Notre Dame Quarterback Malik Zaire Rare Bright Spot

Malik Zaire - Notre Dame QB v. USC
Notre Dame Fighting Irish quarterback Malik Zaire (8) drops back to pass against the Southern California Trojans during the second half at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

Fighting Irish fans that tuned into Notre Dame’s annual rivalry game against Southern California this past Saturday hoping the ailing program would show signs of rejuvenation were sorely disappointed.  Instead they witnessed an intersectional death march where Notre Dame limped into the Coliseum and endured sixty minutes of agony before the Trojans finally put an end to the disappointment and misery that was the 2014 football season.  Unfortunately for the Brian Kelly-led Irish, it was far from a mercy killing.

Quarterback Everett Golson’s struggles and downward spiral continued.  The former Heisman candidate strung together six drives for a paltry 82-yards and a goose egg on the scoreboard before finally being yanked from the starting lineup.  Sadly, signs are beginning to emerge that Golson’s confidence has been severely damaged, possibly beyond repair.  On the rare occasion the senior signal caller doesn’t abandon the pocket, he displays happy feet, particularly when facing an impending blitz.  Everett also appears to have lost faith in what he sees from the defense, missing a wide open Will Fuller on several plays, including one where Fuller was so open he literally did jumping jacks near the sideline without a defender anywhere in sight.  But Golson was far from the only problem.

Notre Dame’s defense looked more like dry erase “x’s” drawn up on defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder’s white board than actual defenders.  The Trojan offense massacred the Irish defensive squad, with USC quarterback Cody Kessler becoming the first quarterback in Notre Dame’s 127 year history to throw six touchdowns in one game against the Fighting Irish.  And Kessler accomplished that feat early in the third quarter, meaning the savagery could have been so much worse.

The Trojan offense was so effective that USC had six different wide receivers that averaged 10 yards or more per reception.  Overall, out of USC’s ten offensive drives that didn’t include backup players or involve garbage time, seven resulted in touchdowns.  The only notch on the Irish defense’s belt was Notre Dame’s ability to hold USC under four yards per carry with a depleted defensive line, though the Trojans still managed to rack up 205 yards on the ground.

One of the only bright spots came courtesy of Malik Zaire, a backup quarterback who had yet to complete a pass prior to entering the USC game in Everett Golson’s stead.  Zaire proved to be an instant catalyst for Kelly’s offense, hitting wide receiver Chris Brown on a gorgeous 49-yard pass.  The redshirt freshman thrower capped off his first drive with an athletic 11-yard touchdown scamper, scoring in only three plays, a feat that fellow quarterback Everett Golson was unable to accomplish in twenty-nine attempts against USC.

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Zaire and fellow redshirt freshman, running back Greg Bryant, proved to be extremely efficient running the zone read option, an area where Golson reportedly struggled.  Despite having impressive touch and placement with the football – as well as being a weapon with his legs – Notre Dame’s offense continued to self-destruct with numerous dropped passes.  Wide receiver Will Fuller has established himself as one of the top pass catchers in the country, but he still struggles with allowing passes to get into his body.

The 2015 football season was supposed to be the year Notre Dame seriously competes for a national championship.  Instead, the narrative will be whether or not Kelly can turn the program around.  And whether or not he will be able to pull it off is a fair question.

Notre Dame had a quarterback controversy on its hands well before Brian Kelly finally heeded the advice of experts and sat Golson, but now the issue is officially out in the open.  Who will start for Notre Dame in its bowl game?  If the Zaire era truly did begin in Los Angeles this past weekend, a rough road still awaits the Fighting Irish.  Zaire is young, and the path to experience is rarely smooth.  As redshirt freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett illustrated this season at Ohio State, even an inexperienced quarterback who succeeds to the point of being mentioned in the Heisman race drops a game they shouldn’t, such as Ohio State’s loss to a poor Virginia Tech team.  It would be unreasonable to not expect growing pains with a green starter at quarterback.

There is also concern as to which defense Notre Dame will field next season: the one that stunned critics and shut out the Michigan Wolverines for the first time in program history, or the defense that allowed 30 points or more for seven straight games, and surrendered 40 points or more four times.  Was VanGorder’s scheme exposed or was Notre Dame’s defensive meltdown due to an injury outbreak that impacted every segment of the defense?

