Irish A-to-Z: Malik Zaire

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Our final installment of the A-to-Z series is perhaps our most important one. Because Notre Dame’s fate is in the hands of quarterback Malik Zaire.

After pushing his way onto the field after Everett Golson faltered late last season, Zaire battled with the incumbent during spring practice, and ended up the default winner when Golson decided to transfer out after graduation.

While the on-field battle didn’t seem to warrant Golson walking away, the off-field intangibles are a first-round TKO. For as uncomfortable and quiet as Golson seemed in the spotlight, Zaire almost appears to grab it—forcing his way to leading man status.

Now given his shot, it’s time for the third-year quarterback to deliver. After sitting out his freshman season and making the most of his opportunities late last year, 2015 will be defined by Zaire’s ability to lead the Irish to victory.

 

MALIK ZAIRE
6’0″, 222 lbs.
Junior, No. 8, QB

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

An option quarterback at Archbishop Alter, Zaire’s ascent in the recruiting world happened after an impressive showing at the Elite 11 camp. Mostly a regional prospect, Zaire’s accuracy and arm strength, combined with his talents as a triple-option trigger man, made him a four-star prospect.

Zaire picked Notre Dame relatively early, and by the time he early-enrolled in South Bend, he had offers from Alabama, Arizona and Ohio State among others.

 

PLAYING CAREER

Freshman Season (2013): Did not see action.

Sophomore Season (2014): Saw brief action early in the season before relieving Golson against USC in the second quarter and starting the Music City Bowl. Zaire was named the bowl’s MVP after winning his first ever start, running for 96 yards and a score while completing 12 of 15 passes.

 

WHAT WE SAID LAST YEAR

Well, I nailed the fact that Zaire would have to win one game, though I didn’t necessarily see it coming in the fashion that it did.

The odds are in favor of Zaire having to win at least one game this season. Golson spent much of 2012 dinged up, forced to sit out the BYU game after a nasty concussion. He also missed chunks of other games as well, meaning that Zaire better have his chin strap up and a complete command of the game plan.

Still, it’s hard to see a situation outside of injury that gets Zaire a true opportunity to make noise on the field. Outside of mop-up time or Golson playing abnormally awful (or playing so well that he heads to the NFL after this season), Malik’s going to have to wait his turn until the 2016 season.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

Heading into the USC game last season, I was skeptical that Zaire would ever be the starting quarterback at Notre Dame. But after watching him rally the offense in all-but meaningless garbage time (sadly, garbage time started in the second quarter), and then hearing him talk after the loss, my belief in Zaire the quarterback—and the team leader—changed almost immediately.

Golson’s departure sets the stage for Zaire to be a three-year starter for the Irish. And while I still have worries about his accuracy in the intermediate passing game, Zaire’s elite running skills and innate option capabilities put so much pressure on opposing defenses.

There is no question that Zaire desperately wants to be a great quarterback. Kelly’s talked multiple times about Zaire’s thirst for knowledge, and he’s reportedly been reaching out to past Irish quarterback greats, something it’s safe to assume Golson never did.

That’s not going to help when a defense drops eight or sends an overload blitz, but it’s certainly a good datapoint.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

With an excellent set of skill players and an offensive line among the best in the country, Zaire won’t need to be the best player on the Irish offense, but simply make sure he allows this unit to prosper. Whether that makes him a game manager or point guard will be determined by how well the offense produces.

The Irish will need Zaire to be a capable runner. He showed more than enough ability to do that against LSU and also with big runs in limited snaps before then. The Irish will also need him to play smart. It’s long forgotten now, but late against LSU, Zaire made an ill-advised deep throw down the middle of the field that could’ve been intercepted. Golson took over in the passing game from that moment forward.

Zaire is going to make some mistakes. He’s seeing defenses and adjustments for basically the first time. But he also needs to show the confidence that allows him to run the football, adding a needed dimension to this offense that just didn’t exist, even with Golson behind center.

Ultimately, it’s probably unfair to say it, but Zaire will be the main factor in the Irish’s ability to make it to the four-team playoff. If he’s able to limit mistakes and trigger the running game, this team will be hard to stop. But if he plays like a first-year starter and struggles to get the passing attack started, it’ll be an opportunity lost.

 

I think this offense is ready to dominate and Zaire is prepared for his moment in the spotlight. Now he’s got to go out and prove it.

 

THE 2015 IRISH A-to-Z
Josh Adams, RB
Josh Barajas, OLB
Nicky Baratti, S
Alex Bars, OL
Asmar Bilal, OLB
Hunter Bivin, OL
Grant Blankenship, DE
Jonathan Bonner, DE
Miles Boykin, WR
Justin Brent, WR
Greg Bryant, RB
Devin Butler, CB
Jimmy Byrne, OL
Daniel Cage, DL
Amir Carlisle, RB
Nick Coleman, DB
Te’von Coney, LB
Shaun Crawford, DB
Scott Daly, LS
Sheldon Day, DL
Michael Deeb, LB
Micah Dew-Treadway, DL
Steve Elmer, RG
Matthias Farley, DB
Nicco Fertitta, DB
Tarean Folston, RB
Will Fuller, WR
Jarrett Grace, LB
Jalen Guyton, WR
Mark Harrell, OL
Jay Hayes, DL
Mike Heuerman, TE
Kolin Hill, DE
Tristen Hoge, C
Corey Holmes, WR
Chase Hounshell, TE
Torii Hunter, Jr. WR
Alizé Jones, TE
Jarron Jones, DL
DeShone Kizer, QB
Tyler Luatua, TE
Cole Luke, CB
Nick Martin, C
Greer Martini, LB
Jacob Matuska, DL
Mike McGlinchey, OT
Colin McGovern, OL
Peter Mokwuah, DL
John Montelus, OL
Nyles Morgan, LB
Sam Mustipher, OL
Quenton Nelson, OL
Tyler Newsome, P
Romeo Okwara, DE
James Onwualu, LB
C.J. Prosise, WR/RB
Doug Randolph, LB/DE
Max Redfield, S
Corey Robinson, WR
Trevor Ruhland, OL
CJ Sanders, WR
Joe Schmidt, LB
Avery Sebastian, S
Elijah Shumate, S
Jaylon Smith, LB
Durham Smythe, TE
Equanimeous St. Brown, WR
Ronnie Stanley, LT
Elijah Taylor, DL
Brandon Tiassum, DL
Jerry Tillery, DL
Drue Tranquill, S
Andrew Trumbetti, DE
John Turner, S
Nick Watkins, CB
Nic Weishar, TE
Ashton White, CB
Dexter Williams, RB
Brandon Wimbush, QB
Justin Yoon, K