Welcome to a series of posts we’re calling “Five Question Marks.” In his final entry, BJ Konkle answers a question on the minds of many Notre Dame fans: Which quarterback gives Notre Dame the best chance to win?
I’ve saved the most debated question of all for last – Malik or DeShone, Zaire or Kizer, lefty or righty?
The position is still very much up for grabs as we head into fall camp. Coach Brian Kelly has said that while either player is capable of taking the team to a championship, the offense first and foremost will need to establish an identity based around the quarterback position.
Kelly hits the nail on the head with this approach. Last year, Ohio State struggled to find an identity offensively due to its inability to choose a quarterback, and build the offense around that quarterback’s skill set. Moving forward into fall camp it will be crucial for the coaches to choose a quarterback early in the process and begin building the offense around the chosen quarterback’s specific talents. But…which guy should they pick?
It would appear that the majority of fans, pundits and analysts are in favor of giving DeShone Kizer the nod.
The common argument presented is that Kizer has the most experience after helping lead the team to a 10 win season last year. While I’m not sure that a “right or wrong” answer exists when it comes to picking between two Maxwell Award watch-list-worthy QBs, I believe there is a stronger argument to be made to start Malik Zaire.
Former Irish quarterback, Brady Quinn, laid out his reasoning for believing that Notre Dame should start Zaire. His argument is largely based around seniority. While I agree with Quinn’s choice, I disagree with his logic.
My argument revolves primarily around Coach Kelly’s identity initiative, and the general idea that the current offensive unit – and team as a whole – suits Zaire’s talents and style better than Kizer’s.
It is important to define where each quarterback’s talents and style differ before diving any deeper. Both players can make all of the throws. Both players have demonstrated an advanced understanding of the offense. Zaire, however, is unquestionably the more talented and feared runner. His ability to create outside the pocket and the sheer threat of his running ability puts the offense and team in a better position to succeed.
Again, piggybacking off of Kelly’s rationale to cultivate an identity, the Irish are better positioned to identify as a heavy and dynamic rushing team with Zaire as the signal caller of the offense. Three main premises support this argument: 1) young and unproven wide receivers, 2) young and unproven right side of the offensive line, 3) control the time of possession to protect the defense.
INEXPERIENCE AT WIDE RECEIVER
Last year DeShone Kizer had the luxury of a first round NFL draft pick wide receiver in Will Fuller. Any quarterback salivates over the incredible speed that Fuller possessed. This speed forced defenses to play a safety over the top of Fuller, thus allowing the run game to profit schematically. Kizer also had the advantage of throwing to two additional seasoned veterans in Chris Brown and Amir Carlisle.
This year the wide receiving corps returns only one real contributor from the prior season: Torii Hunter Jr. It has already been established that the cupboard is certainly not empty for wide receivers coach Mike Denbrock, but the 2016 team will likely not have the same ability to take the top off of a defense as consistently as they did last year with Fuller. Taking all of this into consideration, the young and inexperienced receivers will benefit from the strongest rushing attack possible, relieving them of any added pressures to contribute while also allowing them to flourish in vital play action calls.
I don’t believe that #NDFB would have a poor rushing attack with DeShone Kizer. Kizer showed an above average ability to run the ball last year, but I believe Zaire gives the Irish the most dynamic rushing attack possible. It is also important to note that unlike many fans, I do not buy into the common narrative that because Zaire is the more gifted runner, then by default Kizer must be the better passer. I reject this theory while recognizing that Zaire does not possess the 6-foot-4, 220 lbs. frame that Kizer and many great passers do. But we haven’t seen enough of Zaire through the air to determine who the better passer is. Again, taking into consideration the youth and inexperience of the current wide receiving core, I believe they would be put in the best position to succeed in an offense that identifies with a strong running quarterback giving the Irish the most dynamic rushing attack possible.
A POTENT RUSHING ATTACK HELPS O-LINE GAIN CONFIDENCE
Harry Hiestand and the offensive line have a difficult test this upcoming season in replacing first round draft pick, Ronnie Stanley, and second round draft pick (and likely NFL starter), Nick Martin.
Thankfully, Hiestand and the Irish have developed tremendous depth at the position and the likely replacements are extremely talented. However, having new full time starters at center, right guard and right tackle isn’t guaranteed to be a seamless transition. Similarly to the young and inexperienced receivers, over half of the offensive line will be largely inexperienced and benefit from the most formidable running game possible. Getting the big fellas up front into a rhythm running the ball will be crucial to the group’s success. Zaire gives the Irish the best rushing attack possible, while also providing the offense with the most elusive capability to avoid a pass rush. With three new full time starters on the offensive line, it is understood that there will be some breakdowns in pass protections. Zaire’s legs provide the best opportunity to break contain and create outside of the pocket, whereas Kizer is certainly not a sitting duck, but doesn’t deliver the running threat that Zaire does. Combining the loss of the vaunted home run threat in Fuller with the loss of key pass protectors in Stanley and Martin, the Irish offense is not positioned to have sustained success in long passing down situations regardless of who is behind center. Given the inexperience on the offensive line, it is important for the Irish to promote a rushing culture in order to put the offensive line in as many 2nd and short and 3rd and short situations as possible. Zaire is best fit to accomplish this task.
DEFENSE NEEDS TO STAY OFF THE FIELD
Over the last few years under defensive coordinator, Brian VanGorder, the defense has been… admittedly less than stellar. In order for #NDFB to be of playoff caliber this upcoming year, the defense must improve while also not be depended on too heavily. The offense can aid the defense by keeping them off the field and putting them in good field position. In order to do this the Irish must – you guessed it – develop the best rushing attack possible. By running the ball successfully, the Irish can maintain control over the time of possession, thus keeping the defense off the field.
In 2015 the Irish ranked 62nd in rushing defense. If this trend continues (c’mon BVG…), the best rush defense will be our rush offense – if you pick up what I’m putting down. It will also be important to eliminate turnovers and sudden/quick change scenarios for the defense. In his limited action, Zaire has not recorded a turnover. This isn’t to say that he will never turn the ball over, but he has not shown any signs of being reckless or careless with the football. This bodes well for the defense. Zaire provides the best opportunity to sustain long drives while also showing a unique ability to throw the deep ball if necessary. It’s not only in the best interest for the offense to start Zaire, but also in the best interest for the defense.
Laid out for you is an argument to start Malik Zaire at quarterback for the 2016 season. I’m convinced that both men will play this year, but I believe that the talent assembled among the entire team is best positioned to succeed with a gifted runner behind center. Cultivating an identity around running the football effectively provides the best opportunity for success. One final thought to add to the argument: with a very capable back up in Kizer, Kelly and his “play calling committee” would no longer need to keep Zaire on a “pitch count” threshold for the number of times to run him. They could unleash a full-fledged rushing attack with no need to worry about how many hits the quarterback may take, thus increasing the threat and effectiveness of Zaire’s running abilities. I’m confident in either quarterback, but I believe that the team is best suited to identify as a run first offense and Zaire is the quarterback that provides the most dynamic rushing attack possible.
Cheers and Go Irish!
Previous “5 Questions” Posts