were up and driving for a two score lead and momentum for the rest of the game when he went down). Zaire clearly gives us the chance to be something special as opposed to something only good to very good.

  11. The fact is that Zaire got hurt and Kizer played surprisingly well. Some people on here seem like they are never happy and always want to play the blame game. The Irish are looking good and either Zaire or Kizer will be the starting QB this fall. What is wrong with that? GO IRISH!

  12. So there is this…DeShone has proven himself to be a great, consistent and very UNflashy quarterback. Malik has shown that he can beat the best on his best day and lose to the worst on his worst day. Everyone knows that dual quarterback situations will never work. Only the top 10 percent of humans understand that EVERY rule has an exception.

    Now we are stuck figuring out if a DeShone-Zaire quarterback situation is going to be the exception or the rule.

    In this case I can safely assume that Brian Kelly is making his money on this one…

  13. People are now blaming Kelly for the QB situation? Ok… I’ll give you that. Neither would be there if BK hadn’t given the green light to offer a scholarship. If you’re blaming him for Zaire’s situation, you’re an insane person. Nobody can do anything about injuries.

  14. @takebarber

    I’m actually a big fan of Zaire’s and I fall into the camp that believes he’s never really had a fair shake since being here. Some of that is Kelly’s fault — I feel Kelly should have yanked Golson to give Zaire a shot long before he did — and some of it is simply bad luck, like getting hurt last year.

    Like it or not, however, Kizer now has more experience than Zaire, as weird as that is to say. Zaire is more of the unknown commodity. And the fact of the matter is Brian Kelly values game experience and consistency in practice, and Zaire has less experience and is known to be streaky during practices. Even though I feel Zaire is a better QB than Golson, last year during the spring practice session I attended Golson easily outperformed Zaire (it wasn’t close). If you’re going to get on the field for Brian Kelly you have to show it in practice too, and Zaire struggles with that. And I’m not alone in that opinion. Many other outlets gave Kizer the edge after spring practice.

    I would be fine with either Kizer or Zaire as the starter. As tough of a decision as it will be this fall, I have confidence in both, and I think Notre Dame is very lucky to have two guys like Kizer and Zaire on the team. A lot of programs would kill for just one of them.

  15. Let me first say i am a lifelong Notre Dame fan of 30 plus years. I think BK is to blame here for Malik’s situation. The kid should have started earlier in his career over Golson obviously now! This giving him the time & experience needed to reach his fullest college potential by now. Golsons melt down is well documented & BK had no idea that was in Golsons makeup? Kelly wasn’t ready for that? & WAY too slow to pull Golson. Just about anybody (i certainly was telling friends) could tell something was up with Golsons fragile mental state & he was trusted too long on a conservative call so BK could look better today than being much better tomorrow. Fl. State got so good quickly by throwing their higher recruits into the fire of playing right away over lesser talented starters & developing quicker! Plus excellent coaching both of wich Kelly & co. seem to be behind that particular staff & others on ( Mich St. & possibly now Michigan etc) I like Kelly as a coach but all this talk about genius has not panned out yet. The team still doesnt tackle as well as needed for a real title run! Anyway i think Malik was & is more a victim of BK’s decision making than his talent. Kizer is the conservative pick & that is Kelly’s mode mode of operation all too often. Not a great example to other top recruits. I have to wonder if he trades conservative approach at the expense of some possible key players CONVIDENCE. I like Kelly but i wouldnt put him in the top 7 or so coaches in cfb. Thank God we are finally able to recruit much better & thanks to him for that but that’s just one peice of the puzzle. HEY WHY HASN’T JACK SWARBUCK EVER BEEN QUESTIONED REPEATEDLY ( EACH YEAR AT LEAST ONCE LOL) ON WHY WE FORED LOU HOLTZ!? OH HE WAS ONE WIN AWAY FROM KNUTE ROCKNE’S 100 WINS…YES A PAULTRY 100 WINS IS NOTHING THESE DAYS! WHAT FORESIGHT!!! JACK ASS! THE GREATEST MOTIVATOR, MENTOR, COACH ETC IVE EVER SEEN US HAVE HOW ABOUT YOU? GO IRISH!

  16. I think Malik will win the job and here’s why. He’s a true dual threat QB, he doesn’t make mistakes in the red zone, he’s very accurate with his passes. He might not have the big arm like Kizer, but it’s big enough. Remember, Everett had just a big arm as Kizer and Malik was going to beat him out. Ask yourself this, what does Kelly like in his QB’s? Threat of the run with his QB’s, touchdowns inside the 20, no bad decisions or interception. Malik’s better at all 3. Btw, Notre Dame was winning 19 – 14 against Virginia and was on the 20 yard line about to score again before he got hurt. Just think when JT Barrett took over for Ohio St. at QB, that’s what going to happen when Malik takes over again for ND.

    Go Irish!

  17. You are dead wrong. If we don’t start Zaire, we will not have a shot at an undefeated season, and possible championship. In one game against a powerhouse team, Zaire gives us the best chance to win because he can do way more with his feet. I know some will argue about Kizer’s run against Temple but that play was more due to a great play call when Temple was selling out on defense when they had some momentum because we kept turning the ball over in the red zone.(Kizer ints) Zaire’s ability to keep the defense off balance and plays alive are way more suited to upset teams with more talent which we will eventually run into if we get to the playoffs.

  18. this article is garbage a you are biased against zaire you don’t know what your talking about. Spring game was a set up. kiser showed nothing pluse he wasn’t even playing against the nu. 1 defense eventhough he had the no. 1 offense. These kind of articles bore me with the biased reporting

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