Split-QB game plan leads to Irish victory
Mary Green | Tuesday, December 30, 2014
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Notre Dame’s final drive of the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl was unlike anything the Irish had done this season — and it won them the game Tuesday.
Sophomore Malik Zaire started and ended the last series at quarterback, but head coach Brian Kelly switched his signal caller four different times on that drive, alternating between Zaire and senior Everett Golson.
Zaire took three snaps. Golson took three snaps. Zaire took two. Golson took four. Zaire took the final two, then held senior kicker Kyle Brindza’s game-winning field goal.
For all the quarterback controversy before the game over who would lead the Irish (8-5), it seems the best option for Kelly might have been to split time instead of give one all the snaps.
“There were plays that, just being familiar with both of them, that I felt they could execute and help us move the ball down the field,” Kelly said. “So [I] went back to just a feeling of what I believe that they could execute in a very crucial situation of the game, and that’s kind of how I called the game in that last series, really tried to fit it to what I believed that those players felt comfortable with.”Zaire impressed in his first career start, throwing for 96 yards and one touchdown and completing 12 of his 15 attempts. He also picked up 96 yards and a score on the ground en route to earning the game’s MVP award.
Perhaps most importantly for Notre Dame’s chances to beat the Tigers (8-5, 4-4 SEC), he did not turn the ball over, either.
“Part of the making the decision to start him was to find out how we were going to move forward and effectively craft and put together a game plan for both of them,” Kelly said. “… I couldn’t have done it without starting him and playing him and getting a feel for the game.”
Golson came in on the third Irish drive, at the beginning of the second quarter. He totaled 90 passing yards, including a 29-yard connection with junior receiver Chris Brown, and was successful on six of his 11 attempts.
Kelly pointed to a particular play on the final drive, an incompletion to sophomore receiver Will Fuller, in which Golson took a hard hit that briefly sent him to the locker room to get a shot in his ribs.
“First time he’s ever done that since he’s been here at Notre Dame, to come back out and play, I was really proud of him,” Kelly said.
“This really was just about this game, playing both of them,” Kelly said. “My focus was about winning this game, and we’ll figure out the quarterback situation in January, so this was just about utilizing both of their skills to get a win today.”
Fuller said he did not think there was any love lost between the two quarterbacks after Zaire was named the starter.
“I think I brought it up to Malik that Everett’s been starting this whole season, and now a year in, he’s not in right now, and he’s still giving him tips,” Fuller said. “That just shows the love we have for one another, and it’s just great.”
Zaire tipped his cap to his fellow quarterback and said that knowing they would split time helped them to work together Tuesday.
“I know we’re still competitive, we’re still getting after it, but still, we had that mindset that we’ve got to do this for the team, and we’re going to push each other to be great,” he said. “… I’m glad we got the chance to do that, and it’ll be interesting to see how it plays out next year, and I’m looking forward.”
SEE ALSO: The Observer’s photo gallery from the game.