Traditions are good things. Whether it’s field turf or pumped in stadium music, continuity from one year to the next is part of the rich fabric of Notre Dame, college football, and blogging about Notre Dame college football. As a new writer to HLS, I am humbly tasked with beginning this year’s “Know Thyself, Know Thy Enemy” series. Over the coming weeks, the HLS staff will home in on one player from a variety of position groups and compare him to the stiffest competition the 2015 schedule can offer. This week’s edition starts with the quarterback position.
Irish Player to Watch:
Everett Golson Malik Zaire, Junior
6’0”, 222 Lbs.
Recently I’ve been Netflixing (is that a word?) a lot of “The Office” episodes. The U.S. version. I’ve already seen every episode. Heck, I’ve probably seen every episode at least two times. I’ve been doing it because the show’s mindless and comforting. At this point, I know the jokes that are coming, and even if I didn’t, I could figure out what’s coming next because the episodes are all so similar. Someday I have a dream of an ND offseason being like that. Particularly as it relates to the QB position. Boring. Redundant. Predictable. This was not that offseason.
The Music City Bowl was indeed music to many fans’ ears and eyes. Swagger-master Malik Zaire got his chance to start a game and took advantage. The rush heavy spread option attack saw some extended play with positive results. The 263 ground yards represented the 8th highest game total of the Brian Kelly era. If we further limit that query to games versus Power 5 teams, only the 2012 Miami game and the 2011 Purdue game amassed better rushing totals. There were a lot of firsts in that game for Zaire: first start, first rushing touchdown, first bowl MVP award, and plenty to build upon for the 2015 season.
It’s important to remember, though, that we don’t really know all that much about Zaire. As andrewwinn discussed earlier this offseason, 103 snaps doesn’t tell us much about Zaire’s potential. Zaire’s just as likely to be Dayne Crist/Tommy Rees as he is to be Brady Quinn (in terms of production) if we’re just considering the snaps we’ve observed. No question that Zaire is a different type of player than his immediate predecessors, Golson included. Where Golson appeared to struggle with mental demons as much, if not more, than on field demons, Zaire has done nothing but exude supreme, unwaivering confidence in his own abilities. It’s Clausen’s self-confidence with Golson’s physical gifts. Whether Zaire and new coordinator Mike Sanford can harness these skills will go a considerable way in determining the success of the 2015season.
It seems fair and reasonable to anticipate the team running more with Zaire under (or more appropriately behind) center. His natural skill set lends itself to a power option attack. Sanford’s background with both Stanford and Boise State involved a healthy dose of power running, and the stacked Irish offensive line is built to run. However, the stable of running backs is shallow, and even shallower to start the season with Bryant’s suspension. Quarterback has no experience behind Zaire’s limited experience so the team cannot afford for Zaire to get hurt meaning balance is still key.
The dwindling memories but stubborn resolve of the #RTDB’ers will force the conversation back to the 2012 season being both Kelly’s most successful and most rush heavy play mix. Zaire’s equipped to appease this crowd. However, it wasn’t just running the ball more that made the 2012 team successful. Zaire’s got a big arm to make throws with. He’s a player that will want to extend plays and awe the crowd, but he must avoid Rees and Golson’s propensity for turnovers. The corollary to 2012 that does not get press is that 2012 was the only season in the Kelly era in which the offense had an interception percentage* low enough to finish in the top half of CFP teams (27th nationally). The team can’t abandon the pass. Zaire must take advantage and be efficient with his pass attempts. Save the football. Save the team. Or something like that. You get my point…
(* “Interception Percentage” is the number of drop backs t0 pass that resulted in an interception)
Enemy Player to Watch
All of them, Cody Kessler, Senior
6’2”, 215 Lbs.
Just recently the “watch” lists for all of college football’s awards were released letting us know who ESPN should start framing narratives around. One such award is the Davey O’Brien Award which is presented to the nation’s top quarterback. Six of Notre Dame’s opponents (Clemson, GA Tech, UMass, USC, Stanford, and Navy) will boast watch list members this year.
Aside from six of Notre Dame’s 2015 opponents, other guys on the watch list: Connor Cook (MSU), Marquise Williams (UNC), Taysom Hill (BYU), and Gunner Kiel. Notre Dame really needs to adopt Gary Pinkel’s plan of joining a conference so they could tack on some FCS opponents and avoid all of these quarterbacks. I finally get what he was thinking.
Okay, back to the task at hand. In 2013, Tex selected Kevin Hogan as the enemy to watch. He’s still around and is a watch list member, but the Irish have actually handled Hogan pretty well. Both of ND’s scary as f— option opponents, Navy (Keenan Reynolds) and Georgia Tech (Justin Thomas) boast O’Brien watch list members as well. You bet I’ll be watching them, and drinking heavily while doing so. But, even with all of these options there’s a guy on there that led me to learn the art of dry walling after punching out many a hole in his honor: USC’s Cody Kessler.
You might remember Kessler from such performances as his one man re-enactment of the Tommy Lee Jones classic Blown Away. In case you were wondering, the ND fan base is represented by Jeff Bridges in this scene. Staring around, looking at the rubble, unsure what in the world happened but knowing exactly who the hell did it. I can’t live…with or without you.
Kessler’s final line in the 2014 game:
372 yards, 6 touchdowns, 0 interceptions, 80% completion percentage.
Screw him. I used to average that in NCAA Football 2011 (RIP) with Dayne Crist. I mean, “ND QB #10.” So, he’s not all that special.
Only, Kessler actually is that good. That Kessler didn’t finish in the Top 11 for Heisman voting last year is an indictment of just how silly that voting actually is. Among Kessler’s national finishes last year:
3rd in completion percentage (1st among Power 5 players) – 69.7%
4th in touchdown passes (2nd among Power 5 players) – 39
T-10th in fewest interceptions – 5
3rd in passer rating – 167.1 (Only 2 ahead: Mariota [won Heisman], J.T. Barrett [5th in Heisman voting])
While Kessler lost 3 of his top 4 targets from 2014 including his BFF Nelson Agholor, the Trojans do not lack for speed or skill at the receiver position. Kessler excelled in year 1 of the Sarkisian tenure, and he comes into 2015 as trendy Heisman pick making him worthy of all the derision you loyal readers can muster.
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