The only thing that remains clear throughout all of the speculation is that Notre Dame is not where it needs to be as a program, and the Fighting Irish have regressed every season (9-4 in 2013 and currently 7-5 in 2014) since the 12-1 record in 2012.  Whatever the future may hold for Notre Dame football under Brian Kelly, Irish fans have eight long months to stew in the failed expectations of the 2014 season.

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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 wife and those around him.  Scott can be reached at scottjanssenhp@gmail.com.

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201 comments

  1. Ron Burgundy 5 years ago

    Never a good sign when a walk on who missed 4 games is the team MVP. However, well done Joe. Should be a movie about this guy instead.

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  2. BJ 5 years ago

    its seems they all want to use glory’s mantle for their own profit
    ‘http://nymag.com/daily/sports/2011/11/chait-why-paying-student-athletes-wont-work.html

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  3. BJ 5 years ago
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  4. bj 5 years ago

    swarbrick says he cant win without paying the players, what an egomaniacal, self agrandizing disaster, using the school for all its worth to him, fire him, fire kelly and start over, bleacher

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  5. southside 5 years ago

    Jeff , you got it ! All ND fan’s will watch win or lose. It’s as simple as that. The comments on here are by knowledgeable ND fans–breaking down the problems of 2014 season–all well worth reading. However , how some , and not knocking their ND football knowledge , determine that ND should not play in a bowl game is absurd. To say “ND haters will have more to spout about” if Irish lose–so who gives a crap about them ? The other look is if ND turns down a bowl game–what is their to gain by that and ND haters would jump on that to. And what major college football team with a 6-6 , 7-5 record turns down a bowl game ? Notre Dame is playing LSU an SEC team in Music City Bowl–it’s balls , I love it. We got some posters on here scared of LSU–boo hoo , crying. Thank God our Notre Dame football team ain’t scared o’ shit. Win or Lose.

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    1. Mike T 5 years ago

      Many fans won’t be watching, the game is at 2:00 PM on a weekday, many folks will be at work.

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      1. Ron Burgundy 5 years ago

        Work?? You’ve seen the responses on here, nobody works.

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      2. jeff 5 years ago

        Everybody that frequents this site will be watching the game in its entirety whether its live or DVR. If your not going to watch the game why would you waste your time on this site.

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      3. Mike T 5 years ago

        I know this may be a shock to you Jeff but there is more to life than CFB even ND football.

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      4. Ron Burgundy 5 years ago

        For example, picking on political bloggers and threatening to snap their neck. Hypothetically speaking of course.

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      5. Mike T 5 years ago

        Technically Ron I never threatened to snap your neck. If you’ll go back and read for comprehension I never threatened to snap the neck of the blogger/reporter either.
        Didn’t have to.
        So you can get off that kick or at least get it right.

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      6. Ron Burgundy 5 years ago

        Just hypothetically coming up with things to do. You could also cut and paste YouTube clips that no one looks at, create haiku about the scoring output of an offense, tell stories about your time deep behind enemy lines. There are many options of things to do. Didn’t know that hypothetical option struck a chord with you.

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      7. Mike T 5 years ago

        I live on a small farm I have plenty of real things to do.

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  6. Bruce johnson 5 years ago

    Bleacher says Lawrence cager off to ohio state

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  7. Bruce johnson 5 years ago

    Juco smith

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  8. Bruce johnson 5 years ago

    Bleacher says Kelly can’t even get judo to visit for football banquet, off to bama

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    1. Ron Burgundy 5 years ago

      It’s not Kelly, the kid hasn’t been academically cleared so they can’t offer him. He’s enroll ing in January so the kid has to make a decision. Dead period starts on Monday.

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  9. BJ 5 years ago

    my favorite christmas carole

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7csGhMQoQms

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  10. Shazamrock 5 years ago

    RICKROB,

    It would appear, at least on paper, that ND might match up a little better than you might think.

