Zaire has a strong arm but struggles with the chain-moving throws: slants, deep in-routes, long outs, with which Golson thrives. Never lacking for confidence, Zaire came in relief of Golson and electrified the Irish faithful in a lost cause against USC, hitting a deep pass and sprinting for a touchdown on his first drive at the conclusion of the first half.
He deserves and will receive a chance to make a difference on Dec. 30 vs. the Tigers athletic defense.
Running Backs X 3: A trio of ball carriers should see ample playing time in Nashville led by Tarean Folston. The true sophomore led the Irish in rushing yards (816) while averaging 5.3 yards per pop. His classmate, redshirt freshman #1 Greg Bryant reemerged late, leading the way against USC with 79 yards and a touchdown on just seven carries. Bryant is the only member of the trio not to start a game this fall, practicing through a foot injury suffered in late September. /p>
Senior captain #33 Cam McDaniel paced the team in rushing yards last season (705 yards) but that total dropped to 274 yards with four scores (in three starts). McDaniel is the team's goal line back, though it's a role that should be usurped by the powerful Bryant if in good health.
Folston is easily the team's most complete back at this juncture.
Wide Receiver #7 Will Fuller: The team's offensive MVP, Fuller enjoyed a breakout true sophomore season, pacing Kelly's offense with 14 touchdowns among his 71 receptions and 1,037 receiving yards. Fuller was a focused-effort short of an epic season (and season-finale) for the 2014 Irish as Golson missed him open (by 10 yards) on a would-be 75-yard touchdown in the first quarter against USC. Golson likewise failed to see an open Fuller (uncovered with 25 yards between him and the nearest defender) on a would-be 75-yard touchdown.
Thereafter, Fuller dropped a point-blank post pass from Zaire on a would-be 75-yard touchdown.
What's the point? No one has run with Will Fuller yet, and that includes Florida State speedster Ronald Darby. He's a poor man's DeSean Jackson and is easily the most underrated playmaker in the nation (Fuller wasn't among 70-plus semi-finalists for the Biletnikoff Trophy.)
When he matures (2015, perhaps '16?), he'll be capable of dominating games, but from listening to Kelly, it's clear Fuller lost focus against North Carolina, Navy, and at least late, against USC to end the season.
Wide Receiver #88 Corey Robinson: The fifth sophomore among the six players we've discussed thus far, the Admiral's son evolved from "weapon" as a 6'5" high-flying freshman into a legitimate complimentary receiver this fall, finishing second on the squad with 40 receptions, 539 yards and five touchdowns.
A first-team Academic All-American, Robinson combined with Fuller to draw a whopping 12 pass interference penalties this season. They're both difficult covers in man-to-man situations which makes the tandem's matchup with LSU's press-man style on the outside the game's most intriguing sub plot.
Notre Dame's wide receivers, especially Robinson, won their battle (and perhaps the game?) with the best secondary they encountered to date, Florida State, in mid-October. The Tigers will provide an even tougher test.
Left Tackle #78 Ronnie Stanley: The unit's top pro prospect as a true junior, Stanley was far and away the team's best blocker through the opening seven, perhaps eight games. He tailed off a bit since, as did the offensive line as a unit.
Stanley will make his 26th consecutive start on Dec. 30, this time with the unique task of protecting Golson's blind side while paving a path for Zaire's preferred direction of escape, the offense's left. As well, when the Irish need to move the chains on the ground, they're likely to run behind Stanley and senior captain #72 Nick Martin (first-round Dallas Cowboys pick, Zack, is his brother) at left guard.
If this tandem doesn't improve its efforts from a disappointing day in Los Angeles, LSU will roll up front.
On the Spot -- #5 Everett Golson
For two months, Golson was the team's best football player, a Heisman contender (especially had a yellow flag not changed the outcome of the matchup with FSU), and unquestionably ranked among the nation's top five quarterbacks.
Golson fumbled 12 times this season, losing eight. (Re-read that sentence!) He threw 14 interceptions, or one more than Tommy Rees suffered last fall when Golson was suspended from the squad. Remarkably, those 22 turnovers occurred over the final nine games -- Golson didn't suffer a miscue over the season's first three contests.
He's thrown at least one interception in nine straight games in fumbled in eight of those nine.
It's my belief he'll receive more snaps than will Zaire against the Tigers. It's a fact the Irish cannot beat LSU if Golson does not eradicate his sloppy habits and play a clean game. (An interception is allowed when a quarterback throws 30 times and attacks downfield as does Golson, but he should never fumble the football again.)
Which Golson will LSU get in the Music City Bowl is anyone's guess.