Zaire named starting quarterback for Music City Bowl
Brian Hartnett | Monday, December 29, 2014
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — After taking over for senior quarterback Everett Golson in the second quarter of Notre Dame’s final regular season game, Irish sophomore quarterback Malik Zaire will start against No. 23 LSU in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl at LP Field on Tuesday, Irish head coach Brian Kelly said in a press conference Monday.
Although Zaire will get the start, Golson will also play, according to Kelly. Exactly how many reps each quarterback receives will depend on the flow of the game, Kelly said.
“I’ve got an idea in the sense that both of them will play,” Kelly said Monday. “How that unfolds will have a lot to do with their success and how they play. I don’t think this is going to be a scripted, one series here, we’re going to have to get both in.”
Zaire went 9-for-20 for 170 yards and ran for 18 yards and a touchdown in his extended action against USC on Nov. 29. Golson, who started all 12 games for the Irish (7-5), finished the regular season with 3,355 passing yards, 29 passing touchdowns and eight rushing touchdowns, but also accounted for 22 turnovers on the year.
Kelly said Zaire has developed a keen understanding of Notre Dame’s offensive philosophy.
“First and foremost, [Zaire has an] understanding of what we’re trying to do offensively,” Kelly said. “Getting an opportunity as the backup quarterback — you’re on the front line, you’re getting those gameplan reps. Gameplan reps change you from last year to this year.”
Kelly also said he looks forward to giving Zaire an opportunity to test one of the nation’s top pass defenses. LSU (8-4, 4-4 SEC) has allowed 162.3 passing yards per game, the fourth lowest nationally. The Tigers also rank third in the nation in scoring defense, surrendering only 16.4 points per game.
“I just think that we want to put Malik in a position and really challenge him,” Kelly said. “… I want to challenge him in this kind of environment. He’s playing against a great defense in LSU, and we’ll learn a lot.”
The decision to start Zaire was made with solely tomorrow’s game in mind, Kelly said. He added that no decision regarding the starting quarterback in 2015 has been made.
“We’ll figure out 2015 … but this is really about both of these guys giving us the best opportunity [Tuesday],” he said.
Defense preps for Tigers’ offensive attack
Notre Dame’s defense, which allowed an average of 29.3 points per game in the regular season, will face an LSU offense that scores 27.6 points per game on average. The Tigers rank 114th out of 125 teams nationally in passing yards per game, but average 219.5 yards per game on the ground, good for 27th in the country. LSU freshman running back Leonard Fournette, the No. 2 overall recruit in the high school class of 2014 per 247Sports’ Composite Rankings, led the Tigers with 891 rushing yards and eight touchdowns in the regular season.
“This is an offense that has rushed for more than 300 yards three times this year in the SEC, and that’s very formidable,” Kelly said of LSU. “… Having this kind of matchup against LSU is a formidable task but one that really will shape who we are as we move forward.
“There’s nowhere to hide tomorrow. You’re not hiding against LSU. You’re going to be exposed for who you are, and as coaches, that’s a great evaluator as we move forward.”
Kelly said LSU compares favorably to Stanford, a team Notre Dame defeated 17-14 in early October.
“Stanford probably mirrors, in a lot of ways defensively, the physical play that you’d see from LSU,” he said. “Certainly, more skilled for LSU on the perimeter and at the running back position, but I think offensive line, defensive line, they present that physical toughness.”
Sophomore defensive lineman Jacob Matuska and freshman defensive linemen Jay Hayes and Daniel Cage, all of whom were injured toward the end of the regular season, will receive reps Tuesday, Kelly said. Kelly had announced earlier this month that junior defensive lineman Sheldon Day, who missed the last two regular season games with a sprained MCL, and graduate student cornerback Cody Riggs, who missed two of the last four games with a stress reaction in his foot, will play against LSU.
“They’ll give us reps for certain and have practiced according to the volume that we expect to get them in the game,” Kelly said of Matuska, Hayes and Cage. “They’ll be needed to play in this game at some level.”
Notre Dame and LSU will conclude their seasons Tuesday at the Music City Bowl at LP Field in Nashville, Tennessee. Kickoff is scheduled for 3 p.m.