NASHVILLE, Tenn. —Malik Zaire will make his first career start at quarterback for Notre Dame on Tuesday when the Irish take on LSU in the Music City Bowl.
Fighting Irish coach Brian Kelly made the announcement at a joint news conference Monday with Tigers counterpart Les Miles that the sophomore would start instead of senior Everett Golson. Kelly said both quarterbacks will play.
Zaire replaced Golson in the second quarter of the regular-season finale against Southern California after Golson’s 22nd turnover of the season.
“We’re obviously going to play both quarterbacks,” Kelly said. “(Tuesday) is about 2014; it’s not about 2015. Our focus is on winning (Tuesday’s) football game, and so we think that playing both of them gives us the best chance to win. We’ll figure out 2015 in January.”
Kelly’s idea on how the timeshare will shake out depends on the QBs’ “success and how they play.”
“I don’t think this is going to be scripted one series here; we’re going to have to get the feel and the flow of the game,” Kelly said.
Zaire, a left-handed, dual-threat quarterback, enters the game having completed 9 of 20 passes for 170 yards and a rushing touchdown — all of that coming against USC.
Golson, the starter on Notre Dame’s team that lost the 2012 BCS Championship Game, started all 12 games for the Irish this season after missing 2013 while serving an academic suspension. He arrives in Nashville having completed 250 of 416 passes for 3,355 yards, 29 scores and 14 interceptions.
“I want to put Malik in a position and really challenge him,” Kelly said. “I’m very pleased with what Everett has done over the past two weeks. He’s made very good progress. We still have a great deal of confidence in his ability, or we would have just named one starter. I really think I want to challenge him and put him in this kind of environment. He’s playing against a great defense in LSU, and we’ll learn about him.”
Asked whether he was able to watch a lot of film on Zaire, Miles said, referring to the USC game, “two and a half quarters” before turning to Kelly and asking, “That’s about it, right?”
Kelly responded: “That’s it. That’s all I’ve got.”
A Notre Dame defense that was looking pretty stout the first five games of the season was anything but in the second half of the year.
The Irish opened the season 6-0, but the defensive deficiencies in Game 6 foreshadowed the rest of the regular season. Notre Dame, which allowed just 60 points over the first five games (12 per game), surrendered 43 in a 50-43 win against North Carolina, and the flood gates opened. Including the UNC game, the Irish closed the regular season 2-5, lost their last four games and allowed 291 points (41.6 per game).
Lost during the slide were linebacker and team MVP Joe Schmidt (ankle), tackle Jarron Jones (Lisfranc) and safety Drue Tranquill (knee).
“We talk a lot about injuries, but we only have three guys out from the Florida State game,” Kelly said of the Oct. 18 contest with the Seminoles. “Three pretty good guys, granted, and we’d like them back, but the fact of the matter is we should be able to find a way to grind it out, and that’s what we’re looking to do.”
Defensive tackle Sheldon Day, battling a sprained MCL that cost him the final two games of the season and will leave him less than 100 percent Tuesday, said the 15 extra practices and being a month removed from the fourth straight loss have given Notre Dame time to reflect and recharge.
“It was a team effort of not being locked into the little things, paying attention to the details like we should have,” he said. “It kind of gave us a refresh button as far as the season goes. Try to get our focus back on the details and the technique of the game.”
Notre Dame’s roster does not feature any players from Louisiana, and LSU’s roster does not have a player from Indiana. The Tigers do have two players from the Chicago area: linebacker Clifton Garrett and center Ethan Pocic. ... Several players attended high school together, including Notre Dame receiver Corey Robinson and LSU defensive tackle Trey Lealaimatafao; Notre Dame cornerback Cody Riggs and LSU defensive tackle Maquedius Bain; Notre Dame safety Tyler Price and LSU kicker Kyle Pfau; Notre Dame quarterback Montgomery VanGorder and LSU long snapper Reid Ferguson and guard Vadal Alexander; and Notre Dame safety Nicky Baratti and LSU offensive lineman Justin Mikush.