NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Malik Zaire has no intention of being Notre Dame’s next Rudy.
After helping lead the Irish on the nearly six-minute, game-winning drive in Tuesday’s 31-28 Music City Bowl victory against LSU, the sophomore quarterback was asked if this was his Rudy moment — referring to the 1993 film about a walk-on player constantly associated with the university’s football program.
“Rudy was like a one-hit wonder wasn’t he?” Zaire said, closing the press conference in walk-off fashion.
Zaire — who is majoring in film, television, and theatre — is hardly a walk-on.
A top-200 recruit coming out of high school, he saw his most significant action of the year against the Tigers on the way to earning the game’s MVP.
All 20 of his passes and 11 rushing attempts this season occurred in the regular-season finale against Southern California, which ended in a fourth straight defeat for Notre Dame. Tuesday, Zaire led the Irish in both rushing (22 carries for 96 yards) and passing (12-of-15 for 96 yards), accounting for a touchdown in the air (12 yards), a touchdown on the ground (7 yards), throwing the final block on another score, and serving as the holder for Kyle Brinzda’s 32-yard field goal as time expired.
“I felt like I could contribute to the team,” Zaire said. “Life is about these opportunities that we get each and every day and taking advantage of them. I’m thankful, and it’s a blessing that I got that opportunity. And I didn’t want to ruin it for this football team. Coming off the losses that we had, I think it was important to take advantage and do whatever it took to win.”
With Zaire making his first career start over senior Everett Golson, the two rotated as coach Brian Kelly said they would. However, Zaire took the first snap on nine of the 11 possessions and easily outproduced Golson’s one carry for 6 yards rushing line and 6-of-11 for 90 yards passing line.
“(Golson) did a great job today,” Zaire said. “Knowing that both of us were going to play it was about working together. My perspective on him didn’t change. We’re still competitive. We’re still getting after it. We still had that mindset that we’ve got to do it for the team, and we’re going to push each other to be great.”
The quarterback rotation was put into full effect on the final drive.
Zaire opened the series and was on the field for eight of the 14 plays. He converted two third downs with his legs and an 8-yard run to set up the field goal.
Golson was in on six plays, passing for 42 yards, with a third-down conversion as well.
“There were plays, being familiar with both of them, that I thought they could execute and help us move the ball down the field,” Kelly said. “It was a feeling of what I believed they could execute in a very crucial situation of the game. That’s how I called the game the last series, fit it with plays I thought they felt comfortable with.”
Golson was injured in the second quarter when he took a hit to the ribs from Kendell Beckwith while completing a third-and-7 pass. The 11-yard pass kept a scoring drive alive. Golson was not made available because of the injury.