Looking ahead to the fall and the start of the college football season, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish are one of the most dangerous teams in the country. One question that remains is still the quarterback situation between Malik Zaire and Deshone Kizer. Kizer filled in for Zaire, the starter in 2015, after he went down for the season in just the second game against Virginia. Kizer even led the team to a comeback win in that game and played stellar football for just a redshirt freshman as he was one of key components driving the Irish to a 10-2 regular season finish in which they lost those two games by just a combined total of 4 points. These losses also came to the likes of Clemson and Stanford, two of the best teams in the country. However, Zaire looked dominant in his game and a half on the field for the Irish and ran the offense beautifully before he was sidelined due to injury, as so many of the Irish’s best players were in 2015.
Coach Brian Kelly has made it clear that the starting job will not simply be handed back to Malik Zaire to run the offense in 2015. However, he has also said that the team will definitely pick one of the two quarterbacks to be starter throughout the year. I liked that he indicated that he will go with one guy over another stating that “Our offense has to have an identity”. This is promising considering the last time Kelly dealt with a quarterback controversy was in the 2013 season in which Tommy Rees and Everett Golson game in and out of games in route to the National Championship. Though the Irish still had success that year switching quarterbacks constantly, their offense was stagnate too many times and they almost lost many games they should never lose. Thus, it is great to see Kelly shying away from a two quarterback system despite the two candidates being so different in their games.
To be honest, if you are a Notre Dame fan, I encourage you to shy away from simply favoring one quarterback over another based on any criteria. Both guys have strong arms and good mechanics. I think the Irish have two really talented gun slingers and can win games under both of them as long as they stay healthier than last year. Zaire might be more mobile than Kizer and more dangerous outside the pocket, however, any fact on Zaire is still based on such a small sample space of just a few games, while Kizer came in having next started a game and continued to win games with a beat up team in 2015. Kizer might struggle with turnovers at times, but the only time in which that directly cost them in a game was against Clemson, who went to the National Championship and still only won that game by two points. In the end, both quarterbacks have their pros and their cons, so I would even go so far as to call this quarterback controversy a luxury for the Irish, as it gives the ability to go with the guy that can play the most confidently and potentially dominate defenses.
All things considered, I look for Irish fans to want consistency out of Brian Kelly. Whichever quarterback he goes with this fall needs to be healthy the whole season to have any sort of identity that he is looking for on offense. I think this really requires a change in his play calling. Kelly loves the mobile quarterback, as do I, but for different reasons. Kelly relies too heavily on the quarterback to actually use his feet to pick up yards with designed plays. These type of plays arguably are what cost the Irish their season and kept them out of an even higher bowl game. They lost Zaire on a designed quarterback run that left him too vulnerable in the open field and ended with an ACL tear. He also called a designed quarterback run for Kizer on the two point conversion to tie the game late in the fourth quarter against number 1 Clemson and got stuffed resulting in the loss. I personally have the philosophy that mobile quarterbacks should only be called on to move their feet outside the pocket on valuable bootleg plays and broken plays. I think that Kelly’s style of calling unnecessary quarterback runs in the open field leaves his quarterbacks at risk to season ending injury and breaks down any depth the Irish have at that position.
Ultimately, if I had to bet on it, I would say that the Irish go with the older Malik Zaire. I think his arm is slightly better and he runs the offense in a way that Notre Dame fans haven’t seen in quite a while. However, as I said, both quarterbacks are phenomenal choices and can help them get back to the National Championship. But, this is dependent on Brian Kelly switching up his play calling and protecting his talented quarterbacks.