It’s not going to be easy. Credit Brian Kelly for at least acknowledging that now. Because Notre Dame’s head coach knows he could call the quarterback race tomorrow or the night before the Irish play Texas and it won’t be any easier.
In DeShone Kizer and Malik Zaire the Irish have two quarterbacks capable of leading the Irish into the College Football Playoff. And after watching both do different things to stand out on Saturday—just as they had all spring—Kelly acknowledged that he’s going to have to make a difficult decision eventually.
“I think I’m going to have to make a judgment call,” Kelly said. “I don’t know when I’ll make it. But there will be a time when I’m going to have to say, that’s our quarterback, let’s go with him, we’re all in, and let’s move forward.”
Deciding between Kizer and Zaire likely challenges Kelly on a number of levels. On the field, we saw first-hand the contrasting styles the quarterbacks showcased.
Kizer looks more comfortable running the offense. Zaire looks more comfortable when things break down. Pressure on Zaire felt constant on Saturday—likely a product of putting Zaire up against what basically amounted to the starting front seven. But also factoring in was the fact that the senior is still learning an offense he only has had a chance to pilot for three career starts.
“I thought what I saw was Malik develop more of an understanding of what we did offensively last year,” Kelly said. “The offense developed under Kizer during the year, not Malik. So he was at a bit of a disadvantage coming into the spring, and I thought he caught up…
“Now that he has a better understanding of everything that we’re doing, I think now you’ve got the race and that will obviously be decided through camp.”
In Kizer, Kelly has a quarterback who seems adept at doing all the things he demands from his signal-caller. A strong arm with accuracy. Nimble feet that keep a defense more than honest with his running. And a head that checks all the boxes when it comes to knowing the game, representing his program and leading the team.
“He managed the game very well; confidence, consistency,” Kelly said. “I just think that he continues to show the things that you want a starting quarterback to show.”
Kelly was quick to follow that praise up with the caveat that he wasn’t close to naming Kizer a start. And that’s probably because of his true appreciation for the way Zaire plays football. The confident senior might be the closest thing to a quarterback in Kelly’s image.
That fiery demeanor? The alpha dog with unbridled self-belief? The quarterback who wants to both put his shoulder down and run you over and took every shot given to him to throw the deep ball over the top? That’s DNA the head coach shares with his passionate veteran quarterback.
It’s also what’s going to make this decision so difficult.
“I can’t keep them both happy. Somebody’s going to be unhappy,” Kelly said. “I love them both. They both are committed. They are both great competitors. But somebody’s going to be unhappy.”