Malik Zaire will be Notre Dame’s starting quarterback this year.
Notre Dame’s offense under Malik Zaire was more efficient than it was under DeShone Kizer, if we limit the statistics to each QB’s first 212 snaps. (That’s Zaire’s career total.)
Zaire had 46 snaps in what I’d consider garbage time before starting against LSU in the Music City Bowl. Kizer had 32 snaps against Texas (garbage time) and Virginia (big time) before his first start against Georgia Tech. So since Kizer had more snaps as a starter in the period studied, advantage Kizer, right?
Under Malik Zaire, the Irish ran 138 times for 824 yards, a 5.97 yard per play average. Zaire threw 74 times for 694 yards, or 9.38 yards per play. The total offense under Zaire was 1,518 yards.
Under DeShone Kizer, the Irish 116 times for 647 yards, a 5.58 yard per play average. Kizer threw 96 times for 825 yards, or 8.59 yards per play. The total offense under Kizer was 1,472 yards.
Again, in the 212 snap range, Zaire showed a better ability to move the ball with his feet.
The rising senior from Kettering, Ohio ran 53 times for 290 yards, or a 5.47 yard per rush average. Kizer, a rising junior from Toledo, ran 32 times for 114 yards, good for 3.56 yards per rush.
How about explosive plays?
Under Kizer, the Irish offense had 15 runs of 12 or more yards and 13 passes of 20 or more yards, for a total of 790 yards gained.
Under Zaire, the Irish offense had 25 runs of 12 or more yards and 10 passes of 20 or more yards, for a total of 900 yards gained.
How about turnovers?
Malik Zaire hasn’t committed a turnover in a game yet. That’s zero interceptions and zero fumbles lost. And no teammate has coughed up the football while he’s been in at QB.
Kizer threw three interceptions in his first 215 snaps. He fumbled twice, but recovered both times. In total, the Irish offense fumbled six times – recovering three – while Kizer was under center for the time period studied.
I can hear the comments now: “DeShone Kizer got much better after his first 212 snaps!” That’s true. Who’s to say Zaire couldn’t do the same or better, though? This is the most fair comparison, in my estimation.
Head coach Brian Kelly met with Malik Zaire’s mother and stepfather after the junior suffered a broken ankle during the Virginia game. Kelly said to them:
“Good thing about it is he’s got two more years of eligibility and it’s a young team. He’s got young players around him. So I told him, ‘This is your team. These guys are just going to be caretakers for you until you get healthy.'”
Under Brian Kelly, starting quarterbacks have lost their jobs because of ineffective play, but never because of injury. When Dayne Crist tore his ACL in 2010, he was the (short-lived) starter in 2011. When Everett Golson got knocked out of the 2012 Stanford game, he took his job back from Tommy Rees after sitting one game due to a concussion. Ditto to Tommy Rees, who left the 2013 USC game with an injury.
If you take Brian Kelly at his word, that “this is [Zaire’s] team,” then Malik is the presumptive favorite coming into spring camp. Yes, Kelly could not anticipate what kind of season he’d get from Kizer. But if Kizer and company were caretakers, as Kelly suggested in September, then look for Malik under center in Austin this September.
There’s been some suggestion on a few Notre Dame podcasts that the feeling inside the locker room is that players are more attached to one quarterback than the other.
Zaire, in his appearances on “A Season With” and in the press room, is affable. He’s easy going, but passionate about improving his performance. He’s there to lend a helping hand when needed, whether it be to Kizer or to Brandon Wimbush.
I’m not sure if players like Zaire more than they like Kizer. I only care for one reason: Players will play hard for the quarterback they trust or the one that’s made them believe. If the Notre Dame beat writers are correct in their implication – and I’m correct in my inference – then Brian Kelly won’t be able to ignore that advantage for Zaire.