Spring football is over in South Bend, IN, but Notre Dame is still looking for a starting quarterback. That is the bad news. The good news is Brian Kelly finally has two quarterbacks that fit the skill set he wants at the quarterback position going into his fifth season with the Notre Dame. What the Fighting Irish coach does not have is a starting quarterback yet.
Those who presumed that Everett Golson, back after a sitting out last season for academic reasons, would automatically get his job back presumed wrong. The idea that Kelly used an “open competition” this spring to motivate Golson may be right about Kelly’s intent. That is not how it has worked out however.
Sophomore Malik Zaire made sure of that, impressing coaches, teammates and fans alike this spring with his play as he openly campaigned for the job. He is making a pretty good case.
“You can’t not be confident playing this position at Notre Dame,” Zaire said. “Because of my motivation to help this team win a national championship, you’ve gotta be confident.”
Fair enough, but Golson did lead Notre Dame to the BCS Title game in 2013 after an undefeated 2012 season as a red shirt freshman. At the time he was the strong armed running quarterback who offered the most potential for Kelly’s offense. That was in comparison to Tommy Rees though. Zaire is a different story.
Zaire is certainly a better runner than Golson and is probably still a run first threat for Notre Dame. Golson is the better passer with the stronger arm. The thing that jumps out about Zaire though is his attitude, confident and brash with a clear desire to succeed. Those qualities may very well in exist in Golson as well, they would have to be given how far he as come in his career, but he does not wear it on his sleeve like Zaire does.
Which should excite Notre Dame fans about the big picture here. At the moment it does not matter that Notre Dame is still looking for a quarterback. What matters is Kelly has two very qualified quarterbacks who both fit the system he has been wanting to run since he came to Notre Dame five years ago.
Golson and Zaire is a lot better option than Rees and Andrew Hendrix, Notre Dame’s top two options last season. Neither were a fit for Kelly’s offense as both were slow afoot and had problems delivering the football. Rees’s passes took too long to get there. Hendrix’s ball rarely showed up at all.
In turn the offense suffered. Opposing defenses could load up on the run and the short passing game. There was virtually no threat of a deep ball the entire season. Whoever wins the job this season automatically guarantees Notre Dame more options and a bigger field to work with. Irish fans have not seen the offense Kelly has employed at his previous coaching stops. They will this year. No matter who is at the helm
Golson is Golson, still undefeated in regular season games as a starter. He is a strong armed quarterback that can run and despite all of Zaire’s attributes, it is hard to imagine Kelly handing the keys over to such a young player. Especially considering how well Golson took care of the ball in the second half of the 2012 season. The turnovers that plagued Rees were not a factor with Golson in charge.
Ultimately this will come down to the same things it always does. Taking care of the football and red zone offense, which Kelly has emphasized all spring and will continue to this fall.
Which likely means Golson is the starter, with Zaire sprinkled in from time to time. Kelly is encouraging the competition because that is what a good coach should do. When the fall arrives Notre Dame will have their starting quarterback. The same one Kelly had in 2012 when Golson nearly guided the Fighting Irish to a perfect season.
Commentary by Mick Varner
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