A Welcome QB Competition

The return of Everett Golson and the emergence of Malik Zaire doesn’t constitute a QB controversy.  Quite the opposite. It brings greater confidence in the quarterback position.

Last weekend’s annual Blue-Gold Game showcased the considerable talents of Notre Dame’s top two quarterbacks, Everett Golson and Malik Zaire. Instead of crabbing about a supposed quarterback controversy the Irish faithful should be extremely pleased. For the first time in his tenure, Brian Kelly has a QB “controversy” of his own intentional creation, one which pits two very similar, highly dynamic quarterbacks against each other for the starting position. The Golson/Zaire competition is qualitatively different from the previous four seasons and the program is better for it by far.

Kelly’s tenure has been marked by QB units comprised of players possessing highly disparate skill sets: Crist, Rees, Hendrix, Golson, heck throw in Kiel, too. Each of these guys brought an idiosyncratic blend of strengths and weaknesses to the table making ranking the QB position, while never easy, fraught with even more difficulty.

Coaches must base decisions about playing time on the various strengths of each player. That much is obvious and is a fairly straightforward (though not a simple) process. Each player will be stronger on some criteria (accuracy, arm strength, decision making, mobility, etc.) and weaker on others . But when you have a position group where the mix of strengths and weaknesses is so utterly dissimilar– as has been the case at ND the past four seasons– your prior philosophical commitments about how best to optimize across categories (i.e. how much weight you assign the various criteria) in making your decision becomes that much more important.  

Golson and Zaire’s similar skill sets significantly reduce the complexity of the decision by turning variables into constants that drop out of the analysis. Consider the following (admittedly) gross oversimplification looking at numbers 5 and 8:  mobility/escapability- Check, check; Arm Strength- Check, check; Capability running option- Check, check, “Gripping laces”- Check, check.

In the language of decision theory this reduces the “criterion space” for evaluation and consequently increases the confidence level in the decision.  When you don’t have to make uncertain decisions on how to optimize across competing criteria, e.g., when it’s not a question of “explosive upside” versus “steady game management” (or however you want to frame the QB controversies of the past four seasons) you’re that far ahead of the game.  It’s sort of a more formal way of stressing the importance of having guys who “fit your system.”

How? It brings simplicity and repetition to valuable practice time increasing competence and cohesion of the entire offense.  It means no major adjustments to the offense if a QB goes down (apart from Golson being right-handed, and Zaire being a lefty) or subsequent major adjustments to the gameplan since the install stays basically the same. Etc. etc.

In the Golson versus Zaire competition, it doesn’t really matter who comes out ahead in the coaches’ minds. That will sort itself out. But I for one have far more confidence that when  a decision is ultimately reached whatever it is likely represents the true optimal choice for the program.  

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  • Irishize

    Excellent article!

    Brian Kelly seems to be recruiting dual threat QBs now. The classic misfit was when Lou Holtz had Kent Graham, the prototype, pro-style QB, and Tony Rice, the option, dual threat QB. Tommy Rees and Everett Golson would be the recent example.

    We will be well prepared with Golson and/or Zaire, as well as their two successors. They all can run and throw, and run the same offense.

    • Steve in Iowa

      Thanks, man. I had the Rice/Graham situation in the back of my mind, too.

    • ndtex

      Kelly has always been looking for dual threats. Rees was a Weis recruit and Kelly didn’t take away any standing scholarship offers for Weis’ final class when he came on board.

      Crist’s injury and ineffectiveness threw a big wrench in the works. Hendrix not panning out didn’t help either. Rees was definitely the round peg for Kelly’s square hole, but it was really the only option he had.

      • Trevor

        Unfortunately your right Rees was the only option Kelly had. I am very excited about the QB position for the near future at ND. With Golson and Zaire battling it out and with Deshone Kizer coming in this fall I believe the future is definitely bright. Kelly is finally getting his recruits in at the single most important position on the field. It keeps me up at night to think of the potential of last years team with Golson at the helm.