Zaire good enough to consider

LOS ANGELES, Calif. - Malik Zaire shows spark, command of offense in first true debut as Notre Dame quarterback.

His final numbers after 35 minutes of play – 9-of-20 passing for 170 yards, 0 touchdowns, 0 interceptions; he gained 18 yards on the ground and one rushing touchdown on six carries.

Nothing to write home to Ohio about if measured by standards of successful quarterbacks in college football today, and he was not operating under a pressure situation by any stretch, but backup quarterback Malik Zaire showed capability of igniting an inert offense in his debut in Notre Dame’s regular season finale.

Zaire entered the game with 5:09 remaining in the second quarter following Everett Golson’s 12th fumble of the year (and eighth fumble lost) on the previous offensive drive. The sophomore quarterback promptly found an open Chris Brown streaking down the left side for a 49-yard pickup on 2nd down. The following play, Zaire exercised the option to keep it on the zone read and found the end zone from 11 yards out for Notre Dame’s first score of the day.

“Everything in life is about getting an opportunity, and when that opportunity came, I didn’t even look at it as a make or break it point,” Zaire said in his first ever post-game interview with the media. “It was more about a chance for me to go out there and help the football team.”

Late in the second quarter and trailing 35-7, Zaire and the offense converted two first downs on consecutive third downs - a bullet to Corey Robinson for 19 yards on 3rd and 2 and a 26-yard completion to Will Fuller on 3rd and 10.

On the completion to Fuller, Zaire stood poised in the pocket, scanned the field and showed he was capable of patiently going through his progressions to find Fuller on his blind side. That’s something he’s been criticized for not being consistent on in the past.

Had it not been for back-to-back drops by Amir Carlise and Will Fuller on the following possession, Zaire would have continued to produce. He was solid in execution of the read option, which included a 27-yard rush by Greg Bryant to the goal line, and he couldn’t hold back a grin in post-game interviews when asked about it how it worked today.

“We did good,” Zaire said. “We didn’t win, but we definitely got some yardage out of it. It gave their defense something different to look at because I don’t think they were prepared for it as much as we used it today. I’m glad we got to throw that in there. Just a little taste.”

Maybe today was also a little taste of what else is to come in the immediate weeks to follow. Asked about the potential of an open quarterback competition as the team transitions to bowl prep, and Zaire responded:

“My only thing moving forward is to be as prepared as I can be for the guys around me because that’s who I play for. It’s my job to be the distributor and get the ball to all our great guys.”

He’s a competitor, and he’s got that chip on his shoulder. If that wasn’t obvious by the way Brian Kelly depicted Zaire’s level of disappointment upon learning pre-season he wouldn’t be the team’s starter, it was certainly obvious today.

In his window of playing time against USC, Zaire showed that he was good enough for this not to be the first game he saw action. Arizona State, Northwestern, and Louisville, the opportunity was there.

Golson’s confidence has taken a nasty hit, and perhaps Kelly knew it would be a move from which Golson couldn’t recover had he been benched earlier in the year, but today made it transparent that despite Kelly’s subtle insistence otherwise, Zaire does in fact possess the ability and wherewithal to lead the offense effectively.

“The only thing on my mind was how to spark the team up,” Zaire said. “Whatever we can do to points on the board. That was important to the offense and to the team. Just playing with a lot of heart. That’s what we lacked in the beginning of the game, but we definitely did a better job of that as the game went on."

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