Plamondon: Irish have two good options at quarterback
Brian Plamondon | Monday, April 20, 2015
Sure, it was just the spring game.
And after all, it technically counted as Notre Dame’s 15th and final practice.
315-pound senior offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley wouldn’t be catching passes if things really mattered.
Nevertheless, there are still things we can take away from Saturday’s annual Blue-Gold Game, the most obvious of which is confirmation Notre Dame has two skillful quarterbacks who could both ably lead the team come September. Although a quarterback controversy is never ideal, if it’s the biggest question facing Notre Dame this offseason, it is a good one to have.
Graduate student Everett Golson and junior Malik Zaire split first team reps and, more importantly, were live in the first half, unlike springs past. With both signal-callers possessing the ability to hurt teams on the ground as well as through the air, each player could showcase his talents.
Golson finished 7-for-15 for 83 yards with an interception, adding 39 rushing yards to go along with a score on the ground. Zaire’s final line was 8-for-14 for 137 yards with two touchdowns, while he picked up 40 yards with his feet.
The chief takeaway is that both players looked comfortable running the offense. We already knew Golson was capable of managing games, as he’s had 23 career starts. But his pocket presence, something Irish head coach Brian Kelly said he was stressing this spring, was markedly improved.
Zaire looked fluid working with his receivers. Kelly has mentioned this spring that his decision-making ability has sometimes left coaches scratching their heads, but Saturday, Zaire looked like he had way more than one career start to his name.
Although some may look at the game statistics and say Zaire had far and away the better game, the box score is not necessarily a tell-all. Zaire’s stats were slightly inflated by a 68-yard bomb to junior receiver Will Fuller, while Golson’s interception was the result of a fan-submitted trick play that called for him to launch a deep pass to Zaire.
But that’s not to say Zaire did not look good. As evidenced by his deep throw to Fuller, Zaire certainly has a good arm. Many have questioned his strength and accuracy in comparison to Golson’s, but he proved a lot of people wrong with his display Saturday. Furthermore, as we already knew, Zaire is the better runner and a dangerous one at that. He ended the day with 40 yards on four carries, including a 13-yard scramble down the left sideline where he juked out sophomore defensive lineman Jay Hayes. In addition, Zaire had a 25-yard gain wiped out by a holding penalty committed by sophomore receiver Justin Brent.
For all his strengths, Zaire did show some areas that still need improvement. When rolling to his right, the lefty struggled throwing across his body. All of those passes either sailed high or were thrown at the feet of his receivers.
Golson, on the other hand, looked more comfortable during those types of throws. He was more effective running the ball than in the past, but overall lacked the flashy game-changing plays Zaire displayed.
In the end, both Golson and Zaire made an argument for why they should start when the Irish host Texas the first week of September. Both will play in some capacity, but it won’t be the two-quarterback system employed by Kelly for Notre Dame’s Music City Bowl win over LSU. He joked that might be the situation in the postgame press conference but subsequently had to remind the media his comment was sarcastic.
The two quarterbacks will undoubtedly be the biggest storyline for Kelly, and it’s something he’s learned to deal with.
Nonetheless, having two capable quarterbacks is a good problem to have.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.