Notre Dame quarterback Malik Zaire is the real deal.
In just his second game as a Fighting Irish starter (he started the 2014 Music City Bowl), he threw for an impressive 313 yards and three passing touchdowns. Coming into Saturday night’s contest against Texas, Zaire had completed just 21 career passes. He completed 19 passes alone on Saturday night.
“He clearly has the ability to throw the football as much as we would need him to throw it and throw it accurately,” Notre Dame Head Coach Brian Kelly said.
With the highly scrutinized transfer of Everett Golson to Florida State, many Irish faithful questioned if Zaire could step up in arguably one of the most stressful positions in all of college football. Well, if his performance was any foreshadowing of the 2015 season, Irish fans are in good hands.
In the season opener, Zaire went 19 for 22, completing 86.4 percent of his passes, which is second in Notre Dame history for a single game. But most importantly for Zaire and the Irish, there were zero turnovers all night—a far cry from a year ago.
“Well, I think that, you know, we’re quite aware of where we were last year when we turned the football over,” Kelly said. “I think Coach Sanford has done a great job in developing that kind of identity with our quarterbacks, and I think we feel confident that we’ll continue to work on that and we know that that’s no secret, but it’s a thing that we know, it’s going to be singularly the reason why we can win.”
Could Kelly’s comments possibly been a jab at Golson? As a reminder, Golson started the 2014 season as a serious Heisman Trophy contender but really collapsed, ending with 14 turnovers. Both Golson and Zaire are known as running quarterbacks, but Zaire proved that he is much more than just a fast quarterback on Saturday night.
“Obviously we felt like he was more than just a runner,” Kelly said. “But he gives you more of a dimension in the fact that when you can balance up the numbers in the running game with him and his ability to run his own option and then the play-action pass, it just looks like you’re scaling at times when you control play action with him.”
As Kelly stated, Zaire is a serious threat both in the passing game and in the rushing game. He avoided many would-be pass-rushers, but not but tucking the ball and taking off down field. Instead, Zaire kept his eyes downfield, stepped up in the pocket and dished the ball to his often wide-open wide receivers.
His play grabbed the attention of his teammates as well.
“He keeps to himself and he is calm. He definitely knew the mission at hand, made it clear for everyone and kept us on the same page,” offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley said. “He definitely got loud during the game. He was very calm during the huddle, very clear and made good communication.”
Texas Head Coach Charlie Strong was also impressed with Zaire’s ability to dominate both with his arm and legs.
“The thing about it, when you try to bring pressure on it, he can beat you in his legs because he can make a guy miss and now he’s off and running,” Strong said. “When you try to back off in the coverage, you try to get him the proper drops, which allowed the receivers to get open behind him.”
So, is Zaire a legitimate replacement for Golson in South Bend? Granted Golson didn’t have the best 2014 season but he did lead the Irish to the 2013 BCS National Championship game, so the bar has been set awfully high.
Can Zaire lead the Irish to the FBS playoff? Only time will tell, but if he continues to dominate and protect the ball like he did Saturday night vs. Texas, he could very well see himself in Heisman talks down the line.
Zaire and the Irish look to keep the train rolling when they travel to Virginia on September 12 for their first ACC game of the 2015 season.
Eddie Ravert is a contributor for Sportsnaut.com. All quotes were obtained first hand unless otherwise noted.