Both 12-game starter Everett Golson and little-used reserve redshirt freshman Malik Zaire will play, so says Brian Kelly, his team the victim (or perhaps resulting beneficiary?) of an unexpected quarterback battle at season's end.
"We got a glimpse of what (Zaire) could do against USC," said Kelly. "But I think both of them can help us win. I want to play them both because I think both of them have different traits and we need to find a way to win the game. I think both of them can help us win."
"Everett’s got a lot of experience. He threw for a lot of yards, over 3,000 yards. He’s capable of obviously some big plays and throwing the football," Kelly said when asked about the pair's respective strengths. "Malik’s not as experienced, but Malik’s shown himself to be very good at running some of our read-option stuff. At first glance, that would be some of the things early on.
"We think there’s more than that. We think that they can both complement themselves in other areas. But I think at first glance, those would be the things immediately that they can add to the position."
Wary Notre Dame fans recall the Champs Sports Bowl of Dec. 29, 2011 when Tommy Rees (the passer) and Andrew Hendrix (the runner) operated in similar fashion, losing -- and playing exceptionally poorly, to be sure -- 18-14 to the Florida State Seminoles.
Asked how his two-quarterback attack can help defeat the Tigers, Kelly offered, "We have to protect our defense, right? We’re limited inside (defensively). That’s the biggest issue that we have right now. We’re limited inside in terms of defensive tackle play, so we’re gonna have to make some adjustments there. We think we’ve got some ideas and things we can do. We have to do a really good job offensively of controlling the flow of the game. A lot of it will be on our offensive game plan and keeping their offense off the field."
A Competition AcceptedFirmly entrenched as the team's starter since (at least) early August camp, Golson's response to a re-opened competition mirrored what his head coach expected -- and demanded.
"We had a conversation about what I wanted from him and he’s handled it great," said Kelly. "He’s doing exactly what I’m asking him to do on a day-to-day basisI wasn’t even interested in really going down this road unless he was fully committed and engaged in working on the things that I thought he needed to work on and he’s been all of that."
"You have to understand where you are. (Being) committed to the journey of getting better. He’s committed to that journey. He’s fully committed to being the best player that he can be, through my lens."
Kelly added that had Golson balked at any of the above, a competition would not have existed. (It would have been Zaire's job.)
With both fully onboard, in-game management of the tandem will be paramount -- and it could decide whether or not a dual-quarterback system is employed during the spring and for 2015.
"We’ve got a plan in place in practice that I feel very comfortable with and we’ll continue to evaluate that as we go through our practices," Kelly said. "I think as we get into the game there are skill sets that each one of them has that are a little bit different that we’ll utilize in the game. They both have strengths and we will call upon those strengths during the game. I’m confident that I can manage both of them during the game. It’s not gonna be pull one and put the other one in because they’re not moving the team. We’re going to be utilizing both of them to help us control the flow of the game.
And if one gets hot?
"I don’t know that I’ve ever gone into a game and said, 'Well, he’s only going to play this amount regardless,' Kelly added. "I think you try to get a feel for it. But there are some things that we clearly know one quarterback does a little bit better and we’ll go to those strengths regardless of the situation."
The other side of the coin suggests that LSU's preparation becomes a more challenging task with the disparate triggermen both in the fold. One a righty, one a lefty (Zaire). Kelly countered that's likely not the case for these Tigers.
"This is not a big (exotic) pressure team," he said of the Tigers' front. "It’s line up, 'This is what we do and we go play.' It’s not as much for a team like LSU where they just put their hand in the dirt, they just go play. I don’t think (two quarterbacks) is gonna cause them much. There are other teams that this would cause a little bit more an issue. Not this group."