    LSU Offensive Leaders:
    Passing: Jennings – 104-213, 1460 yds, 10 tds
    Rushing: Fournette – 176 car, 891 yds, 8 tds
    Receiving: Dural – 37 rec, 758 yds, 7 tds

    Notre Dame offensive Leaders:
    Passing: Golson – 250-416, 3355 yds, 29 tds
    Rushing: Folston – 154 car, 816 yds, 5 tds
    Receiving: Fuller – 71 rec, 1037 yds, 14 tds

    Everett Golson currently ranks 14th in the nation in passing yardage.
    That puts him ahead of other notable QB’s such as:
    Bryce Petty, Blake Sims, Bo Wallace, Brett Hundley, Dak Prescott, Connor Cook, and JT Barrett among others.

    ND ranks 40th in the Nation in total offense, LSU… 82ND.

    The real difference is in team defense and turnovers.
    LSU is 8th in the nation in team defense, ND…. 70TH.

    But if ND can get at least some of their key defensive players back, and keep from turning the ball over, they should have a decent shot.

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    1. fxm 5 years ago

      I agree, I am all for playing someone who is “offensively challenged.” So, we get smashed 17-3. You add those numbers, 48 tds to 25 tds for the offensive leaders. I will take it. They went to OT with Bama but they also scored late to edge Wisconsin.

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      1. Shazamrock 5 years ago

        You are also playing in Nashville in late December.

        What will the weather conditions be and who will they favor?

        And you are also going up against the “Mad Hatter” who has a reputation for taking risks, trying trick plays, and being aggressive on special teams in big games.

        Too bad “he has no heart” Gunner Kiel still isn’t with the Irish.

        He would probably be the undisputed starter right now which would make for a very interesting game.

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      2. Mike T 5 years ago

        He’s doing great in Cincy almost set a school record for touchdowns. Looking forward to watching him against virginia tech

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      3. Ron Burgundy 5 years ago

        My favorite AAC QB is Shane Carden.

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      4. Mike T 5 years ago

        Gunner lit it up against ECU

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      5. Ron Burgundy 5 years ago

        Carden = AAC offensive player of the year.

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      6. Mike T 5 years ago

        whoopi UC shares 1st place in the conference.
        Golson was once a heisman candidate too..
        It’s a team sport..
        That said Carden will end up a decent QB in the NFL, he’s great at reading defenses and making decisions on the field.

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    2. Patrick 5 years ago

      We need to put the Kool-Aid down and stop thinking this will be a good or close game. Going 1-5 down the stretch and losing to Northwestern, playing no defense against ASU or USC, and losing at home to Louisville doesn’t bode well. Neither does having to bench the starting QB because he is turnover prone. Or the defense falling apart at the mid-season mark.

      LSU’s offense may suck, but it’s good enough for 20-30 points against ND’s porous D. Can Zaire lead ND to 20-30 points? Not this year. Golson could, but he’d also give the other team 14-21 points off fumbles and interceptions.

      I won’t even give this game the consideration to check the scoreboard on ESPN later that night. I’ll just wait till next August and attempt to forget the debacle of the 2014 season.

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      1. Ron Burgundy 5 years ago

        I’m calling BS, you’ll check the score.

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      2. jeff 5 years ago

        Win or lose I will watch every play of this game. I may have to hit the Makers Mark on the rocks a little harder to get through it but I will watch it.

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    3. Mike T 5 years ago

      The big key is turnovers and if ND turns the ball over against LSU they’ll pay dearly. Just remember this was a team that took Alabama to an overtime. I don’t believe Golson is ever going to solve his propensity to turn the ball over.

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  11. RICK ROBINSON 5 years ago

    HEY, SHAZAM. I HAVE BEEN A LOYAL IRISH FAN FOR 45 YEARS. WHEN THEY LOSE MY WEEKENDS ARE MISERABLE. I AM JUST STATING THE OBVIOUS FACTS HERE. THERE WERE OTHER BOWL GAMES THE IRISH MIGHT HAVE WON. FACING A TEAM AS BIG AND FAST AS L.S.U. WITHOUT KEY DEFENSIVE PLAYERS PRESENTS A MONUMENTAL CHALLENGE. I WOULD LOVE TO SEE NOTRE DAME PULL THE UPSET, BUT THE MATCHUP IS NOT FAVORABLE. TIME WILL TELL!

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  12. Michael the Archangel 5 years ago

    Kudos to Corey Robinson for his excellence both off the filed,
    on the field, and in the community, a superb example of
    the true meaning of student-athlete:
    http://www.und.com/sports/m-footbl/spec-rel/120414aab.html

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