Both will play. One will start.
Whether that’s DeShone Kizer or Malik Zaire, either Brian Kelly isn’t saying or Notre Dame’s head coach truly doesn’t know, even with game planning for Texas in full swing. So during the same span when Stanford, USC and Michigan State all named starting quarterbacks, Notre Dame did not.
Considering the events of the past week – six arrests, one dismissal, one indefinite suspension – it’s easy to understand why Kelly hasn’t split the final hair between Kizer and Zaire.
In fact, Kelly said he’s still evaluating both quarterbacks after last week’s announcement that they’d job share in Austin, a decision that irritated both during Media Day interviews. Kelly said some of that angst has washed away in the past few days, which might have been why he announced this in mid-August in the first place.
Kizer and Zaire both needed time to make sense of their unconventional roles.
“Certainly when the decision was made, there was a little, ‘I wish I was the starter.’ But since that decision, they really have embraced knowing that both will play, both have to be ready,” Kelly said. “What I’ve seen is a sharpness in practice and in their preparation that they know they’re going to play.
“They’ve had really good camps, but it’s even sharper – not that they’ve made more plays – but they’re louder in their communication because they know that they’re both going to play.”
Neither was named captain Wednesday, with those nods going to Mike McGlinchey, James Onwualu, Torii Hunter Jr. and Isaac Rochell. Kelly has never named a quarterback as captain in seven years at Notre Dame, which may be more a circumstantial oddity than anything else.
Due to suspensions, dismissals and outright competition, clarity at quarterback has never been a strength during Kelly’s tenure. Notre Dame has opened training camp with a clear starting quarterback just twice in the past seven years: Dayne Crist in ’10 and Tommy Rees in ’13. Even then, one was taking over the job for the first time and another was replacing the suspended Everett Golson a year after his own arrest.
However, Kelly said Kizer and Zaire both have what it takes to captain the Irish.
“They were part of the group under consideration,” Kelly said. “Both of them would be good captains. I’m certain they would have made very good captains. I think that’s the luck of the draw at this point.”
More important for Notre Dame is both quarterbacks getting a grip on their unique roles. That means frame of mind for Kizer and Zaire matters more than any public leadership distinction.
“It’s different,” Kelly said. “They know they’re playing so you can tell that there’s a sense of ‘I’m playing, I better get after this now.’”