He's both fast and quick, he has a strong left arm, he's confident, he's an engaging interview subject, and he wasn't deemed good enough to replace former starter Everett Golson until the latter spontaneously combusted in Los Angeles.
We're about to find out more.
"We’re going to start Malik Zaire," said Irish head coach Brian Kelly at Monday's coaches' press conference. "He’ll start for us tomorrow. Obviously we’re going to play both quarterbacks. Tomorrow is about 2014. It’s not about 2015. Our focus is on winning tomorrow’s football game. We think playing both of them gives us the best chance of winning tomorrow. We’ll figure out 2015 in January, so this is really about both of these guys giving us the best opportunity."
Asked where Zaire has improved most over the course of the season, Kelly offered, "First and foremost, his understanding of what we're doing offensively. Getting an opportunity as the backup quarterback, you're on the front line, you're getting game plan reps. Game plan reps change you from last year (part-time scout team duties) to this year. Just being so much more comfortable with what we're doing and how we're constructing from week to week.
"Now, having said that, he's got a very small resume and not a large body of work," Kelly continued. "He still has to show the ability to do it in a game situation. In practice he showed command, he showed confidence, and he showed the ability to run the offense in the manner that I wanted him to, and now he has to do it when the lights go on."
Zaire's highlights to date include a 56-yard rush on his first career carry (Michigan, Game 2), plus a 49-yard strike to junior Chris Brown on his first career pass attempt (USC) that set up his first career touchdown from 11 yards out one play later.
As for deficiencies? He missed 11 of his next 19 throws against the Trojans and managed just seven additional net rushing yards.
Dual-Threat In TandemIf imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, LSU head coach Les Miles has been bestowed a collection of beautiful bouquets of late, as NFL defensive coordinators noted mirroring the man known as "The Mad Hatter's" tactics when faced with a dual-threat quarterback.
The Tigers' greatest conquest to that end? 2012 Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel who lost twice in two chances to the Tigers, 24-19 in 2012 and 34-10 in 2013.
Manziel's combined stat line in those contests: 45 of 97 (46 percent), one touchdown, four interceptions.
Miles jokingly offered that his success vs. the nation's top dual-threat quarterback over the last three seasons was due in part to playing his "big, tall, slow guys…" before adding, "We're putting our faster guys on the field. We recognize the challenge there. Our personnel features our faster guys, our more active athletes. Just like you're saying, these quarterbacks are talented. They can do things the ball, scripted and not scripted, that can give you headaches."
Kelly noted repeatedly in the press conference that Golson will play, and was thus asked how the two signal-callers might split playing time:
"I’ve got an idea in the sense that both of them will play," he said. "How that unfolds will have a lot to do with their success in how the play. I don’t think this is going to be as scripted that one series here. We’re going to have to get the feel and flow of the game."
The triggerman of choice on a given play or series will be tasked with trying to dent the nation's No. 1 ranked pass defense.
"There’s more to it than just a one-dimensional matchup and throwing it against a great secondary," said Kelly of the Tigers. "There is obviously a very good, physical offense LSU possesses -- incredible running game, speed. So we have to consider all of those things.
On the mendThe return of junior defensive tackle Sheldon Day, fifth-year senior cornerback Cody Riggs, and sophomore safety Max Redfield has dominated Irish headlines of late. Continued good health for each is wholly necessary if the Irish are to compete, much less prevail Tuesday.
Kelly offered today that his trio of rookie backup defensive linemen Daniel Cage, Jay Hayes, and Jacob Matuska -- each of whom was pressed into action due to a starter's injury -- has recovered enough from November's attrition to compete as well.
"They’ll give us reps for certain and have practiced accordingly to the volume that we expect to get them in the game," said Kelly. "They’ll be needed to play in this game at some level. And they all have handled that kind of volume very well."
Out for Notre Dame's defense against LSU are starting nose tackle Jarron Jones (foot), starting middle linebacker Joe Schmidt (ankle), and starting safeties Austin Collinsworth (shoulder) and Drue Tranquill (knee).
Fifth-year senior offensive right tackle Christian Lombard is expected to miss his final career game due to a back injury. Lombard started 32 games for the Irish over the last three seasons.